It’s again that time in the academic year where professors, staff, and students all feel that they are behind in their work. (In the restaurant world, we would be “in the weeds.”) I am not only behind on grading, conference paper writing, and lesson prep, but I am also behind on watching TV. I am so behind that an episode of Project Runway was no longer available when I finally had time to watch it last weekend. (And I really wanted to see the flower shop/hardware store challenge.)
All this talk of being behind on TV and needing to “catch up” is a product of new media. With our Blu-ray player hooked up to both the internet and the TV, I am now a committed streamer (and so is my oldest child). I remember the days when I would tell her she had to wait 10 minutes until Curious George came on. I also remember the days when I would turn on a sitcom to decompress at night and find my heart racing when I heard the baby cry out 5 minutes before the show’s end.
Time-shifting technologies such as DVRs, DVDs, on-demand services, and streaming have enabled us to choose what we want to watch, when we want to watch it (and helped parents everywhere be calmer when it turns out their child isn’t asleep for the night). But we also need to consider that a consequence of this shift is that we rarely miss a show.
Instead of friends or the internet filling us in on the plot of a show we missed, we just add to our queue or fill up our hard drive, and therefore add to our to-do list. We can watch what we want, when we want–but the bottom line is we must watch (because we can). It is for this reason that I am arguing (in one of those conference papers that has me “in the weeds”) that time-shifting technologies at once promote viewer agency as we reduce our reliance on traditional broadcast schedules, but they also take away some of our agency in that we find it harder to NOT watch. In sum, time-shifting technologies are also time-eating technologies.
Time shifting emerged as a notable theme in our survey and focus group discourse. When asked what would motivate him to do another marathon, television marathoner Arthur (a pseudonym) factored time-shifting technologies and his family prominently into the decision, enumerating
1. I now have streaming video to make this possible. 2. My schedule is so demanding I rarely have time to watch TV normally, and I can almost never catch a show during its usual time slot. My children have equally full schedules, so we often have to play “catch-up” on TV shows we’ve heard about from others.
What Arthur didn’t recognize is that “catching up” was also contributing to that full schedule.