Some pauses aren't optional

We recently switched cable providers, which ranks right up there with root canals among First World problems. I choose to take for granted the miracle that is thousands of hours of programming snaking through a wire in my home and presenting itself, on command, for my viewing pleasure. Instead, I’m going to whine about the “pause” button for live TV. Or, as is the case with my new cable provider, the lack of one.
In most areas, progress creates standards that are never rolled back: you can’t buy a new car without a seat belt, for instance. That new cell phone isn’t going to reintroduce the antenna, and the latest oven is not going to require coal. Digital video recorders like TiVo and Replay TV have been around since 1999, so most cable providers have gradually incorporated this technology into their set-top boxes. Failing to provide viewers the ability to pause live television therefore seems like a crime against reason itself, like the new Baywatch movie.

In the 1960s, the world began witnessing seminal events on live television: Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald; the Beatles changing music forever on Ed Sullivan; Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. My generation watched the Berlin Wall come down and the slow crawl of OJ’s white Bronco through the streets of L.A. However, nothing cemented the importance of pausing live TV like the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, 2004. When Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the halftime show, millions of television viewers experienced a collective “Did I just see that?” moment. We had, but we couldn’t check to be sure. Sales of digital video recorders soon went through the roof. Suddenly, you could press a button and the world of entertainment would wait on you as you hit the bathroom. More importantly, this technology saved marriages everywhere. For the first time in recorded history, men paused the Big Game to actually listen to their significant others rather than merely nodding their heads while their eyes stayed plastered to the TV screen. With the assurance we wouldn’t miss anything, we could interact with the world around us by, say, performing CPR even though it was the bottom of the ninth in a tie game with runners in scoring position.

With this in mind, a “pause” button is no more optional than food or basic shelter, even if you’re only getting basic cable.

If anything, we need more “pause” buttons in our lives. There should be a button installed in every L.A. wedding chapel open after midnight, for example. There should be a button in every establishment that offers neck tattoos or fanny packs. There should be a button for every time she asks if her “butt looks big in these pants.”

Instead, my cable provider spent the last year insisting a “pause” button just wasn’t available. Then, suddenly, it was. For a fee. For an industry that has fought a la carte pricing for years despite federal warnings about collusion, they sure offer a wide variety of fees for things most people assume they’re already paying for. For instance, why are we charged an extra fee for set top boxes if the service doesn’t work without them? That’s like charging airline customers extra for the pilot. That’s why I refuse to pay for the new “pause” feature even though I risk missing those Janet Jackson moments.

I wish I had a “pause” button for the moment I decided to throw away the setup instructions for my old VCR.

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