NoTube

Why I'm not converting to digital TV. So long, Jean Enersen!
Jean Enersen

Jean Enersen None

Just like in the old TV series The Outer Limits, I am about to lose control of my television set. As a consequence of a government mandate to switch to digital broadcasting by Friday, June 12, my analog set is about to go blank. Like millions of others folks, I haven't bothered to buy a converter box, a new digital TV, or subscribe to a cable or satellite provider. I've been warned for months, but each time I've ignored preparing for the inevitable. The talking heads explaining it all just seemed like one more infomercial. Click.

I'm technologically lazy too. I've never been able to get my rabbit ears to work very well, so I've just gotten used to fewer channels or watching the evening news through a blizzard of electronic snow. Buying and hooking up a converter seems like one chore too many. If the federal government wants to do something for me, how about sorting my recycling or vacuuming the dust bunnies from under the bed?

I don't fit the profile of non-adopters outlined in the New York Times, where Michael J. Copps, acting head of the FCC, says "the people most likely to lose reception are society’s most vulnerable — lower-income families, the elderly, the handicapped, and homes where little or no English is spoken. The transition will also hit inner-city and rural areas hardest."

To tell the truth, my consumption of broadcast TV has been in a downward spiral for decades. Programming is often available online, and much local content, especially news, is dreadful. In recent times, when I needed info during weather emergencies, radio did a better job of providing up-to-date reports anyway. There's not much else of use on the local evening news since my appetite for stories about apartment fires in Burien is easily sated.

I have resisted cable because of cost, but more significantly because of personal weakness, a susceptibility to wasting time in front of a TV with so many channels to choose from. I'm someone who can over-indulge at a buffet even if it's the Royal Fork.

Cable TV holds out hope that there's something wonderful just a few clicks away. I can waste hours in a hotel room just clicking through all the 100-plus cable channels, lost in an endless gyre of anticipation, hoping that something more than sports, cable shopping, movies you'd never rent, and TV preachers is a channel away.

Which isn't to say I won't still watch TV: I can see Conan or Colbert highlights online, broadcast and cable clips at Huffington Post, Seattle Channel or KCTS websites. I didn't need broadcast TV to learn about international talent competition phenom Susan Boyle. I found her on YouTube. I much prefer watching TV series on DVD, which allows you to avoid the ads and watch a whole season's worth in a weekend. You're a year or so behind everyone else for Mad Men, In Treatment or Battlestar Galactica, but you don't have to wait for installments. I got lost watching Lost; I'll catch up when it's out on disc. If I still care after a year.

Former Gov. Gary Locke, now Secretary of Commerce, says he understands laggards like me. "There are so many people who are always waiting until the last minute, whether it is college students doing term papers, or people filing taxes, or people like me who wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping," he said recently. Of the 10 million or so households that aren't ready for digital TV, a few will panic. But for me, I'm content just to let the old medium end like the Sopranos — with a fade to black.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Exactly! I'm with you, Knute. I'm going cold turkey, too. There will be times--esp. in winter--that I'll miss the tube...curling up on the couch, watching local news and a handful of favorite mindless sitcoms, but then again...maybe now I'll get to that stack of books (including Pugetopolis) that I've started but haven't finished reading when the boob tube beckons.

Too bad the P-I is no more, for news...I have a penchant for ink and woodpulp, extensive reading on a computer screen gives me a headache. No TV, no newspaper (I'll never go to Brand X). It's a new world. Glad Crosscut is here--nice to know I'll be in good company when our televisions go dark.

MaryW

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, the conversion to digital is just the last nail in the coffin of traditional TV. I stopped watching some time ago (broadcast AND cable). There's nothing more depressing than turning off the TV after an evening of channel surfing and realizing you've wasted three hours of your life. TV leaves you with a gnawing empty feeling -- like a bad Chinese all-you-can eat buffet.

olaf

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Broadcast TV as a medium has its strengths and shortcomings. Its userbase is shrinking and the switch to digital certainly won't stop that, but it will be with us for quite some time. Compared to cable TV or the internet, the viewer is forced to adhere to a tighter set of constraints: limited channels, one-way communication, the imposition of the network's schedule. But sometimes, that's what the audience wants--more, not fewer, constraints especially when the stated purpose of that audience is frequently to engage in something mindless.

