Never before have family members had so many options pulling them in different directions. That applies to all kinds of activities, but nowhere is it more true than with TV viewing.
The plethora of targeted cable and satellite offerings matched with increasingly affordable televisions has resulted in more sets per home and separate viewing throughout the house. Furthermore, Internet use delivers private experiences in front of computer screens.
The rush to enjoy an ever-increasing palate of new leisure activities continually erodes important face-to-face relaxed communication time. The days of gathering together to share moments of “The Ed Sullivan Show” are long gone.
So I could not have been more surprised when just as it appeared technology was taking us down the road toward becoming another disconnected family of the new millennium, my family found a wonderful way to initiate important communication and connect with each other.
We started viewing “American Dreams” on NBC. With interest piqued by the engaging familial, patriotic and historical promos-plus the added factor of a Sunday night time slot-we agreed to attempt a family experience. We all huddled and cuddled in front of the set to view this new show.
As the first scenes unfolded with the shooting of JFK, my wife and I were besieged by our children’s questions regarding our own experiences at that time. “Daddy, where were you when President Kennedy was shot? Mommy how did you feel when this happened? Was it a scary time for the country?”
We then did something magical. We pressed the easily accessible pause button on the TiVO remote control. This one act swept us into an intensely engaging, interactive, important and fascinating discussion regarding the emotions and issues-nationalistic, global and personal-of that weighty moment in time.
The children learned about history, about their parents, about themselves and their own sensibilities. As parents, we gained new and incredible insights into our daughters’ knowledge and experiences-and into our own feelings.
Pausing to reflect
More wondrous, fulfilling moments of true communication ensued as my wife and I relived and recounted the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recalling our anxiety as kids during that era we discovered extraordinarily similar hidden fears within our own children as they experience life in this post-9/11 world.
Each time a question was raised or an interesting topic came up, we paused the television with TiVo.
This gave us ample unlimited time and focus to discuss all of our reflections, experiences and emotions as a family. There was no pressure to conclude all of our thoughts before the commercial break ended. We looked each other in the eye as we spoke, no longer having to listen for the end of commercial breaks. We communicated as families have throughout history.
Via the enchanted pause button, the Frey Family connected. We had anxiety-releasing laughs that were spurred by recollections of hiding under classroom desks practicing the drill for “protection” in case of nuclear attack.
Our kids learned more about their parents-things like their dad’s favorite dinner as a boy was tuna casserole and that a peacock brought the world of color television into his boyhood household for the first time. These long forgotten moments were openly discussed and we did not try to outshout the television (nor did we miss any part of the program).
A wide range of topics
The show prompted TiVo-paused discussions of work ethics, race relations and teenage dating. My girls found a new forum in which to bring up questions and thoughts. We as parents unearthed a new child-acceptable mechanism for sending our own guiding principles and beliefs to our children. We all enjoyed the closing Bob Dylan song as we paused TiVo long enough to discuss my daughter’s harmonica lessons.
Of course, as in the majority of TiVo households, we passed through most of the commercials. The amount of time that would have been dedicated to commercial viewing was filled with enlightening conversation.
As this kind of personal video technology gains higher penetration levels, Madison Avenue and Hollywood need to increasingly develop new and more sophisticated ways of working together. That is, however, a topic of another discussion.
As a family and as television viewers, we now manage our time much more effectively, since we no longer appointment-view, and we have become our own program directors. Putting off homework to watch prime-time programming has become a thing of the past.
TiVo enables the family to plan the best viewing time for all members regardless of program schedules, bringing back the wonderful collective experience of watching TV together.
I encourage all families to use such technology to seek practical and fulfilling ways to better connect and increase quality communication.
As Dylan wails at the end of each episode of “American Dreams”: “The times they are a-changin’.”#
Barry Frey has built a career launching and operating sales and marketing divisions for companies including USA Network, the National Basketball Association and Hallmark Entertainment, on a domestic and global basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.