I can’t believe it is 2015 already. The changing of the calendars always brings back fond memories of growing up is a world full of change. I keep waiting for me to turn into a curmudgeon wishing that things would go back to the way they were. While I do admit that some aspects of the old times are better than the way things are now, I generally look forward to the advances the human race makes, especially those in technology.
One piece of technology in particular shines like a bright northern star in an otherwise gloomy night: the television remote control. If you were a kid in the 50s when the television set invaded our living room, you were most likely the one asked to change channels on the set or to raise or lower the volume. First you had to turn on the old black and white television set with the twelve channel rotary dial and wait for it to warm up. Then you would rotate the channel selector to the desired channel, for us it was 4 or 12 back then. Once the desired TV station was selected you usually had to adjust the fine tuning to get the optimal signal. By time you got really settled in, the half hour show the family was watching was over and the order would come from the grownups in the room to change the channel to the other station for the next show on the family viewing schedule. I don’t know about you, but I was getting pretty tired of that by time that I left the home for college.
The first remote control I ever saw was the Zenith “Space Command.” No, it had nothing to do with Tom Corbett or R2D2 but it was the leading edge of “The Force” that freed millions of kids from having to crawl back and forth to the TV set to change channels. The torture of all this was enhanced by the warnings that being too close to the TV would ruin your eyes and otherwise ruin your health by being bombarded by stray electrons being kicked off the face of the TV tube by the electron gun. The really cool thing about the Space Command remote control was that it was wireless and battery operated. The Space Command almost did not happen because of the big debate within Zenith where the Luddite (I.E. Sales Staff) component argued that batteries were for flashlights and would not be accepted by the public for use in anything else. Besides, they added, when the batteries were drained, the customer would believe that the TV was defective and would not know how to troubleshoot the remote.
What was really neat to me was that some of the earliest remotes used no batteries; they were built around aluminum rods that were light in weight and, when struck at one end, emitted distinctive high-frequency sound. The first such remote control used four rods, each approximately 2-1/2 inches long: one for channel up, one for channel down, one for on and off, and one for turning the sound on and off. I was in heaven, along came a commercial and with a clink that annoying sound was gone. Another few clinks and the channel changed for the new show. Now this was something, I had graduated from the floor to the couch by this time and with this new advance I no longer was keeper of the channel selector. I kept wondering if there were other uses for this changer so I tried using it on my brothers and sister but to no avail. The only other thing we could control with this remote control was Maggie, our dog who could hear the ultrasonic pings. She could tolerate one or two clinks but if you went the long way instead of the short way between channel 4 and channel 12, she would give you a glaring look and slink off to our bedroom to get some uninterrupted sleep.
I just had this mental picture of trying to control a modern TV connected to a 300 channel cable system with a Space Command. I am watching channel 2 and I want to tune to channel 1901; let’s see clink, 1, 2, ,3, 4, 5…. aw, forget about it. So today’s infrared remote control is a definite improvement. The only problem, they have multiplied like a plague of locusts. There are no fewer than ten remote controls in my living room; TV, Radio / CD Player, DVD player, ceiling fan, ROKU, gas logs, electric candle, remote Christmas lights (yes mine are still up, it is not yet Epiphany) ETC ETC.
Yes, in the fullness of time, instead of crawling across the floor to the TV, we are now searching for the correct remote control. Besides, even if we crawled across the floor to the face of the TV, there are no controls on the TV anymore; they are all controlled only by the remote. Hey, that gives me an idea on how to make my next million. Build a true universal remote control so all we will ever need is one, and while I am at it make it set up completely automatically. Those instructions for setting up remote control make my head hurt. Oh MY!