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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

April 13, 2013 at 8:45 PM

Why I’m done watching TV on TV

(Flickr photo by Sarah Reid, Creative Commons license)

(Flickr photo by Sarah Reid, Creative Commons license)

When I watch TV on TV, it’s almost always by accident.

I mean to turn on the computer to watch Hulu or HBO Go, or the Xbox to watch Netflix or Amazon. But a fluke in our programmable remote will sometimes turn on the TV instead. The local news will start, or some glitzy reality talent show, and I’ll swear under my breath, hit more buttons and make things right.

I’m still watching a TV, just not the TV. Our 47-inch Samsung television sits on a black Ikea media cabinet that holds, among other things, an Xbox, a MacBook Pro and a series of hacked-together speakers and switchboards only my husband understands.

Nielsen just created a category for people like me. We are “Zero TV” people. People who might have a TV, along with several other screens, but who abandoned networks and cable to watch pretty much everything online.

They say there’s 5 million of us now, up from 3 million in 2007 but still just 5 percent of the market. I suspect that’s undercounting — or at least, missing the point. It’s not just technology that’s changing here, it’s a couple of generations of entertainment values.

TV the way I grew up with it makes less and less sense in my world. Your world, too, I bet. If not now, soon.

My husband and I have been “Zero TV” for years. He had cable when I met him in 2007. Then there was a DVD transition period when we moved in together in 2009 — deep dives into “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Wire,” with episodes of “Star Trek: the Next Generation” arriving by red Netflix envelope, for geek nostalgia’s sake.

Once streaming arrived, there was no turning back. It made home entertainment, like so much that’s been transformed by tech, at once more personal, more social and more intense.

We can still talk about what we watch. We just have to pause, calibrate and try not to sound too much like raving maniacs. Chats about a great show begin with the same question: “How far are you?” and end with the zealots pulling the zealots-in-training deeper into the life-altering Cult Of The Show. “Let me know when you get to Season 4. Oh. My. God.”

It’s amazing how much has changed. The whole time I watched “Friday Night Lights” I never knew what channel it played on. I’d have to look it up even now to tell you. The only channels that matter anymore are Netflix, Hulu, HBO or Amazon. I don’t notice, otherwise, and I really don’t care.

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I have to dig deep to remember channel surfing. Seconds of one show, a terrible commercial, then seconds of something else, the stories always half over. Click. Click. Click. Usually I settled on something not because it was good, but because it was better than doing nothing.

Yuck.

It’s been a while since I tolerated small-screen entertainment on someone else’s schedule. Unless it’s a true event that loses value after its first broadcast, when social media makes it a gigantic, can’t-miss watch party — the Super Bowl, the Oscars and a handful of others — shows have no business telling me when to tune in.

That control makes forced down time a lot more fun. When my mom visited from Boston two weeks ago, she signed in to her Hulu Plus account (I don’t have one) so we could watch the first episode of the new season of “Smash.” When she left, her login stayed, and I got sick. I watched nine more episodes between doses of Sudafed, crumpled in a robe and blanket, a huge, snotty smile on my face.

Illness aside, I don’t just watch shows anymore. I commit to them. The best ones become multiday intoxications. It’s no wonder we call the new habit of playing episode after episode of a good show “binge watching.”

I had something like a hangover after I downed the entire next-to-last season of “Breaking Bad.” Echoes of its story pounded in my head for days. But wow. What a party.

And what a wait. Imagine reading a book, getting to a really good part, and turning a page to find it blank. The next page is blank, and so is the rest of the book. That’s what it feels like to race through episode after episode and hit a wall. The end of an unfinished story. It’s just not fun anymore.

Netflix gets that. That’s why it released two whole seasons of its first original series, “House of Cards,” all at once. It was a gift. Finally, TV the way we non-TV people want it.

You’d think, then, that I’d watch each new episode of a good show as soon as it’s available. But, I’m learning, immersion is worth more than immediacy. I skipped the second episode of the current season of “Game of Thrones” last Sunday. I’m skipping tonight’s episode, too. Better to let the story load a while, and come back when there’s enough for me to dive in.

One hour is just the kiddie pool.

When I turned 16, my parents gave me my own TV and permission to watch it whenever I wanted. That was entertainment freedom to me then.

Today, it’s something else. And it’s no accident.

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

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