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.