On Demand, Indeed

By Jac

I remember the good old days. The ones four or five years ago, when my oldest daughter and I scheduled our morning routine around the CBC Kids morning lineup. She would play pretty well in the morning, knowing, even as a toddler, that her favourite show wasn’t on yet. She just waited, and when 10:05am arrived, I would call her and she would come sprinting into the living room with great excitement.

These days had their drawbacks, of course. For example, if we weren’t home at 10:05am, which happened frequently, she missed the show, and I’d have to hope that she’d be interested in whatever was on at 11:15 when I wanted her to sit still for a few minutes while I made lunch or put her baby sister down for a nap. So when we grown-ups decided to get a PVR (DVR for you Americans), we set it up to record shows for the kids.

Now it’s several years later, and this toddler is now a big kid, and her three little sisters don’t even know what it’s like to NOT have TV shows “On Demand.” It’s great to be able to pause their shows, and to start them when we want to, but the “demand” aspect of this set-up has gotten a bit too literal around here, with the PVR dominating our screen-time lives.

It used to be like this in my house:
Adult: “Hey kids, wanna watch a show?”
Kids: “Yaaaaay!”
Adult: “How about Paw Patrol?”
Kids: “Yaaaay!”

But over the last several months, it’s become much more like this:
Adult: “Hey kids, wanna watch a show?”
Kids: “NOT Paw Patrol again!”
“Yes Paw Patrol!”
“We always watch that and we NEVER watch Dinosaur Train anymore!”
“PAW PATROL!”
“WAAAH”

It was getting ridiculous.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated with how something that was supposed to be a privilege and a joy was turning into a daily argument about what exactly each child was entitled to. It is definitely tricky to find a TV show that all four kids will want to watch at the same time, but we needed a solution that would bring us back to the reason I was turning it on in the first place: getting all four of them to happily sit still and be quiet for half an hour.

So I decided to introduce them to a “new” way of watching television. Now when we watch a show, we watch “whatever’s on.” I tell them that we are going to turn on the TV, but only if they agree beforehand to watch whatever’s on, and then I turn it to one of the channels that shows kids’ TV all day long. This strategy has been much more successful than I would have guessed. My older girls tell me they really like that they have found some new shows, and my younger ones are much less likely to have a meltdown if they don’t get their way because they are getting used to not ever getting their way.

If you’re looking for a lesson from this that you can apply to yourself, ask yourself this: why have we, as a culture, decided that getting things “on demand” is a good thing? Does getting the exact television show I want exactly when I want it, or the perfect cup of coffee with the touch of a button, or the pizza I want in 20 minutes or less, actually make me a better person–am I at all more patient, more flexible, less argumentative, more humble? Am I even a happier person at all? Is it possible that maybe getting everything-on-demand just makes me more generally dissatisfied and, well, demanding? Or is it only small children (like mine) who begin to think that they should always get exactly what they demand? When we gain the ability to get exactly what we want, exactly when we want it, what do we lose in exchange?

I may be asking those questions, but you’ll notice that I didn’t say that my solution to this problem was to cancel cable or sell our PVR. I still do want to watch Brooklyn 99 on my own schedule, you see, just like I want my instant coffee and my twenty-minute pizza delivery service. Because while I’ve been thinking about and observing that our love of “on demand” convenience doesn’t seem to actually make us better people, I am still not quite ready to stop demanding certain things at my own convenience. But you know what? After all the commercials and reruns I had to sit through during the 90’s, maybe I’ve earned it. 

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