Dubai Diaries: Is it telly o'clock yet?

kirstin@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 4, 2021 | Last updated on August 4, 2021 at 12.11 am

My childhood was structured around TV - which was called an idiot box, but I think I turned out okay anyway.

When I was a first-grader in 1996, I didn’t understand why people had to learn how to read a clock — everyone had a television anyway. TV was my clock. It was noontime if that live variety show was on. As soon as the weatherman wrapped up his forecast on the morning show, it was time to go to school. The evening news intro signalled the 6pm Angelus. And on weekends, afternoon naps began as grandma sat for her soap opera.

My childhood was structured around TV — which was called an idiot box, but I think I turned out okay anyway. To be fair, TV was a reliable clock as the shows were never late, neither were they early. It taught me punctuality, as well as sacrifice.

I sometimes had to say no to fun invites as I couldn’t stand the thought of missing an episode of Meteor Garden. And you know how it is with our good ol’ TV shows, once it’s done, it’s gone (well, except for the replays due to popular demand. But then, would you really wait for a re-run?)

Twenty-plus years later, though, times have changed — it was gradual, but fast. Some time in 2015, I was a new girl in Dubai when my family discovered the power of the digital cable box. It allowed us to record TV shows while we were at work so we could watch them at night, after dinner. Watch your favourite drama in your own time? “This is the life,” I remember thinking.

Things even got better just a couple of years later, when TVs got smarter and Chromecast came into the picture. Netflix and the Filipino Channel app easily booted the cable box out of our home. More streaming platforms popped up and before I knew it, I was already subscribed to five platforms.

How can one subscription be enough when you have The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Modern Love, and The 100 on Amazon Prime Video; WandaVision and Game of Thrones on OSN; Trying and Ted Lasso on Apple TV+; and Money Heist, Korean dramas, New Amsterdam and a thousand other gems on Netflix? An endless stream of shows just a few taps away, at any time of day. What more could a TV-crazed girl ask for?

But I’m struggling. It turns out the best part of it all is also the worst. Having access to all these streaming apps — in addition to YouTube that is powered by talented vloggers — comes at a cost: Time. I lost my sense of time. Whenever I badly need an escape, I would watch for hours and hours, without knowing when to stop. I don’t even see credits rolling anymore as I automatically click next, after next, after next.

Decades ago, when the white noise took over the TV, I knew it was 12am and I stayed up too late. Now I’m swiping through the daily top 10 list of shows on an app, some time between night and day. Maybe, I need a new clock.

Kirstin Bernabe