Tune in, turn off, unplug

Taping TV shows has become a habit for me; I never watch anything live anymore. I use the word “taping,” but of course I use a DVR, and I should say I “record” TV shows. Compared to the bad old days (10 years ago), when I had to program my VCR to the time and the day I wanted to record a show, the DVR makes it so simple. Click on the program you want to record and, presto chango, you’re set. No mess, no fuss. And with the simple press of a button, the DVR jumps ahead 30 seconds so I no longer have to sit through commercials for medicines that will cure diseases I don’t have. Yet.

By skipping commercials, I can watch the evening news in 22 minutes – usually less because I also skip through the heartwarming stories at the end of each broadcast. I’m not against heartwarming stories, but that’s not why I’m watching the news. If I wanted to watch heartwarming, uplifting, human-interest stories, I would watch a show called “Heartwarming, Uplifting, Human-Interest Stories,” not one called “The Evening News.”

I used to think I would spend the time I saved watching commercials to clean the house or write the great American novel, but it turns out I really use it to watch more TV. I can zip through “So You Think You Can Dance” and “The Voice” in half the time it would take to watch them live.

When the DVR came along, I put my VCR in the broom closet, thinking that someday I’d hook it up again and watch all the hand-labeled videotapes I’d never gotten around to watching. It has never happened. It sits in there with the old CD player that iPods made obsolete and the boxes of printer cables and connectors that wi-fi made obsolete and the giant speakers that earbuds and desktop speakers made obsolete.

When I add up all the money spent on electronics that are too old to use but not old enough to sell as antiques, I want to weep. There are boxes of 156KB floppy disks in there and expensive computer backup devices that can hold 20MB of data, or about 10 times less than the tiny card in my digital camera. That camera will end up in the broom closet of broken dreams soon, along with several first-generation cell phones because they are so hopelessly old-fashioned and out of date. It would cost me money to sell them on eBay.

When I finally broke down and bought a big flat-screen TV, I was shocked by how heavy and awkward the old one was. It was heavier than an air conditioner and twice as clunky. It was, after all, 10 years old. How am I ever going to get rid of all this junk? I should ask the producers of “Hoarders” to come visit my house. I would promise to pretend to be very upset when they volunteered to clean out the place for me.

Now that I’m all modern, miniature and up to date, I figured all my technological problems were a thing of the past. Then I read in the paper that my little DVR uses 10 percent more electricity than a modern refrigerator. It’s an energy hog that’s on 24 hours a day, even though it’s recording only two or three hours a day. You can’t really turn it off without unplugging it. Even though it doesn’t make ice cubes or keep my vegetables crisp, it is adding about $12 a month to my electric bill. It turns out that my TV is also on when I’m not watching it, and so is my computer.

I went back and looked at the recordings of my evening news shows on TV. None of them mentioned it. I guess they zip through things they don’t want to hear about, just like I do.

Jim Mullen’s latest book “Now in Paperback!” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.

Copyright 2011 United Feature Syndicate.

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