‘vo, get off my back!

For those poor souls among you who haven’t yet accepted TiVo as your personal time savior, you probably at least know that TiVo is a personal video recorder, a device that allows you to digitally record television programs for later viewing (and pause and replay live TV, as well). TiVo’s software also has a feature called “Suggestions,” by which TiVo builds a database of programs it thinks you will like, based on the other programs you’ve watched, recorded and rated. I have my TiVo programmed to automatically record suggestions as long as there is space available on the hard drive.

My TiVo, however, is starting to feel less like a helpful friend making suggestions, but more like a shrill, nagging spouse who thinks it knows what’s best for me. It doesn’t seem to care that every time I see the items it has automatically recorded for me, I immediately delete Jackie Chan Adventures, Third Rock from the Sun, King of the Hill, Just Shoot Me, and That 70s Show, among other titles. Instead, it methodically and invariably fills up the hard drive with every single episode ever recorded of these shows, insisting in its insidious, passive-aggressive way “Watch this!”, “Watch this now!”, “Do you really need another helping of Great Performances? Maybe you should have some low-cal Saved by the Bell instead.”

So if TiVo is smart enough to make new suggestions based on what I’m recording, why isn’t it also smart enough to learn from the things I always delete without even previewing?

Of course, I could use the rating option to give a thumbs down for those series, which would stop TiVo from continuing to suggest them, but that feels like an act of deception on my part. After all, tt’s not that I so actively dislike these series to the point of permanently inscribing a red thumbs down icon on their TiVo program guide entries, I just don’t really care about them. There’s a wide gulf between disinterest and hatred. I mean, I wouldn’t want to go into a strip club on Boubon Street hawking “Live Nude Girls,” but I wouldn’t throw pig’s blood on their door. And just because TiVo has turned out to be a bit of a harpy and control queen doesn’t mean that I have to turn into a sneaky liar in response.

It might not bother me so much if my TiVo hadn’t turned out to be so disturbingly lowbrow; I’m terrified I’ll come home one afternoon to find it wrapped in a housecoat, recording Jerry Springer and having discarded its digital optical input for a set of rabbit ears.

6 thoughts on “‘vo, get off my back!

  1. Heh. I think I have my TiVo pretty much whipped, then. Once in a while I get a few oddball suggestions, but usually it gives me tons of House Invaders.
    Speaking of BBC America, I just checked their site, and when did they add all these new shows to their home-and-living line-up? The Life Laundry? Room Rivals and Garden Rivals, both hosted by Handy Andy? Must check ’em out.

  2. But the thumbs down signal was originally intended to signify that a gladiator was to die. It didn’t mean anything about the emperor’s hatred or dislike, just that he found it convenient for the person involved to perish. Which seems to be exactly how you feel about these TV shows.

  3. Faustus: Thank you, thank you, thank you! If only I’d paid more attention in ancient history, I’d have saved myself my current angst about my TiVo suggestions. After your explanation, I spent a joyful few minutes the other night playing emperor while Jeff, controlling the remote, enacted my whims. Hmmm… and that gives me more ideas, so thanks again.

  4. This happens to me too, my TiVo INSISTS I watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” despite the fact that I do NOT love Raymond. I finally had to just go ahead and kill Raymond with the thumbs down.
    Good luck!
    susan (FOJ – friend of jeff)

  5. Hi Thom!
    Love the image of the Tivo in the housecoat! Though I suppose I’d be just as creeped out if I had a Tivo knocking my lowbrow TV viewing (“Another episode of ‘Are You Being Served?’ No, you need to be watching ‘Discovery Health. And you’re neglecting Paul Kangas'”).
    Wow, Tivo as id vs. Tivo as superego…
    –Rajani (another Friend of Jeff)
    ps. Can’t wait to see you both!!
    pps. Susan: *Nobody* loves Raymond.

  6. Susan and Rajani: Always nice to meet FOJs, even virtually. And Rajani, I’m excited about meeting you in person this weekend.

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