You will be assimilated…or, you know, maybe not

For years my friends have been telling me I’m the perfect person for TiVo. “Join us, join us,” they say in deadened tones, holding out remotes as they walk towards me like extras in Night of the Living Dead. I watch a lot of TV, have shows I like to keep up with regularly, and about a billion actors I keep my eyes open for. Plus I can spend a whole day reminding myself to set the vcrs for something, and then promptly forget when it comes time to set them. But a lot of things made me not want one — high cost, the size of the machines (the previous boxes were big enough to fit a small child into), the fact that it recorded stuff for you without asking, which freaked me out profoundly. But once I started my Buy Electronics Before Being Laid Off program, I figured I might as well break down and get one. The new series 2 versions were considerably smaller, recorded more TV, and seemed, while still high priced, a better value (although I didn’t at the time know about the monthly $13 for service, which kinda changed my perspective to a little more sour).

And last weekend I went shopping with the two best people you could shop for a TiVo with. M has been evangelizing them for what feels like forever, and L had been working there designing the UI until recently. So I got it all figured out, went to purchase one, and they were completely out of stock. They said they’d have a truck in the next day, so I dutifully went back to a store farther away with M, and they only had two left of the more expensive, higher-capacity one, so I bought it. Best Buy could not have made it more difficult. M patted my shoulder and told me we could go have a drink afterwards — by the time they had asked me for the name of my mother’s first boyfriend, I thought my head was going to explode. And now BB has pretty much every piece of information on me that it can have, including my underwear size and bra cup, because apparently they refuse to sell you a “service” without you providing all that and your blood type and then signing in said blood. I’m sure the incompetent woman at the counter went home and complained to her family about the two screaming bitches who came through her line that day, but when it comes to privacy, screaming bitch doesn’t even begin to describe me. Hera on a tear would probably do it.

So I buy the thing and M helps me set it up, probably deciding at that point that she has no respect for me because I can’t figure anything out at all (the technically competent must be so frustrated by people like me, who look at diagrams and go “duh?”), and then we go off and have dinner and take her electronic toys to her place, and I come back and it says it’s processing and whatnot, but that I can watch live TV. So I play around, start reading my manual, and suddenly during Alias I realize that even though I have to pee really bad, I don’t have to wait for the commercial because — voila! I can pause it or rewind it! Terribly exciting. I come back and watch Marshall giving Syd flowers and think, well, maybe it’s not so bad. I watch Boomtown and go to bed and it’s still processing.

Then I come home on Monday and turn it on to see what I can do with it. With the manual and a plate of Mongolian tofu in front of me, I start doing the guided tours. Fun stuff. I don’t like the fact that it’s taken over my system completely, and now I can’t do anything except watch live TV without at least two, usually three remotes in my hand, which I hate, but I’ve moved past anger and denial into acceptance. And I find it’s recorded things for me that I didn’t ask it to.

I freak. But I look at the list. From my previous night’s two-show viewing, it has surmised that I want to watch Xena, Touched by an Angel, Wonder Years, Jackie Chan Adventures, Perry Mason, some show I’ve never heard of, and a court show. I marvel at the fact that you can make a leap from Alias and Boomtown to Touched by a fucking Angel. And freak out completely. The first thing I do is find the suggestions feature and turn it off now. I’m deeply disturbed by machines that think they know what’s good for me ever since seeing Colossus: The Forbin Project when it first aired in the ‘70s, and also, look what happened to the future in The Terminator just because of Skynet thinking for us. I ask you.

But hey! 24 is on FX tonight and I missed a lot of that last ep — so I can set it to record before I go to bed! How exciting. I also set it to record the La Femme Nikita eps on Oxygen during the day. Thinking I have all this stuff to watch when I get home last night, I turn it on and find 24, watch it, then find the LFN recordings, some of my fave episodes actually, and… I get Cybill with Lee Tergeson from Oz, which technically might have been fine but not what I wanted, and it’s also recorded some frightening movie with Bill Pullman and Ken Wahl. In a panic, I call M, who helps me try to figure out what’s wrong. At one point, I notice that not only does it say it’s the wrong time, but it also has the wrong channel listed (because it thinks it’s the wrong time). She suggests unplugging, which I do, then restarting, which I do, and now it thinks it’s 3 a.m. We hang up and I try customer service.

