Fulfilling my civic duty
Guess what? I matter!
Or at least my TV viewing does.
This week, mine was chosen as a Nielsen household. Three little booklets (diaries, in Nielsen parlance) in the mail—one for each television—and a crisp dollar bill as a thank-you for my efforts, and I was ready to represent the TV viewers in my area.
What fun! I thought. After all, I'd had a blast doing this sometime around 1968, when my parents agreed to participate, then immediately outsourced the filling-out of the diary to me, their eager 10-year-old, who was already in love with pencils and forms. I was meticulous about my entries, reading the instructions carefully, indicating on each line who was watching which show and when, painstakingly verifying that each family member was in front of the tube for the required 7-minute minimum of each 15 minute timeblock.
And I'd had a brief insider's look at the system during my college days when, hidden behind the bland alias of "Ann Clark," I spent countless evenings on the telephone, dialing up strangers from my kitchen-table office and inviting them to participate in a survey for Arbitron, the radio world's lesser-known compiler of listener data.
So I was gleeful when the diaries arrived, eager to witness my present-day cynical self bumping up against the younger, less-jaded me. I read the instructions (no questions, hooray!), filled out the required demographic information, and set one blue-and-white diary next to each television in my house. Finally—at last!—my voice would be heard.
And thus began a week of Uh-Oh. Apparently, there's nothing like taking one particular habit and tracking it for a week to get a glimpse of who you really are. For starters: obsessive-compulsive. Should I use a pencil or pen? A pencil with an eraser, or do I need a separate eraser? A pen? (Do I really have that much confidence in myself?) Which color? How fine a tip?
And then the embarrassing fact of three TVs. Three, really? And what to make of the truth that I used only two? That made one blank diary to return. I suppose I should be glad there wasn't a box labeled Excess that I was required to check.
But those are the easy things.
I have a TV in the bedroom, where I drift in and out of the morning news as I'm getting ready for my day. Trouble is, I can barely stand the station I watch; I consider the morning crew to be mean-spirited and snide. I keep threatening to switch the channel for good. The reason I don't? My internal clock is set to that station. The weather segment tells me it's time to roll out of the sack. Headlines mean the bed should be made. Entertainment reminds me that my hair had better be dry. Pet of the Day and I'm late late late. I've chosen inertia over reprogramming, and that says what it says about my moral failures. And now the station will reap the ratings rewards. Should I lie to my diary?
Which brings me to the screen in the living room during this week of extraordinary weather, Hurricane Sandy having her way with the Northeast coast. But there was also that football game, the Oregon Ducks looking to go 8-0 on the season. And I surely couldn't miss the volleyball games, the women's team ranked #2 in the nation. And in this week before the national election, there was more than the usual amount of politics streaming into the house. And so I faithfully filled my booklet: blocks of hours gone to sports, politics, weather, sports, politics, weather—all the things that made up the me of this week.
On Friday I finished up my booklets and dropped them in the mailbox. By that time I wasn't particularly feeling the glee. 40 more years are likely to pass before I get the chance to reveal myself again. What might I make of myself in the meantime?
Oh I'll think about that later. I've got some episodes of Project Runway I need to catch up on.
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm a poet and a letter-writer. Yup, that kind. The kind who uses pens and paper and actual stamps. The kind who will leave the house with nothing on the agenda but to get to the mailbox before the scheduled pick-up time. The kind who understands that technology is a wondrous thing, but nothing quite beats finding a real letter with a real stamp on it amid the credit card solicitations, pizza coupons and seminar catalogs.