Nobody wants to reboot the television

Jim BartholdThe other morning I woke up, put on a pot of coffee and stepped into my office; same routine as every day. Upon waking my computer, I found a message telling me that Microsoft had performed some very necessary updates and I would have to restart the computer; not the same routine every day, but an occasional annoyance.

Upon restart I went into my e-mail where I expected to find a bunch of story links crucial to that day's FierceCable newsletter. They were there but, to my chagrin, I couldn't link to them. Seems I needed permission from the administrator, who just happened to be me. I told myself it was OK and I still couldn't link to them.

After an appropriate amount of time using inappropriate language, I did what every non-geek with a little knowledge would do; I hit system restore. My logic was that the computer linked files the night before and it would link files again if I undid the fixes that Microsoft installed to break it. I was right. After restoring to the previous night's settings everything ran fine.

The little trip down the computer hellhole came back to me later in the week when I read an item in BusinessWeek that said people just want their TVs to work. The story detailed comments from Peter Merholz, president of user design firm Adaptive Path who said, in the end, "normal" people only want one thing from TV: that it be simple and accessible. It is, Merholz reasoned, why cable TV will survive. Even in the era of Internet content all over the place, only cable-or its doppelgangers from telephone and satellite-can keep the TV experience easy.

While I would never consider myself a "normal" person--nor would anyone I know describe me that way--the story rang true with me. Suppose, I thought, my computer had been my television and instead of getting up to work in the morning I was sitting down to relax in the evening. Suppose instead of blocking access to links on my e-mail, it blocked access to my favorite TV shows, or, worse yet, that night's live sporting event that I'd been waiting to see. It was an aggravating waste of precious time to restore and reboot the computer; it would be much worse for any normal person to do the same with the TV.

There is an air of adventure today about cutting the cable cord; an air of getting away with something, with putting "the man" in his place. There's an air of youthful enthusiasm around it and, indeed, an air of arrogance that some can do it and some can't.

It's the same attitude that developed all those years ago when Microsoft first unveiled Windows. Computer geeks knew we--and I counted myself among them then--didn't need someone to put everything in its place for us. We could type the code and hit the execute key to get where we needed to go and start up the program we needed. The rest of the world, the "normal" people didn't feel that way.

Today you can still slip behind the Windows and see the bare computer. But frankly, who wants to?

It's fun today to slip behind the cable screen and do it yourself. It's a demonstration of skill and dexterity. But it's not something that "normal" people want to do which is why, when cable gets around to building its own on-screen Windows platform for your TV, those same normal people will flock to Internet TV provided by Comcast or Time Warner or Cablevision or Cox. And, if they're really lucky, they won't ever have to reboot the television.--Jim