Gmail frenzy

I don’t know how to use a television

I’m not joking, actually. Last night I was IMing with a friend from Chicago and he mentioned that Diana Krall was about to go on The Tonight Show to perform a Tom Waits song. He told me to turn on my TV and check it out.

That’s when I realized — holy moses, I no longer know how to work a television set other than to play video games on it. I have six gaming systems hooked up to the TV in my office, and a complex system for powering them and allowing me to instantly switch from one gaming system to another. But I never actually watch television on the set. It is purely and solely an output device for games.

My TV isn’t even hooked up to cable. Mind you, it’s been so long since I’ve watched The Tonight Show that I had to concentrate for a second to recall whether it’s on cable or broadcast. Then I remembered, okay, it’s broadcast, so theoretically my cable-less set ought to be able to receive it. But I couldn’t figure out how to tune it to a channel. I know it’s theoretically possible, but it had been years since I’d done so; like a muscle that atrophies after years of living on a space station, or a limb that slowly shrinks and falls off during evolution, my ability to use a regular television had vanished.

Over in the living room, my fiance has her own TV hooked up to a Tivo. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but when I do, it’s always something she’s Tivoed for us. So this is another interesting cultural barrier: Were I to want to watch a show, I’d simply ask her to Tivo it, or figure out how to use the Tivo myself. Actually, more likely, I’d simply try to find the video online and download it or watch it streaming. Probably 95% of all TV I’ve seen in the last few years — and fully 100% of all news TV — has come to me over the Internet.

But the concept of turning on a normal TV to watch something live? Utterly foreign.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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