I recently received a message from Amazon urging me to watch its video programming, which is included in my Amazon Prime membership. That certainly seemed like a good suggestion — until the time came when I actually wanted to watch something.
The video-viewing apparatus in my living room consists of a stack of machines and devices — but to my disappointment, none of them offer Amazon Prime, not even my much-hyped Apple TV. Sure I could watch Prime on my laptop, and last year I did, in fact, watch Amazon’s “Catastrophe” that way, but the experience convinced me that watching “TV” on a laptop while seated bolt-upright in front of a desk is about as satisfying as eating dinner standing in front of the sink. From a utilitarian perspective they both accomplish their main task, but the aesthetics leave something to be desired.
Preferring to watch video entertainment on my HDTV monitor, I decided to solve the Amazon Prime problem by ordering a six-foot HDMI cable, which I can hook up to my computer when I want to stream onto the TV.
But what a pain in the neck. Already sitting on my viewing stand are five remotes that control: 1) the monitor; 2) the DVR; 3) the DVD player; 4) my Apple TV; and 5) a cable-splitter device to switch from cable to cable. Now I have a separate cable to connect my laptop.
And it’s not as if these other devices are that easy to master. The navigation on the Apple TV is so sensitive that I’m constantly landing on the wrong icon or the wrong show. Of course to get even this far I needed to go online many times to check Apple TV instructions, since there was no manual with the device itself. And even now, after all these years, I don’t understand why the DVR will sudden stop recording shows on my watch list, or why I get reruns when I specifically set the directions to record first-time-only broadcasts.
Whenever I complain about the complexity of watching TV, I feel like the old coot yelling at the neighborhood ruffians to stop playing on his grass. Why can’t I be more like my Millennial son, who watches TV while lying on his bed with his laptop propped on his stomach? Get out of the way of progress ,you geezer!
Of course we have to be careful not to romanticize the past. One of the earliest television clichés was the image of the 1950s dad on the roof trying to position the antenna just right, so TV was frequently a pain the neck even in the days of yore. Cable solved the antenna problem but created its own challenges with the cable box, which required its own remote control. And the VCR was so complicated that most people only used it to play videos, not to record anything.
It seems like every time we master one form of technology, the device industrial complex invents another must-have machine. We now live in a world when no one can go into another person’s home and confidently change the TV channel without screwing up the system. That’s a lesson I’ve learned over too many Christmas visits to my parents’ house.
Figuring out how to work the devices is bad enough — but finding something to watch is even worse. I know there’s a ton of content to watch, but where to find it? I’d really like to watch “Orphan Black,” but have no idea how to do that. I see from a Google search that it’s on BBC America. Is that part of my cable package? I guess I could look, assuming I can find my channel guide? Or maybe it’s on Netflix, but the search function is really hard on Netflix.
I’m glad there are so many great shows to watch and so many ways to watch them, but it seems like “television” is about to collapse on itself from the weight of its own complexity.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll just stick to Colbert. He’s on every night and is waiting for me on the DVR whenever I get home. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best option.