57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)

Multiple television/computer screens stretching to
A vast wall of television/computer screens showing a wide variety of images stretching to infinity against a black background
Ian McKinnell Getty Images

This essay originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Sign up here.

I am officially a “cord againer.” This is a term my colleagues and I made up after Googling “people who go back to cable after cutting the cord” and coming up with nothing. Indeed, the Pew Foundation has data on so-called “cord cutters” and even “cord nevers” (together, some 24% of the total adult population in the U.S.), but they don’t appear to have any numbers on cord againers—maybe because not that many of us exist?

In case you’re wondering why anyone in their right mind would disconnect cable TV service only to reconnect a few years later, let me explain. No, I didn’t experience amnesia and forget why I broke up with cable in the first place. Comcast (CMCSA), my local provider, just made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So after about three years of going cord-free—yes, I was still paying them for broadband—I became a cord againer. HBO and Showtime and all the soccer channels I could want included.

Two weeks into rekindling my relationship with cable TV, I realized two things. One: I’m a sucker. Two: Even with all of the soccer channels in the world, sometimes there’s still nothing on TV. (If you don’t get the “57 Channels” reference, please watch this.)

Over the last few years, I’ve not only gotten accustomed to binge-watching my favorite shows but also to not having to scroll through endless channels to find something to watch. (For more on how Netflix (NFLX) has changed content creation and consumption, check out my recent feature on the company.) Of course, the online players offer their own version of content overload: queues with expanding catalogs of original content. But most of my viewing on those “channels” is very selective. I usually open Netflix to watch a specific show that I’ve heard about—my latest binge-worthy pick is the streaming service’s Narcos—and not to aimlessly peruse its mountains of shows I don’t really want to watch. If there isn’t something specific I’m after, Netflix makes targeted suggestions.

Those suggestions don’t always pan out—Netflix’s new French-language show, Marseille, is not so merveilleux. But at least they give me some sense of direction. In contrast, the other night I flipped on the television with no specific destination in mind, something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I flipped through channel after channel but didn’t find anything compelling enough to stop and watch. About 10 minutes into my futile search, I turned off the tube and opened a more manageable format, a magazine.

At some point, I may have to come up with another term: a “cord yo-yo’er”?

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