Similarly, vinyl records retain and have strengthened a hold on their niche, because of the apparent limitations of the format and not in spite of them. Forcing the user to take care in handling the record can engender an additional respect not only for the content that's on the record but also for the experience of listening to music.

Innovations in the internet have led in both directions--giving the user more choice and fewer constraints but also telling the user what they should read/see/listen to (digg, Amazon, Stumble-on). Among content delivery systems the internet dominates as it seems to be the medium that can offer it all: no constraints but your imagination or complete group think indoctrination--endless wasting of time or intense analysis and study.

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, you are 100% correct. Digital TV is still, mostly, bad TV content. Radio, internet, DVD's work just fine. Change is good, especially when they change things back to the way I liked 'em in the first place.

- Mike

Naia

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I feel sad for folks who HAVE gone digital and still pay for satellite or cable. What a waste! I know many people who really just want to watch one or two sports, but end up paying a hundred bucks a month for all kinds of crap and the special package that they need. They would cancel if they had another option to watch whichever game they've chosen as part of their identity.

Personally, I went back to rabbit ears and an old PC. Between local TV, Netflix (3dvd+streaming), and Hulu, that's already more than I can keep up with. Youtube is for short highs on the PC, not when I'm sitting at my TV.

Sports? Radio is fine for me, and Sounders are mostly visible on antenna. If other major league or college leagues want to vie for my attention, they better establish themselves on the Internet real quick.

As an aside: I'm wondering about the cultural effects of TV series viewing switching from weekly installment to binge/marathon. Before, we were at least leaning to schedule our lives. Now it seems like we just get a false sense of accomplishment at finishing a season or complete series?

Rob K

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 1:14 p.m. Inappropriate

As someone who grew up in a fringe area (the only channel we could get without the antenna my dad put in the top of a tree was KTNT - and they became worse than KIRO when they moved their transmitter off Vashon Island) we got cable as soon as it became available, some time in the late 70s, and never looked back. I still live in the same area, and still have cable, and almost never watch the broadcast stations. And having seen the super-compression that Comcast puts on its "H"D channels, I'm not in a mood to retire the old Sony PVM-1910 NTSC monitor that serves as my "TV set" anytime soon. Web video? Can't stand it. Is it really true that after decades of technological progress, people are sanguine with a TV image that, except for the addition of color, looks pretty much like what was available in the early 1930s?

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree, I have done the same and found many of the same "freedoms" (i.e., watching online or on DVD later). But I am a little more militant about it because free TV and radio was a wonderful invention, now we have to pay for TV whether we want to or not. I am guessing this might become "necessary" (i.e., the radio station owners will feed the need to "force" people to fatten their wallets)when we inexplicably have to "bail out" satellite radio too.

Maybe I should take this in stride about being part of the change in media landscape and the reordering of industry in general, but I want to hold out just a little longer with my bad attitude anyway. Now this doesn't mean I will give in and buy cable anytime soon, I just want to stay militant for a bit longer. Who needs to waste their time watching all those endless hours of TV anyway?

EJS

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

We have cable (Comcast), and we are waiting to see what happens. Comcast is handling its own digital conversion REALLY BADLY. My folks, who live by Burien, have had TONS of problems with the conversion: their flat screen HDTV doesn't get the same channels as it did before, and despite Comcast's digital boxes for their two analog sets in other rooms, they can't get lots of normal channels on these other TVs now, either. In addition, they can't watch one show and record another any more, either, and they are normally heavy VCR/DVR users. And they're paying $190 a month for their particular cable package... It's a complete disaster.

We live in Seattle, and we've lost channels 50 and 61 so far (ho hum). The minute we start losing channels we actually watch, however, I think we'll probably cancel cable. Their digital box thing is annoying and unnecessary--and I have my suspicions it will somehow expose my viewing habits to some kind of monitoring I'd rather Comcast not be doing. I can just see the news item about that now.

We watch most of our TV online now, anyway. Between streaming on the main channels' Web sites, Hulu, iTunes, and my excellent neighborhood non-chain video store, there is hardly any need to pay for cable, too.

If Hulu becomes a pay service (with commensurate service and technology improvements), I can see using Hulu instead of cable entirely.

With a $300 desktop computer hooked up to the flatscreen TV and a Bluetooth keyboard, it's all viewable on the nice big TV screen, too. That will pay for itself in only 6 months.

