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Stories

TiVo’d

Technology can be a scary thing, in the wrong hands. Luckily, there’s help. A visit with an analyst about a personal video problem.


I’d never been to a therapist before but, like most things, it was exactly like it is on TV. The no-eye-contact waiting room, the couch, the noncommittal artwork, the sandbox, the sharp-angled furniture, the notepad, even the how does that make you feel.

‘I don’t even know what the TiVo is,’ she says toward the end of our first session, her voice steady with manufactured good-humor.

I am holding a box of lotion-infused facial tissues in my lap. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Well, Josh, you’ve talked a lot about the TiVo today and at first I thought it was perhaps an imaginary friend of yours but n—’

‘You don’t know what TiVo is.’

‘If you put a gun to my head I’d guess it was like a Palm Pilot?’

‘Doctor, seriously, what the hell. I was referred to you specifically, Doc, specifically because of your expertise with technology-related disorders. Your alleged so-called expertise.’

‘I know Palm Pilots. It’s usually about Palm Pilots or voicemail or cell phones, like ninety percent of the time.’

I sit there, sullen, glaring at a point a few inches northeast of her head. I say there’s no way I can fully describe the experience in words, so I invite my therapist to come home with me and see the TiVo in action but she says uh-uh. I ask if her office is cable-ready and if there’s a free phone jack and if I could bring the whole setup in for a little in-house demo and she says: Is all this really necessary? And then she takes another look at my bloodshot eyes, my shaking hands, the flecks of saliva on my lips—above all the cold desperation that threatens to collapse my body from within—and assents.

I find installing the TiVo in my therapist’s office the following week to be a thoroughly pleasurable experience, and tell her so. She writes that, or something, down, and says: ‘You do seem much more relaxed. The question is, then, when does this whole experience turn from pleasure to pain.’

I plug male into female, the screw of the coax biting into the flesh of my thumb. I am visibly aroused. I say: ‘I’m pretty sure the question is why is the pain so much better than the pleasure.’ I have to reconfigure my box to work from her office, making my way through a dozen setup screens. Hearing the distinctive sound effects in this new context, selecting her dial-in prefix, her zip code—it makes the process fresh again, alive, dangerous. Together we watch the intro animation with the TV-shaped mascot sliding through a cartoonish factory, something I hadn’t seen since I first installed the thing three years ago. I want to hold my therapist’s hand as we sit on the couch, watching it together, our knees just barely touching.

She fiddles with the remote. ‘I don’t get it,’ she says. ‘It’s a VCR. It tapes shows. Big whoop. I haven’t done any VCR counseling since I don’t know when.’

I place my hands around hers, gently moving her fingers to the correct buttons. ‘Open your mind,’ I say. ‘Here’s what you’re saying with the TiVo, you’re saying: These are the shows I want to watch. I don’t know when, I don’t know in what order, maybe half of one and then half of another, maybe ten seconds here and there, maybe tonight, maybe a year from now, maybe backwards, maybe in slow motion, probably definitely skipping all commercials. This is what you’re saying: Hey, Mr. TV Man, I am taking your output and pummeling it into whatever shape I see fit, and also: Fuck you.’

‘OK,’ my therapist says, withdrawing her hands, retreating to her desk, which is dust-free. ‘OK. So this gives you feelings of…what. Of anti-establishment? Of fighting the Man?’ She makes quotation marks with her fingers.

‘That’s the beginning,’ I say, not looking at her anymore, just scrolling down the list of next week’s basic-cable movies, selecting ones I think she might be interested in (Troop Beverly Hills, Ordinary People, The Ice Pirates). ‘It plants this seed in your head. This idea that you can make anything your own, no matter how prepackaged or limited or controlled. It’s all just a matter of transferring it—quickly and efficiently—to a new realm that’s completely separate from the source.’

‘And you’re applying this technique to other aspects of your life.’ The motions she’s making with her pen look less and less like writing.

‘To all aspects,’ I say, glancing at her over my shoulder. ‘As an example, I taped last week’s session with you.’

‘With the TiVo.’

‘With a pocket-sized audiocassette recorder. I then hurried home, transferred that recording to my computer, and re-edited it so our conversation went more to my liking.’

‘I see,’ my therapist said. (In the revised version she will say: ‘You astound me.’) ‘And does your re-edit conclude with some sort of complicated sexual encounter?’

‘Complicated, no. There was an elegant minimalism about it.’

‘Things are starting to fall into place here.’

‘But, see, that’s just part of it. Look at this.’ I flip around until I find a local news broadcast. A reporter is standing in front of a burning warehouse downtown. ‘This is live,’ I say. ‘Look. This is happening right now. That building is burning down right this very instant. That person running behind the reporter—look, that’s happening right now, just a few miles away. But…’ And I hit the pause button, freezing the scene, the flames suddenly locked into place, the runner caught in mid-stride, an expression of sooty alarm on his face. ‘Look what I did.’

My therapist says, ‘Hate to break it to you, Josh, but people’ve been pausing things for ages now.’

‘People have not been pausing live events,’ I cry, looming over her desk, staring down into her freckled cleavage. ‘People have not been imposing their will on events that are taking place right this very instant. That kind of power, no way. That level of control was only for world leaders, despots, tycoons, and… And well I’ll go right ahead and say it since it’s what we’re all thinking: gods.’

‘And you’re saying TiVo gives you god-like power.’

I turn back to the television set and examine the paused moment. ‘This event does not proceed until I tell it to. Anything could happen. A huge explosion. A fireman falls from a window. That guy trips over something. Lightning strikes the reporter. Reality, real-life actual events, are in stasis, as far as we’re concerned. And do you feel that tension?’

‘I feel a certain type of tension.’

‘Do you feel the type of tension where you’re aching to know what happens next, you’re dying to know, and yet you don’t really want to find out because then the mystery will vanish and the ache will go with it? But that’s OK because you can bring every second of every minute of every day that same type of tension with the touch of a button?’

My therapist puts her notepad down and slowly rolls her chair back, crosses her legs, her nylons going shhh. ‘But this isn’t control, Josh. This is just delaying things that are out of your control. That will always be out of your control.’

‘You think the power to delay something isn’t a form of control? Because if you can delay something long enough to detach it from its source, transfer it to a separate realm, and mess with it in any way you want, well, then there’s nothing god-like about it. It’s straight-up pure god action.’

‘For example, you freeze this moment right now and change it so we end up bottomless under my desk here.’

‘For example.’

My therapist jots a note in her appointment book. ‘I’m going to start scheduling you for two sessions a week.’

‘Yes,’ I say happily. ‘Yes. I knew you were going to say that.’
 

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Joshua Allen is a complex and exciting young man. He is a hard worker and always gives 110 percent. He is a people-person unless that person is a crab and not pulling their weight for the team. If enthusiasm and get-up-and-go are drugs, then he’s a hardcore drug addict. He’s pretty obviously an only child. He lives in Fireland, USA. More by Joshua Allen