Earlier this evening, I started

Earlier this evening, I started watching something on TiVo, and after a minute or so, I paused it to check my email. Then I checked on a few sites. 30 minutes passed. I took a phone call. I got up and got something to eat, played with the cats for a while, and then realized the show I started watching was still sitting on pause. So I walked over and watched it.

Then it hit me. Remember VCRs? You hit pause, walk away, and after five minutes they begin a series of actions including un-pausing themselves, hitting stop automatically, and jumping back to live TV. Usually, this becomes obvious because the TV starts blaring and kills the silence of a paused tape. Why in hell did VCRs do that?* As far back as I can remember, my family’s first VCR did that. They kept that “feature” in for 20 years without ever changing it.

I realized TiVo is a new device, and it’s different in a very simple way: it’s a machine that does exactly what you tell it to do. Isn’t it funny that a device doing what you want is a new thing for consumers to expect? We’re so used to expecting the limitations engineers give us, that TiVo seems downright revolutionary.

I could credit heightened consumer expectation with the now widespread use of the web, but that’s a story for another day.

(* 12:29am update: Nick tells me “the tape expanded due to stress around the reading head and heat from the mechanics of the VCR, etc… typically, if the tape isn’t released it will snap…. sorry, I am certified in videography… couldn’t resist.” Even after considering Nick’s comment, I’m still surprised no one came up with a VCR that didn’t stress or heat tapes so a pause button could stay down forever. It’s a fairly popular user complaint.)