A question that has crossed my mind countless times in the past 7-8 years. When I was a child, I used to be required to ask permission to go downstairs and watch TV. It would be a somewhat anxiety-provoking task, to have my eyes rake slowly down to the floor while turning my right toe inward in a bashful pose, my entire demeanor the definition of sheepish. We had one TV, in the family room, which was a thoroughfare for my parents. My Dad would trudge with an armful of starched and ironed shirts from the ironing board in the basement to the closet in my parents’ bedroom upstairs. My Dad (and later, come to think of it, my Mom) had this habit of slowing his steps at the bottom of the stairs, threatening to stop and survey the shows that I was watching. There was always a moment of tension, my body would freeze with trepidation as he would shift the shirts to balance over one arm, potentially, if it was Friday night, with a glass of beer in hand, his attention drifting to the colorful screen. He would stop, foot on the first step, looking over with mild interest and amusement at what could possibly be so engaging. My muscles would tense, hoping that Jesse and Becky on Full House wouldn’t do something awful like kiss (ugh, no, please) provoking that kind of heart-stopping embarrassment that one routinely experiences as a pre-teen. This generally led to a swift change of to the Discovery Channel and a program about dolphins or possums or an otherwise acceptable animal.
Even as I grew older and learned to manage my own schedule, I found that if I didn’t rip myself away, this electric box seemed aptly designed to leach time away from my unsuspecting brain. Minutes slithered into hours of Cosby show reruns, and I would emerge, bleary-eyed and inevitably hungry, suddenly shocked by how much I hadn’t accomplished. Senior year of high school, after college applications were signed and my fate rested in other hands, when the weather had not yet improved enough to spend long afternoons outdoors, and before the descent of AP exams in May, my after school hours often morphed into a gray haze of terrible commercials and questionable Rachel Ray 30-minute meals.
In college, we did not have a television freshman and senior year, sophomore and junior year it was relegated to the common room which was rarely used. In med school we had one with full cable and too many channels, and certain afternoons were sucked away into that void. Residency brought with it a 20-year old TV without cable, and the conversion of my wired antenna to a digital one, replete with threatening commercials about the future of digital cable clearly aimed at the technologically impaired and the post-AARP generation (and me). Lately, I watch almost everything online, Netflix reaching out with its claws to draw in my relaxing free time to Downton Abbey and Sherlock Holmes.
Despite my obvious aptitude for wasting time and thus immense responsibility that would accompany ownership of a picture box, there are times when Wimbledon and the US Open, the Olympics and the joys of the Food Network call out to me beseechingly. Then, I waste countless frustrating hours trying to make ESPN3 work and reloading it when the simultaneous usage of my statistics program, chat window and live replay of tennis prove too much for the poor laptop.
What is the secret of a TV balance? I’d rather not find myself in my 15-year old white terry bathrobe with a pink ribbon, eating salty caramel ice cream and whiling away the day in front of Days of Our Lives. But maybe, just maybe, I’ve grown up enough to have one now? Well, maybe next year…