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Privy Video Recorder

I realize that examining entrails for portents of doom is a popular practice in some societies, but I had no idea we were actually reporting on the contents of the entrails and calling it news. In the AdAge story "More U.S. Homes Have Outhouses Than TiVos," the author posits that the personal video recorder is a technology in search of a business model and cites as support one statistic, origin unknown: More U.S. homes have outhouses (671,000) than TiVos (504,000 to 514,000).

Putting aside for a moment the pesky questions of who commissioned this survey, what the questions were, and what the intent of the survey was -- I have to ask: who on Earth thought it would be a good idea to compare Tivos to outhouses? It's not as if they're competing technologies -- nobody is going to stand in the aisle at Circuit City saying, "Damn, I really want me one of them TiVos, but I reckon I should dig a new privy first."

Also unmentioned in the TiVo-outhouse comparison: what the economic factors leading to the inclusion of either one in a household might be. Chances are, unless someone's on one of those survivalist kicks where they've gone off the grid, people aren't exactly opting for outhouses. They use them because they can't afford plumbing. Given the number of people living in poverty relative to the number of people who can afford a gadget and some sort of service agreement, it only makes sense that there are more outhouses than TiVos.

Assessing a personal video recorder's success relative to an outhouse in 2002 is like assessing the gramophone's success relative to the horse-drawn carriage in 1906: more homes were likely to have the carriage, which provided a vital household function as transportation, than they were to have an entertainment device. And yet, the phonograph -- which eventually incorporated electricity, long-playing records and stereophonic sound before metamorphosing into the home stereo system -- survives in some form to this day. Black Beauty as the number-one way to jaunt around town does not.

So it is with TiVos and outhouses -- one will probably change, and the other has been supplanted as the norm in its function by another option. Their successes or failures are independent of each other.


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