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Are you afflicted with 'TiVo guilt'?

  • Story Highlights
  • Digital video recorders such as TiVo are filling up with programming
  • Viewers don't watch, or don't erase, and the problem becomes worse
  • One expert says don't despair -- delete material and don't stress over it
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By David Daniel
CNN
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Bloated? Overstuffed? Ready to slim down? You're not alone -- and we're not talking about post-Thanksgiving torpor.

Actress Amanda Peet hasn't erased episodes of "Meet the Press" from before the presidential election.

"TiVo guilt" weighs on many owners of the digital video recorder.

What's weighing many folks down these days isn't too much turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, but too much "House," "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI."

More and more people are becoming turned off by their TiVos. Digital video recorders (DVRs) revolutionized television for many viewers, freeing them from endless VCR programming and buying and keeping track of tapes. But it turns out that very ease is providing users with more than they can watch -- and turning a joy into drudgery.

"You want to watch TV, and what do you have? You turn on your DVR and you have a homework assignment," says Brad Berens, chief content officer for iMedia Communications, who analyzes how media advances change people's behavior.

"Economists call this 'opportunity costs,' " explains Berens. "You're sitting there and you have to weigh, well, 'I have to watch this thing, because I promised myself when I told TiVo ... I want the whole season of that! Go get it! And go get things like it!' And so you've committed to this decision and it's a burden -- suddenly your relaxation has turned into more work."

Actress Amanda Peet ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the forthcoming film "What Doesn't Kill You") can relate. She told CNN that her TiVo is filled with programs ranging from the Ken Burns' documentary "The War" to the Sunday morning news shows -- and she's struggling to delete any of it, though much remains unwatched.

"I do have weird OCD where I need to clean out my TiVo," she said. "Like we've had Ken Burns' 'The War' on there forever and we're not gonna watch it, like I'm not gonna watch it cause I'm too scared. Or we'll have back episodes of um, 'Meet The Press' -- I'm obsessed with my Sunday shows like 'Meet The Press' and 'Face The Nation.' ... They're like from before the election, I'm like 'I can't [delete them], I have to watch them' and [my husband says], 'It's already happened, you've already read everything you're going to read about this stuff.' " Video See who else is afflicted with "TiVo guilt" »

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"TiVo guilt" isn't a new development -- a quick Google check offers articles using the phrase dating back at least two years -- and it has its parallels with procrastination involving previous technologies. (Who didn't have a stack of never-watched VHS tapes collecting dust?)

But the explosion of TV channels -- not to mention TV shows, movies, music and webisodes available via the Internet -- has made the situation infinitely worse, says Berens. iReport.com: Share your DVR confession

"With infinite media, you have infinite choices, and therefore you have infinite opportunity costs," he says. "Your satisfaction index of the thing you actually choose can never be equivalent to the infinite opportunity costs, so we're in this position of being behind the cognitive eight-ball all the time."

Berens and others have written about "eventness," the phenomenon of experiencing something in connection with other people. The longer a program sits on your DVR before you watch it, goes the theory, the less satisfying an experience it will be.

But plenty of people who've never heard of "eventness" or "opportunity costs" are growing alarmed at their ever-increasing DVR playlists.

"I've got three weeks' worth of 'The Mentalist,' two weeks worth of 'New Adventures of Old Christine' and 'Gary Unmarried,' three weeks worth of 'Ugly Betty,' two weeks worth of 'Fringe,' two 'Inside the Actors Studios,' one 'Shield,' and two 'Without A Traces,' " wrote columnist Elissa Bass of The (New London, Connecticut) Day recently, tallying up more than a half-day's worth of programming. "I look at them and I start to wonder: Do I still like this show? Should I just delete them and knock them from my season pass? Is there really such a thing as too much TV?"

Fortunately, as the saying goes, recognizing you have a problem is the first step toward a solution, says Berens.

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"I think that if you give things a name, that's a wonderfully empowering gesture ... because now [viewers] know what it is and know that they can take control of their media choices, they can take back that remote and hit the delete button and not feel guilty -- all you need to know is that other people are feeling it, and then I think the guilt can go away."

So take heart, sufferers of TiVo Guilt: You're not alone, and deleting month-old programs -- and even an ill-advised Season Pass or two -- just might increase your enjoyment of what you do watch.

CNN's Jack Hannah contributed to this story.

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