From 1950 to 1980, watching TV was super easy: All you had to do was remember what time your favorite shows would be on and then turn a knob to tune in. So simple. The process required less than 0.0000001% of your brain power, freeing America to do some pretty cool things during that time span, like walk on the moon, march for civil rights, and impeach a president.
Then came a wolf in sheep’s clothing that sought to annihilate the elegant simplicity of TV watching: The Cable Box. Sure it came with dozens of enticing channels, but it rendered useless the TV’s own dial and it made hooking up a VCR a complicated mess. It also made life hell for every 10 year old boy who was forced to become their home’s I.T. guy.
Fortunately, electronics manufacturers saw a need for simplicity, and they started sticking cable tuners right into a multitude of devices. The result: cable-ready TVs & VCRs that relegated cable boxes only to those who desperately needed to buy pay-per-view programs (i.e. boxing & porn) or unscramble premium channels (i.e. less interesting boxing and simulated porn). Thus the 1990’s became the golden age of cable: 60 to 70 additional channels, no special box required. With that hassle eliminated, America saw it’s greatest decade of prosperity since the end of World War II. We even had time to impeach another president.
But then the cable companies fought back. “Sure you can get up to 70 channels with no box,” they said in a dark alley behind the middle school, “but that’s BASIC cable. Wouldn’t you like something better? Something DIGITAL?” Ooh, digital cable. Hundreds of channels! Better sound and video quality! The ability to watch movies on demand! “Sounds great!” we shouted, “but what’s the catch?”
“That’s the best part,” they responded. “There isn’t one!”
Ah, but there was.