We sat there staring at the new big screen television we had just set up in the living room. It was bigger than it looked in the store, not smaller like many things I have purchased before.
"Do you think we made a mistake?" I asked my wife, thinking about how a good social worker friend of mine once told me that one of the things that define people caught in the cycle of poverty is having a big screen television, a fridge full of beer and a new car in the driveway while the house is falling apart and kids run around the home in dirty diapers.
"I think that we don't go out much and this is our entertainment," she said. "This will be good."
However I did hear a hint of a question in her voice when she said the last line. Would it be good?
She was right; we don't go out much. Dinner at a local restaurant once in a while is what our dates consist of. We'd rather spend our time and our money on our grandkids and dogs. Now we had this huge square black thing in the living room.
"I worry that it might change our viewing habits," I said. "You know what I mean? I mean like some people we know come home from work, plop down in front of the big screen encircled by surround sound and then go to bed without ever picking up a book to read again."
"Well I read books on my iPad all the time," she said. "I don't know what you do."
It was time to figure out the remote. So we read the instructions, did a little guesstimate and instantly the television flipped on.
Then I realized, suddenly we were digital. We had had box televisions for years and never a digital flat screen. I didn't realize what I had been missing. There were new channels and repeats of the same channels over and over again. The television told me we had over 200 channels, but in reality when you cut out the junk and the repeats, it was a little over 100. Okay I will be honest. When I cut out the junk there are probably only three channels that really give you anything that you need to watch if you have a higher IQ than my Border Collie.
That night after playing with the big new television the rest of the day, I went in the bedroom found the remote for the small box television we have in there and tried to turn on the Tonight Show. I pushed all the wrong buttons.
This made me realize that I, who has a hard time trying to use the single pad on the microwave, will be in a constant state of confusion. I checked all the remotes in the house, in my office and in my garage. All together, I have to contend with nine remote controls, all of them configured differently. But as I thought about it, that final count outnumbered the number of forks or spoons I have in my fifth wheel. Then I realized I had forgotten the remote in the fifth wheel as well, so there were 10.
But that was just for televisions. Now if you count in the remotes for DVD players, Blue Ray players, VCR machines (yes I still have two of those as well), two for the electric fans we run during the summer to keep the one end of our house cool, the one in my wife's car for her on-board entertainment center and others, there are another dozen remotes to contend with.
Twenty-two remotes and I don't know how to use any of them completely, except the fan one that has three buttons (on, off, and speed, which is controlled by the number of times you push it).
Then it occurred to me that I have a storage unit in town that has another couple of televisions in it and some other electronics that also have remotes. It was then I realized that if I threw away all the electronic devices I own at once, it would create an ecological disaster unparalleled in the annals of single person pollution.
Eye opening it was. Luckily many of the remotes around the place are not used very much. I can usually figure out the on/off button on all of them (you know, the red one), and where it points "down" the sound or the channel goes down and where it points "up" the sound or the channel goes up. Past that I get very lost, like selecting a status to run a DVD. Each one is different.
"I think they should make television manufacturers all use the same remote," I said to my wife as I watched Letterman in bed one night. "There should be a law."
"That's weird coming from you, a guy who believes in individual freedom and less government regulation," she said.
I thought to myself "Oh my flat screen, I am becoming a politician, saying one thing and doing another."
That's what too many remotes will do to you.