Attempt at synchronized TV watching

Anne Thundercloud, Madison, Wis., on Skype.

Anne Thundercloud, pictured here on Skype, was a willing participant in an experiment in synchronized television viewing on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014.

I read an article in The New York Times on Saturday about people in different cities who watch the same television program together through video chatting services such as Skype.

Interesting. Right away I thought about trying it.

My husband Roberto and I used Skype when we were apart for six weeks in 2012. I was just starting a job in Louisiana and he was back in Wisconsin, packing and getting ready to put our house on the market in Green Bay.

I had read about how couples in similar situations would eat dinner together via Skype, which allows people to connect via webcam on their computers. But I really wasn’t interested in watching my husband abandon his fork for a tortilla, which he often uses to scoop up food off his plate. He claims it’s efficient and delicious. Every bite is a mini-taco.

I simply preferred seeing Roberto’s smiling face after a long day. As we shared our high points of the day, we stared into each other’s eyes – probably more than we had when we were dating. Of course it wasn’t nearly as romantic, gazing at a digital image on a computer screen.

Anne Thundercloud in Madison, Wis., Skypes with "A Digital Native American," in Lafayette, La.

Anne Thundercloud in Madison, Wis., Skyped Sunday with “A Digital Native American,” in Lafayette, La. In this photo, the PBS show “Downton Abbey” is playing on TV in the background.

As for my experiment in long-distance TV watching, I knew it would be easy to figure out which program to watch. Right now I watch only one show regularly and that’s “Downton Abbey” on PBS. (“Project Runway All-Stars” was on my list, but it just ended last week. I’m looking forward to Tim Gunn’s new show, “Under the Gunn,” that premieres Thursday on Lifetime.)

Next, I would need to find a fellow “Downton Abbey” fan in another city; someone whose arm I could virtually twist. Anne Thundercloud in Madison, Wis., immediately came to mind. Anne is the daughter of my sister, Helene. I heard Anne say at a recent family gathering that she was hooked on the show. We communicated via text on Sunday and our synchronized TV viewing plan was set.

We connected quite easily about 15 minutes before the 8 p.m. airtime and chatted a little. As it turns out, a PBS show like “Downton,” with no commercial interruptions, isn’t the best choice if you want to dissect a scene or make an extended commentary on a plot twist.

In fact, Anne and I were both engrossed in the show that we rarely talked. The only chatter occurred during the scene where Mrs. Patmore was overcome with anxiety, which threw the entire kitchen staff into a tizzy. Roberto, who was viewing the show with me in Louisiana, said it was like watching my family cooking a meal at one of our church gatherings. Anne and I got a chuckle out of that.

A better show to watch together might have been the Golden Globes, which also aired on Sunday night. I like critiquing the fashions and the acceptance speeches.

The upshot of the synchronized TV viewing experiment was that it was fun spending virtual time with Anne, but I got much more out of visiting with her after the show. We talked about work, life and family. That was much more meaningful than seeing the intent look on her face as she watched the show, or looking at the wall and the sectional sofa in her living room.

This latest fad in interactive media is more for people who live alone and want to connect with friends or family members who live long distances from them.

Unless anyone outside of Louisiana wants to watch “Under the Gunn” with me on Thursday nights, I probably won’t be doing any more synchronized TV watching via Skype. (But then again, it’s awards show season. I’d better ask Anne what she’s doing on Oscar night.)

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.


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