Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a lot of funny observations on how men and women use TV remote controls. Among them: "Men don't care what's on TV, they just want to know what else is on."
It's true. We are the hunters, even when it comes to watching TV. Flip, flip, flip. No attention span, whatsoever. Guilty as charged.
All that aside, just how great an invention was the remote control? It's right up there with cup holders and Cheese Whiz. Some guy in the Fifties got tired of getting up and down to change the channel and as they say, the rest is history.
Speaking of history, the very first TV remote is credited to the Zenith Corp., who named it, appropriately enough, "Lazy Bones." It was attached to the TV via a long wire. A few years later, Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the first wireless remote, called the "Flashmatic." It used a beam of light to change the channels and adjust the volume. Polley, who died in 2012 at age 96, also worked on radar and push-button radios, earning 18 patents during his long career at Zenith.
From that point on, remotes kept getting more sophisticated, with added functionality.
Today, remotes are everywhere. There's one for the TV, one for the cable box, one for the DVD, one for Roku, Amazon or your streaming devices. There are remotes for your sound system and ceiling fans. Today's cars have remotes that unlock, start the engine and brew a cup of coffee (well, maybe not that last one, but I'm sure it's on the drawing board). There are even remotes for your remotes. Called "universal remotes," they aim to take the place of all your other remotes by activating device codes. A good idea in theory but even if you master all the codes, navigating the function buttons requires an engineering degree.
Another option is voice-activated commands. Most new remotes offer this feature. Of course, if you don't speak clearly or have a heavy accent, there's no telling what channel or program you might land on. Plus. I have a basic distrust of technology that is "listening" to everything all the time. You do remember the HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey," right?
Hate the remote clutter on your coffee table or bed stand? No problem. Just download the corresponding app and you have remote functionality for your devices right on your smartphone.
As the world we live in gets ever-more connected, and the "Internet of Things" takes over our lives, with watches that produce read-outs of pulse and blood pressure and refrigerators with built-in screens for recipe videos, remote control takes on a whole new meaning.
Polley had to be amazed at how his 1955 invention evolved through the years, not to mention becoming a mainstay for Seinfeld's stand-up comedy.
Here's a BBC tribute to Polley, and a clip for the first color remote:
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."