I might as well admit it publicly: I’m afraid of our remotes. You know, the little hand-held gadgets that now control just about everything in our lives, but mainly TV.
There was a time when good, hard-working Americans were willing to stand up, walk across a room and turn a TV on or off, or change the channel. This was when there were four channels to choose from, so you can get some idea how long I’ve been around.
As an aside, someone asked me recently how long WDIO, Channel 10, has been on the air. Well, I don’t know exactly, but it opened for business probably in the mid-1960s because as a Duluth newspaper reporter, I covered the first broadcast of the now venerable ABC station.
I was “manning” the newsroom alone on a Sunday afternoon on the fateful day (we kept a skeleton crew on weekends, although I think I was about 10 pounds overweight) and at the appointed time, I walked over to the sports desk’s TV set, manually turned the “ON” knob and the channel selection knob to 10, and there it was. Duluth had a third network-affiliated television station. WDSE came on around that time too, known as “educational TV,” so nobody watched.
There was no need for a remote to tune them in or change the channel. You just turned knobs, sat down, and were entertained, or told what was happening in the world by Walter Cronkite.
I had every opportunity to avert this remote problem a couple of years ago when a technician installed our new flat-screen “smart” TV and set about explaining the buttons on the remotes. It seemed so daunting, I offered to adopt the technician, so he could just live with us and handle the remotes, but unfortunately he had some other family and politely declined. Saves on Christmas shopping, though.
Why am I actually afraid of remotes? Here’s why: You can be watching something you’re interested in, glued to the TV, as they say, and accidentally knock the remote off the arm of your genuine leather recliner. Oops. You reach down to pick it up and inadvertently touch some other button — “other” being not one of the three buttons you know how to press — and suddenly you’re being asked to donate $19 a month to save elephants in Africa. What? How do you get back to what you were interested in seeing? Well, touch the buttons you’re used to, and what do you get? The heartbreak of psoriasis and what to do about it so you can be eternally happy and go swimming again. In this weather?
Don’t get me wrong: I love elephants (when they’re not involved in politics) and feel for psoriasis suffers. But how to get back to what I was watching? Better ask the nerds, who are gaining prominence on cable TV, too, and “be sure to go National” when you rent a car because that macho guy told you to do so, or else!
And despite almost daily snail-mail appeals to convert to “dish,” we are sticking with cable because I’m afraid — the same fear that I have of the remotes — that I would become confused trying to bring it in at all. Our son has a dish, and when visiting, I need to enlist his young children to turn on the TV.
We actually have three remotes, one of which is so complex that only my wife can figure it out. One of the buttons has a small drawing of a light bulb. What could this possibly mean? There are 49 other buttons on that one, and 35 on our “main” remote (turns the TV on, off, etc.; we have a separate remote for volume). I am proficient with three of the 35 buttons on our main remote: on, off, channel selection. The rest lie dormant in my shaking hands.
That main remote does not have a light bulb button, but it does include a button with a small drawing of an old-fashioned television set topped with what were called “rabbit ears.” I’m afraid if I touch that one, I’ll end up back in the 1950s fighting pimples.
Ah, such a rant against modernity. Can’t help it. I’m even confused by elevator buttons. A few years ago, we were visiting New York City, staying in a nice hotel in Midtown a few blocks off Times Square.
On one trip up to our room on the elevator, I boarded with a well-dressed, distinguished-looking male hotel employee — just the two of us. He looked like he could have been a registered concierge. Since I was closest to the control panel, I offered to press the proper buttons for both of our floors. He nodded and I started pressing but nothing happened. Pressing again, I got the same result. Stalled elevator.
The gentleman from the hotel kindly pointed out I was trying to press the Braille dots alongside the actual buttons. Oh, thanks. Feeling chagrined, I felt I had to say something by way of explanation. I didn’t dare claim to actually be blind.
“I just got off the turnip truck,” I turned and said. He smiled. He knew. He knew.