Electronics provide us with a number of venues to escape real life: Reality shows about survivors who never saw a tsunami, a tornado or a mud slide; exotic tales of romance and mystery few of us will ever encounter and round the clock sports with players whose yearly salaries exceed Average Joe’s lifetime salary.
Choosing to withdraw and watch an inane television show at the end of the day, the quiet of one’s own home, is one thin. Being besieged with television’s omni-present electronic waves at restaurants, waiting rooms, grocery stores is quite another thing.
When I go out for an evening with family or friends and end up competing with a televisions for their attention. I wish I could reach out and turn off the flickering screen images vying with out-of-sync background music or our attention.
A recent evening out underscored the absurdity of having a television in a restaurant. The program was half over when I entered, I could not hear the voices, nor read the captions – if there had been any – nor was I there long enough to see the conclusion of the soundless program. Yes, I still had to suffer the constant activity in the corner of my eye alluring my attention away from real time conversation.
I wanted the set off. Between the customer’s conversations, the clatter of dishes and background music, the place did not need any more noise. I thought I was in the minority in finding television’s background pictures and incessant chatter annoying, until I received spam mail announcing a new electronic gadget: TV-B-Gone, trade mark name for a key-chain sized, universal remote control that will turn off any TV anywhere.
The gadget is the brain child of another frustrated diner, Mitch Altman. In the 1990s his dinner party with friends disintegrated into a table of blobs staring across the room at a noisy piece of furniture.
I know that hypnotic stare. I’ve seen it at home with family. At times a hand waved in front of the face breaks the trance. Occasionally, I am forced to resort to punching off the power to regain and sustain a conversation.
Altman effectively waved his hand before the glassy eyes of his Silicon Valley friends. For the rest of the evening and over the next several years, they played with the idea of a universal remote to turn off any television. Last fall they announced “TV-B-Gone: a $19.95 gadget which send out a sequence of power codes for virtually every television. TV-B-Gone turns off 90 percent of all televisions within the first 17 seconds – the rest can take a minute or more before the correct code is emitted.
TV-B-Gone was an instant success.
Altman said he did not invent the key-chain device as much to turn of television sets as he did to rid the environment of the energy and attention sapping hold of omnipresent television – particularly those in public places such as Laundromats, grocery stores and restaurants. Time and again, using TV-B-Gone, Altman has made public sets go black without a single protest from viewers.
TV-B-Gone is one small step to release ourselves from our mental pacifiers. It proves we can live in the real world without a mental pacifier – and that is a good thing.