The minute FIOS is available in Seattle, however, I may change my mind... I hear good things about FIOS from people in other areas.

smacgry

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 2:15 p.m. Inappropriate

We'll be carting the tube off to the recycler as well.

Knute is right on about TV news - sensational and uninformative. Radio and print (what's left of it) do a better job.

What's more, neither KUOW nor the newspapers (living or dead) have ever sent an obnoxious helicopter to hover loudly overhead. "News" helicopters are a colossal waste of aviation fuel, they endanger the flying public and those on the ground alike, and shatter what peace we can manage to find in our back yards. KING5 and KIRO7, Go Away!!!

argus

Posted Tue, Jun 9, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

PebbleCreek — interesting theory, but I'd contend that if there's an analog (ha) to vinyl, it's not broadcast television but rather news on paper — or, and I hate to think of this becoming true, but any words on paper. Especially in terms of "respect for content" and the "experience."

There is also the argument many audiophiles make that a vinyl record simply sounds better than a CD — certainly better than an MP3 — and so if your purpose is the best possible sound reproduction, vinyl can't be beat. I'm not sure exactly what broadcast television is supposed to represent the best of, at least in this era.

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 6:42 a.m. Inappropriate

You expect a little more intelligence from such a stuffy audience. Broadcast television is no better or worse than any other. My God. Pick and choose what you want to watch but don't condemn it all. There is a lot of great TV out there and some of it you can get with an antenna. But that's the problem. It's all or nothing with digital and anybody who wants to get it over the air (like me) is going to find it frustrating and, perhaps in the end, a reason not to watch. That said, I predict Knute will be back. As he admits. He just doesn't have the will power...

Mikos

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Why is it that no one ever speaks of the real reason for the "government-mandated" switch to digital which is simply to make more money? It has nothing to do with better reception for the viewer or safety or national security or whatever else it is supposed to improve. It is simply to let the broadcast titans sell four channels instead of one. It angers me every time I hear yet another commercial for the marvelous benefits we are about to receive if only we will buy a new TV or sign up for cable or get one of the swell little receiver boxes. Just another way to line the pockets of the broadcast owners.

seb

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I see that Crosscut is practicing censorship !

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I kind of go along with Knute and one other, Rob K. But I feel it is sort of a responsibility to keep track of the propaganda the gov wants me to see and for some reason I like 30 min of local and 30 min of national then I am done and on to something else. Books, journals etc. To watch that I have to pay for 40 stations on cable I cant remember watching for a while. I used to get buy with ears and so fuzzy a picture in the mountains I couldn't recognize any one on TV but a past relationship signed me up for cable and like Knute only reverse I am to lazy to turn it off. How come I have to pay for 40 stations i don't want. Maybe I will learn to watch on the laptop but I have used wifi and it again is to far out in the mountains to get steady video.

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 7:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Hockey is much, much better in HDTV! (You can see the puck.) Last night's game 6 was superb!!

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 10:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Dr. Smith, WIFI is a local protocol. By that I mean that reception is limited to within maybe a couple hundred yards from the hub to the clients. The only distance that matters is between your hub and your client. Distance from "civilization" doesn't enter into it. (And, as I suggested earlier, "steady" [as in stable timebase] is not an element of web video - read up on television coverage of the 1936 Olympics - YouTube would have loved it.)

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Jun 12, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

A few years ago and for about 6 years, I had a television that was seriously on the blink. It took 45 minutes to warm it up, so that I could get a picture. So, unless I really knew that there was something specific I wanted to watch and had planned ahead, I did not watch TV. During that same period, although I had always read a lot, I think that I may have gotten the best education I had ever received. While I had online access, especially during the evenings, I read all sorts of wonderful books, literature and non-fiction, with no distractions and no temptation to do anything else. It was great!

Then, I bought a new television. Beautiful picture, although it only works well with cable. So, after the change to digital, it still works and the picture is even better. While I do have some will power and read, when I want, I still find that that fine picture is a temptation. And sometimes, I wish the TV would break. Knut, your lack of interest in upgrading your TV is absolutely understandable and commendable.

Kamille

Posted Mon, Jun 15, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

I didn't change to digital because my TV broke three or four years ago. Is anything on? There wasn't then.

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