BOB tries to keep Carol & Ted & Alice from watching too much TV


Here’s the thing. Kind of cute, huh?
Not actual size — Click the picture for close-ups.

Occasionally, an unaccountably optimistic marketer will ask me if I want to review a product. It’s usually not a good fit (Doodaddy’s take on Sukay music, I mean, really!), but when the manufacturer of BOB got in touch, I decided I’d give it a shot. We’re not addicted to television or anything, but it’s certainly part of our lives, and eventually we’re going to want to control Boobaby’s intake.

BOB’s an inexpensive little device that you plug into your TV’s power cord (there’s a lock and key involved, no less!) and then you can program it to limit your kids’ (or your mother’s, wife’s, pony’s) television time — up to six people, total. It’s a little cumbersome to set up — it’s got a four-line LCD screen, which in this age of computer interfaces felt almost like programming a VCR from 1987 — but once you’ve got it going, it’s pretty easy to use. I suspect a 5-year old wouldn’t have any trouble as a user. It’s nicely flexible, too — you could set a daily limit for, say, a 7-year old, but let a teenager have a weekly budget from which to make his own decisions.

Sadly, BOB only handles one screen, and even then, only one with a power cord. My wife and I watch a couple of series when they come out — The Office, you know — but not on the television! When the BOB box first arrived, I was surprised to discover that we went 10 days without the television even being on once! We watch through iTunes or on my wife’s iPhone in bed (and I wonder why I’m not getting more…), and we occasionally let Boo play one of the Elmo games at the Sesame Workshop Web site. The fraction of our “screen time” that’s on the old-fashioned television has shrunk to infinitesimally small, and I suspect the same is true for most families. Plus, of course, many folks have more than one television in the house, although I’m pretty sure we never will.

When we got BOB, my wife suggested that attentive parents should be the ones policing their kids’ TV time, not some box. I’ve babysat enough that I just have to disagree. You instruct your angelic kids not to gorge on their Halloween candy, but you also put it on the top shelf, right? (Well, maybe you do that so you can nick the Mars bars yourself after the kids go to bed, but you see my point.) Doveryai no proveryai — Trust, but verify. Plus, it’s a heckuva lot easier to enforce a time limit if an electronic brain is monitoring the clock.

So in the right setting — a family with one television, little or no video-watching done on a computer — I think BOB would be pretty useful, especially if you’ve got a lot of auxiliary caregivers like grandparents or babysitters. Although the marketing is mostly around TV time, I could see BOB being more useful limiting “discretionary” computer time (the latest Nancy Drew adventure game!) or time on a video game system.

Maybe I should suggest it to my sister-in-law! I wonder if she could get one each to put her husband’s XBox, PS3, and Wii under lock and key? Nah, then he’d just play the Nintendo.

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Here’s a link to Hopscotch Technology, the makers of BOB.