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My View: How technology spoils mindless TV watching

By Kevin J. O'Connor

TV just isn’t fun anymore.

My kids laugh when I tell them how simple it was watching television when I grew up. There were only three stations to choose from in the hours between 6 a.m. station sign-on and 1 a.m. sign-off. Stations signed off with the national anthem followed by a steady nightlong test pattern and constant audio tone.

Servicing the TV set was a partially simple do-it-yourself chore. At age 9, I was sent by my dad down to the drug store, where there was a vacuum tube-testing apparatus. If one of the tubes was a “bum” one, I’d simply buy a replacement.

It was a big deal when a fourth channel, UHF Channel 29, appeared for the first time. Soon after came color TV. Pay TV, cable and satellite-sourced television promising commercial-free service followed with 24-hour programming. (Somehow the commercial-free promise never panned out.)

Kevin J. O'Connor

These days we pay for access to hundreds of channels, few of which we have any interest in, or time to watch. That’s OK. Just because I have no use for “The Real Housewives of Ashtabula,” that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be available to those who do like them.

Here’s why I now think twice about even turning the TV on since Spectrum went digital: I have four TVs. Two of them have the descrambler box that Spectrum shakes me down for every month, at the compassionately reduced $7-per-box rate available for only two boxes. They both make sure that we are aware of what’s going on by starting off with the dynamic Spectrum News channel — whether we like it or not. One of those boxes descrambles our basic small kitchen counter set that used to work fine before the switch to digital. The other box descrambles a beautiful, very large, internet-capable “smart” TV. It is, however, not “smart” in a Spectrum sort of way. Evidently its manufacturer chose not to play ball with Spectrum by installing the Spectrum App. Therefore, it needs the box.

Our third set is a Samsung “Smart” TV. We purchased it not knowing that Samsung must have seen Spectrum coming and pre-installed the Spectrum App. The built in app is supposed to draw the Spectrum lineup through our Spectrum Wi-Fi signal. It will usually do so — eventually, after about eight minutes of remote prompts, apology graphics, repetitions and suggestions that we try again later. I am amazed that my wife has not thrown the remote through the screen — yet.

The fourth set is in my family room, for sports-watching and prime time TV, situated about 12 feet from my Wi-Fi router. We purchased a Roku device to descramble this set through our Spectrum Wi-Fi signal. Aside from the startup routine that only takes 15 seconds or so, it usually works relatively well considering the one-time charge for the Roku device.

Family members watching in the kitchen have learned not to spoil it for Dad by screaming when the Buffalo Bills score since the Roku-driven TV suffers from a 49-second delay (an eternity) from the Spectrum box TVs. Unbelievably, during these Major League Baseball playoffs, Roku waited until bases were loaded in the 9th inning with a power hitter at bat. It is that time when the screen froze and a graphic spelling out “Loading …” appeared. Aside from that, I haven’t figured out why at times the screen will blur for no apparent reason.

So, you see, it’s just not fun to spontaneously watch TV for a mindless pastime anymore. If I wanted to have to think critically, it wouldn’t be for watching TV.

Kevin J. O’Connor, of North Tonawanda, manages his home fleet of four TV sets.

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