I’m lost in the foothills of a mountain of TV | David Mitchell

The latest research shows that people who work from home spend loads of the time, when they’re supposed to be working, watching TV. What do you think about that research then? Do you believe it? Do you think it’s good research? Or do you think it’s lazy research? Do you reckon it was done by the sort of researchers who work from home and probably spend most of the time watching TV?

A little bit more about the research: it was commissioned by a website that sells toner, called TonerGiant. To me this is a confusing fact and one of those weird manifestations of modern marketing, like when Carlsberg slagged off its own lager. Do the guys at TonerGiant have a dog in the fight, as it were? Do they want people to work from home so they need to buy toner to print things out in their home?

Or is it just the same if they go to the office and use the toner that their employer will also have had to buy, possibly from TonerGiant? Though perhaps the employer will get a trade discount for buying in bulk, which squeezes TonerGiant’s profit margins. Conversely, maybe a big corporation’s toner will be used with greater profligacy by its staff than domestic toner for which the staff members have had to pay themselves, so the trade discount will be more than offset by the higher overall consumption of toner.

It may be that it works out fine either way for TonerGiant and this survey is just how the company has chosen to advertise, instead of buying a slot in an Emmerdale ad break for someone like Bradley Walsh or Hannah Waddingham or me to shout “When you see TonerGiant’s deals on toner you’ll think you’re hallucinating because you’ve been inhaling toner!” or something similar, like used to happen back in the good old days before anyone knew what toner was and Carlsberg still affected to believe its lager was nice and paid Orson Welles to say so.

If so, there’s an irony here because the survey implies that a TV ad might not have been so ineffective after all. Not during Emmerdale, of course – all the WFH-ers will have knocked off long before that – but perhaps in the middle of This Morning or Come Dine With Me which, the research says, respectively attract the attention of 24% and 15% of hybrid workers while they’re claiming to hybrid work.

This resurgence of an old medium for modern reasons is comforting to me as someone who is worried about television. I’ve stopped understanding its role in society. When I was growing up, its role was clear: everyone watched it for two reasons, first so you had something to do in the evenings and second so that, on the rare evenings you weren’t watching television but were meeting other people, you had something to talk about.

For me, that doesn’t function any more and I don’t know why. My wife and I largely work from home, we have more than one television in the house, plus phones and laptops that can themselves become televisions whenever you want them to; we have recently had another child so we basically never go out in the evenings; we are ourselves on television to a no doubt exasperating extent – and yet everybody we know talks about television programmes and we have never seen any of them. What is going on?

The current issue of the Radio Times has the harrowing front page headline: “101 Shows to Stream This Summer!” When am I going to do that? Is a summer long enough? I want to go on holiday! How does everyone else fit all this in? Do they watch things at double speed? How can 101 shows, each of which will have somewhere between four and 200 episodes, be an appetising quantity to advertise? It’s like the Observer Food Monthly promising 45,000 ways to cook asparagus.

I never got around to watching The Wire and The Sopranos, despite the solemn conversational interest I feigned in both on various occasions, and it feels like this is society’s revenge. You lied! You never binged those shows and you didn’t persevere with Breaking Bad either, despite everyone telling you there were only a couple of episodes to go before it really kicked in!

So I’m a pariah, destined to be relentlessly told about the thousands of hours of perfectly crafted entertainment I’m missing. Today’s conversations about television are all an exhausting barrage of recommendations. The only way to endure it is to return fire: find something you’ve seen, the more obscure the better, and recommend it forcefully back. “Oh, you really must give it a try! And I am going to keep talking about it until you capitulate and promise that you will!”

It’s important not to leave a gap in the eulogising or it’ll let in a counter-recommendation of something that they think “sounds very similar” and is amazing and there are hundreds of hours of it and maybe it has subtitles, which is vicious since it means you can’t even watch it when you’re having dinner because every time you look down at your plate you miss some vital piece of dialogue and spend the rest of the episode/series/month suspecting that’s why you don’t understand what the hell is happening in the plot, or at least telling yourself that, because otherwise it must be the onset of mental collapse.

This isn’t what television conversations used to be like. It was very different when everyone basically watched the same thing, so you could actually discuss what the programmes contained. There was a throwback to this, among people I know, at least, when Baby Reindeer came out because, bizarrely, it seemed like everyone had seen it. It was a heartwarming return to a world where we’d all watched Minder the night before, albeit a version in which Terry kept passing out on crack and getting buggered by DS Chisholm.

In general, though, the medium has stopped providing watercooler moments. But I suppose that’s OK because nobody turns up to use the watercooler any more. They’re all at home, desperately trying to catch up on their TV.

The Guardian