We recently purchased Tivo for the house.* Like many users, we got Tivo not because we’re TV junkies, but because we don’t have time for TV. When we do sit down to watch, we want to spend less time, and we want to watch better TV. For the most part, the formula is working – we’re no longer spending a third of our time watching (or trying to navigate around) commercials, and we’re not watching whatever crap happens to be on once the boy is down and the dishes done, just to enjoy some well-earned veg time.
But there’s an unanticipated consequence: Suddenly we have a library of shows we like at our fingertips, always ready to watch. As a result, there’s suddenly the desire to watch more TV, not less. Oooo! All in the Family re-runs! Let’s stay up! That’s not how it was supposed to work.
It struck me that this phenomenon is exactly like the backlash against RSS that some people are experiencing. At first, RSS feels like a great time saver — I can skim 10 sites in the time it used to take to skim one. But RSS readers make it so easy to harvest lots of great content that you have this tendency not to save time, i.e. to move on and go do something else after your daily news gulp, but to spend more time overwhelming yourself with information.
Who can eat just three M&Ms? The tantalizing aggregation of desirable content that Tivo and RSS readers provide only gives you the illusion of saving time; in truth, most of us are seduced by the overabundance that accompanies aggregation, and merely dig ourselves deeper into the content hole. Aggregation lends itself to gluttony.
The key to dealing with content overload is not just in finding better tools to manage the flow, it’s knowing when to get up and walk away.
* We’re feeding the Tivo via antenna, still not willing to pay $50+/month for cable** when we would only want a couple of extra channels; the inability to purchase cable channels on an a la carte basis should be a case for the feds. While there are some good arguments explaining why you can’t just buy the channels you want, it’s still an abuse of monopoly, as I see it).
** Basic cable is only $14/month, but we already get 90% of what we’d get with basic via antenna. We do have a reception issue with the antenna that we’d like to improve upon (most local stations are transmitted from San Francisco, to the west, except for NBC, which comes from San Jose, to the south; it’s tough to make one antenna receive from both directions happily without an antenna rotator, so we might end up doing basic cable for the duration of the Olympics at least).