A TiVo Into Your Soul

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There are no warnings on the package. No "this product will open a window into your soul that you aren't ready to see." The box doesn't say anything about all the wires you have to hook up, either, but the soul-window thing, that was the real problem. TiVo, the most advanced machine for taping TV shows, lures you in by masquerading as the VCR you've always dreamed of: it lets you program by a show's name instead of the time it's on and remembers to record your favorite programs every week. But its real mission is to expose you — by taking upon itself the task of taping things it thinks you will like. It supposedly makes these decisions by finding out what people who record the same shows as you do also like, but I'm pretty sure it just talks to your ex-girlfriends.

I bought my TiVo because my editor keeps scheduling meetings during that soap opera with Timmy the Living Doll. But when I programmed it for the first time after coming home one Saturday night — the last I would ever spend outside my apartment — I decided to try to impress it, so I'd get pooled with the smart people. I asked it to tape "Meet the Press," "Full Metal Jacket" and some British sitcom called "Keeping Up Appearances."

But by the next morning, TiVo had also taped "Married with Children"; "Malibu, CA"; "El Chavo del Ocho"; and "Aqui Esta la Chilindrina." Not wanting to insult my new home appliance, and not speaking any Spanish, I first watched "Malibu, CA," which is about the zany antics of a group of "Baywatch"-y teens. I'm sure there were similarly interesting plot lines offered by "El Chavo," but I used TiVo's superfast-forward and stopped only on the cleavage shots. ¡Muy bueno!

Still, when I looked at the list of shows it planned to tape for me in the future, I was creeped out. TiVo thought I would enjoy "Boy Meets World," "Moesha" and an Olsen twins movie called "To Grandmother's House We Go." I spent my entire Sunday afternoon using the special thumbs-up, thumbs-down button to try and set it straight. I gave thumbs-down to figure skating, "Hollywood Squares," "Judge Judy" and "The View." Yet when I came back from getting the laundry, I caught it taping another "Boy Meets World." I went into a clicking rage, giving thumbs up to hockey games, "The Man Show," "Real Sex," "Sex Bytes" and any other show with the word sex in it. I was relieved to see "Friends" drop to No. 17 on TiVo's list of suggestions, while "The Jerk" was now at the top.

The next night I came home to find that for some reason, my TiVo now thought I was a stoner, perhaps because of the three thumbs ups I gave to "The Jerk." It was planning to tape not only The Secret Life of Ants but also a documentary about termite mounds and a "National Geographic Explorer" about educating gorillas. I went through three bags of Tostitos during a termite special.

After several months, TiVo has finally learned who I am — Elvis' "Girls! Girls! Girls!" currently sits at No. 2 on the recommended list — and I've learned a little about myself. I do like Boy Meets World, especially the episodes about problems between Corey and Topanga. If it took a machine to find that sensitive spot, it was worth the $249 lifetime fee. Plus it tapes movies on Cinemax while I'm sleeping. That machine has no shame.