I've finally entered the mindless orbit of satellite TV

October 08, 2005|By ROB KASPER

After years of fighting it, I got wired this week to the modern world. I climbed up on the roof and watched a guy attach a satellite dish to the chimney.

As I watched the installer point the dish toward a satellite in the distant southwestern sky, it struck me that this device was not only going to play a role in how we spend our weekends, it also represented a seismic shift in household philosophy.

For a quarter of a century, ours was a low-tech television home. If a program couldn't be pulled in by our rooftop antenna, we didn't see it. I resisted cable, or any form of pay television. Our kids complained, saying I was tight-fisted and out of touch. My response was that their description of the situation might be accurate, but it was one they were going to have to live with.

Now the kids are out of the house. After years of preaching that watching too much television would rot their minds, my wife and I are taking the necessary technological steps to rot ours. Life is full of contradictions, especially when you're a parent.

The twin engines fueling this shift are a change in household demographics and a kitchen renovation project. In other words, we became empty nesters and we bought a fancy new TV.

The kitchen renovation, an undertaking that rivals the complexity and duration of building the Bay Bridge, is still going on. The process has forced us to make many difficult decisions, such as trying to pump wastewater uphill and relocating the circuit-breaker box. To reward ourselves for making all these grim judgments, we made a fun call, getting a new kitchen television, a flat-screen, high-definition television, or HDTV.

Right away, I recognized that this purchase meant that rather than spending my evenings pondering the meaning of life while staring into a flickering fire, I was choosing to look at the 32-inch TV screen installed above the fireplace and revel in its shallow pleasures.

What I did not comprehend was that once you dip your toe in high-tech home entertainment, you are soon swimming in fast-moving waters. To get a high-definition signal into my new TV, I had to buy more gear. I could purchase a new antenna, aim it at Baltimore's TV Hill, and hope it picked up some HDTV signals. Or I could sign up with a cable or satellite company that would bring high-definition programs and a raft of other shows into our home, once a technology-free sanctuary.

The antenna option was appealing, but chancy. Moreover, even if it worked, the only programs it would pull in would be those airing on network television, a not very exciting option.

Then my wife and I began the mind-numbing process of choosing a satellite or cable provider. We checked out Comcast Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network. We were flooded with options, and sales pitches. We picked Dish mainly because their people did the best job of answering our phoned-in questions, even if the answer givers sounded like they were sitting in India, not Glen Burnie.

Yet I had a feeling of dread - of the barbarians being at the gate - the day that the satellite guy arrived at our house to hook us up with modernity. His fluency in English was not up to William Donald Schaefer's standards, but he got the job done. After he had strung lengths of black wire through the house, I trailed him, trying to hide the wire, the evidence of what we have become.

This weekend, I plan to get to know my new remote control and the plethora of programs it can summon from the heavens. Already my wife has found an opera program and the other night the satellite sent her the David Mamet play Glengarry Glen Ross. She also listened in on a high-minded discussion of how Nobel Prize winners are picked.

I have taken a different tack with the new technology. I have been watching the Men's Channel, where guys stalk and shoot. And I've been on the lookout for Pimp My Ride, a car makeover show.

Back when our home was cable-free, I was proud that I did not regularly plant myself in front of a screen. But it was a false pride. I worried that given the opportunity to watch hours of senseless television, I probably would.

The other night, a weeknight, I stayed up well past midnight. I wasn't reading a weighty article in The New Yorker or pouring over passages written by Marcel Proust. Instead I was mesmerized by the broadcast of the Northern Illinois-Miami of Ohio football game. The rot has begun.

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