My column in the print TIME this week (subscription required) is a sort of offshoot of the recent “Is there too much great TV or too little?” debate: the TV networks’ collective decision to cram in a week’s worth of prestige TV shows on Sunday nights.
The column ended up being—well, sadder than I expected when I first started writing. Not because having too many shows to watch is in itself is any kind of real problem in the grand scheme of things. But it’s another example of our lives becoming overstuffed by the same technologies that theoretically make life easier.
The fact that Sunday is so overprogrammed with appointment shows–depending on your taste, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, Masters of Sex, The Good Wife, Fox’s animated comedies, The Walking Dead, and just wait until midseason–is as much a function of technology as creativity. Networks now accept that nearly half the audience have DVRs, and many of the rest have access to shows streaming, on demand, on iTunes, Hulu, or Netflix and so on–that is, they know you’ll be watching Sunday TV all week.
But that leads to one of those side effects of modern life. The knowledge that you have access to everything–all of TV’s past and present on DVD and online, weeks’ worth of no-longer-ephemeral shows stored on DVR–does not change the simple human fact that you do not have time to experience everything. Once, you watched a show or you didn’t, and then it was gone. Now, nothing ever truly is. Media technology can be a time-saver, because you can watch on your own time, skip commercials, &c., but there’s a trade-off:
Like many First World problems, the Sunday TV glut is an example of how technology is both liberating and smothering. Your smart devices are wonderful because they keep you from being tied to the office; they are terrible because you bring the office everywhere. Just so, it’s great that you can have entertainment on your time, on your terms, that you can record Sunday and make it last all week. But it’s also a kind of lie–the lie that you can hack your life, use your day more efficiently and never miss a thing.
We hurtle through our overscheduled lives like so many Hermione Grangers with Time-Turners. But you can cheat time only so much. You can fast-forward ads or stash the last season of Breaking Bad in your carry-on, but life is still finite. Chores must be done, money made, actual human interactions had. You will not see everything you want to see and do everything you want to do. You will have to choose.
The TV overload has come up over and over in the Tuned In comments, so I’m wondering: What are your Sunday TV strategies? What do you watch live or delayed? What shows are piling up, nagging at you from your DVR’s “Recorded” list? Oh, and if you’re juggling too many shows now, keep in mind that this is arguably a relatively slow time of year. Looking at the January calendar, we’ve got several new and returning HBO series and both Downton Abbey and Sherlock back-to-back, just for starters. You had better pray for a blizzard.