I get a guy who could not possibly be less interested in my plight. I try my best to explain to him what is happening, which admittedly is somewhat convoluted because, well, it’s freaking convoluted. When I’ve explained my predicament, I’m met with total silence. This becomes a pattern — I answer a question, he sits there on the other end, silent, unacknowledging, like some vastly superior oracle. I wonder if I’m supposed to sacrifice a goat or something to get his attention. Sample conversation:
(after going away for about three minutes, and coming back and saying okay, then being silent)
me: Okay?
him: Now you’ll need to unplug it.
me (politely): Okay. But I did already do that before I called — does that make a difference?
him: Just unplug it.
me: Okay. This is a bit of a project, so I have to put the phone down. (I put the phone down, do my Cirque du Soleil contortionist impersonation and unplug it. Pick up the phone and say okay.
I’m met with total silence. I wonder briefly if I should say hello to see if the phone’s gone dead, but he seems miffed by everything I do, so perhaps not. Goats may still be involved.) Um, what will I be doing next?
him: Just wait.
me: Okay.
him: We need to wait for 30 seconds.
me: Ah. I see.
silence again for more than 30 seconds.
him: Okay, plug it in.
me: Okay, done.
Silence again. For a really long time. Finally, in desperation, I ask “what next?” after it completely restarts. He walks me, rather unhelpfully and with great annoyance, through forcing it to make its daily check-in call. While it’s doing that, he gives me a number. I ask what it’s for, because he does not explain and he says it’s something blah blah or other, and that if this doesn’t work to call back and use this number. I ask, oh, when do you close? Right now, he says curtly. I can hear his finger poised above the disconnect button, stirring the air. I say, oh, well… okay then. Uh, thanks.

None of this, of course, works. So I go to the web site, which because I have a dialup connection is slow and painful and time consuming. Finally in desperation I send cranky e-mail hoping that might get me a response the next day. Hah hah! Only after you submit it do you find that a response will take from 3-5 days. I laugh so hard I cry.

By now I have wasted the entire night, and missed Gilmore Girls, 24, and am in the process of missing The Shield (they’re incredibly lucky there was no Buffy on that night). I’m angry and frustrated, and mister not helpful has made me feel small and stupid, especially when I asked if this was a common problem and he said, “No. You’re the only one who’s had it.” Thank you, Dr. Phil. So I do the one thing I hate most about people who get frustrated with computers — I start pounding on the keyboard and banging random things. I turn it on and off, reset the phone number, reset and restart, and basically spend about an hour doing all of this. And then somewhere along the line, the combination of banging, screaming, cursing all the people at TiVo so they’ll end up with syphilis and their children will end up with syphilis too, resetting the phone number and restarting 15 times, and calling in on its daily call for the 8th time, it works. Suddenly it knows that it is not 4:45 a.m., but in fact 10:41 p.m., and that The Shield is on, not an infomercial. I cast my eye suspiciously at it, turn it off, and go to bed. Because it’s going to make its next daily call in the morning, I know when I wake up it’ll be fucked up again.

But so far, so good. It still knew the correct time when I left. We’ll see what I get when I get home. But they lost me. If I could have been assimilated, I never will be now. It may never do this again, it may be reliable and easy, but TiVo will never have a fan in me, will never have an evangelist. I’m always going to feel like I have to have backups on the vcr, and can’t rely on this thing, and what I thought was adorably customer-service oriented in a company, I’ve been made bitter and cranky about instead. Even if I keep it and it continues to function, I will never tell people, “join us. You’re the perfect TiVo person.” Maybe I’ll laugh and joke later, but right now, I’m thinking: syphilis.