Life in FFwd

Just when I thought I was the first to think of it years earlier, sure enough someone else has been there already.  Specifically, I happened across this passage in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs:
We've decided that we must have entertainment to break the monotony of coding and work.

We tried going to movies at the Shoreline Cineplex, but movies at a theater take FOREVER to watch-no fast forward.  And VCR rental movies take forever to watch, even using the ffwd button.

Then Karla accidentally discovered this incredible time-saving secret- foreign movies with subtitles!  It's like the crack cocaine equivalent of movies.  We watched a Japanese movie-an artistic one, at that (Kurosawa's No Regrets for Our Youth)- in less than an hour.  All you have to do is blast directly through to the subtitles, speed-read them, and then blip out the rest.  It's so efficient it's scary.

"Why can't they subtitle English movies?" asked Karla.  "I mean, they do books-on-tape for commuters.  Subtitled English movies would fill a potentially big niche.  No one has time anymore."

I felt the same when I discovered the FF button on my remote some years before reading the above.  In fact, back before dvds came along, I used to get more use out of my vcr than anyone else on this planet.  When my ex-wife and I first moved to Texas, we were in a brand new apartment complex.  Whoever the cable installer was, he had no idea what he was doing, and we ended up with the full compliment of cable channels without ever having signed up for anything at all.  I'm talking about everything; a $100+/month package back when you typically paid less than $30 for basic.  I couldn't let that go to waste, so I used to download the schedule for the movie channels, then set the vcr to tape all the time, and I would blast through things at night when I was home or on the weekends.  Eventually they cut the service, and we had to pay for even the basic package, but even then the vcr never got a rest.

I used to tape between 6 and 8 hours of tv a day (i.e., I would fill a tape of that length every day), then watch it all in about half that time as I fast-forwarded through all the intros, commercials, and filler.  Since I used to live in the sticks where the UHF signal never reached, I had never seen Star Trek the Next Gen growing up, so when the former Nashville Network (TNN) decided to distance themselves from their former redneck clientele to become The National Network (before becoming Spike TV a few years later), they showed no less than nine episodes of Trek a week.  Those only took me about 40 minutes each to watch.  Jeopardy took 15 minutes (I FFed the interviews with the contestants as well.  I have no idea what he talks about with the guests.  That other guy named Alex, I mean).  Letterman took maybe 30 minutes.  35 if I liked the musical guest.

It was addictive.  By this time all the networks had their own websites, so I downloaded the monthly schedules of my favorite half dozen stations (Discovery, TLC, Bravo, Sci-Fi, Comedy Central, and VH1) and kept them in a binder next to the couch in the living room.  Each night before I went to bed, I filled up the vcr's memory with shows I wanted to see.  Usually, while the living room vcr was taping, I was pouring through a tape on the other machine upstairs next to the computer and divided my attention between tv and the web, foreshadowing the trend that would grow nationwide in that direction over the next few years.

Many of my other hobbies allowed me to keep the tv running so that I was never without a constant stream of news and entertainment.  For example, rewiring guitars was a good time to burn through tapes.  Once the schematics are drawn out, they don't demand much attention, just solder.  Years before, I wrote my thesis to the Sundance channel.  This is the multi-tasking generation.

I never watched anything live, just on tape, so I could consume tremendous amounts of programming without any commercials, reruns, or filler.  I fast-forwarded through every car chase scene, every cheesy intro/opening credits, and every lame monologue on every program I watched.  There's probably a big chuck of the "theme song" culture I can't participate in because I never heard them.

I never used to think "you get what you pay for" was valid, but it definitely is where electronics are concerned (at least up to a point).  I bought an $80 Sony vcr, then a few months later, I bought a 2nd one (also a Sony) for my room for $120.  The $80 one was terrible about starting up when you hit Play, and when you were in FF and hit Play, it continued to FF for about 15 seconds before you got the audio back.  By contrast, the $120 version of the same model stopped on a dime, something we take for granted in the digital era.  It was definitely worth the money for me!

Believe it or not, I resisted making the shift to dvds until they had pretty much became the dominant medium.  I'm usually an early adopter with most technologies, but dvds annoyed me (and still do) for their shitty animated menus and FBI warnings you can't skip past.  Vcrs indiscriminately let you zip through anything you wanted to see.  However, even with their flaws, once I made the switch to digital, things got even faster.

I ended up being thrust into the dvd era when my computer went wonky and forced me to replace it with a modern update... which inevitably came with a dvd-rom.  Whereas I previously faced the same limitations as Coupland's "serfs" when it came to subtitles in the vcr days, I found they were a ubiquitous feature on dvds.  Better still, there wasn't just Play vs. FF; now the I had the advantage of 1x, 2x, 3x, or 4x, all with the subtitles on (and I had the ability to ramp up or down insanely fast using the scroll wheel on the mouse).

My next computer had updated software with something new: time-sliding.  Basically, I could go up to 2x without the audio clipping or pitch-shifting like Alvin and the Chipmunks (as it might if you sped up an analog recording).  With the relatively slow pacing of older movies (which I've been working my way through), I found that this was an invaluable way to keep my sanity waiting for what was next.

Netflix hates me.  A two hour movie typically takes me 45 minutes.  Okay, maybe an hour if there's a gag reel and the deleted scenes have enough substance to them to merit not hitting eject within the first thirty seconds.  It doesn't take long for the dvd to slip back in the envelope and on its way.  Of course, how do I spend the time I theoretically save?  Watching more movies, of course.

Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.
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