By Jim Hagarty
I was enjoying my supper, music playing softly through the speakers in the living room, when my yellow fluffy cat wandered in, hauled himself up on the sofa, padded around as if to flatten down the grass or encourage milk to spurt from his mother’s teats, whichever, and then settled down for an early evening snooze. A nightly, mealtime ritual.
What distinguished this evening, however, from all the others before it, was a problem which ensued almost immediately with the sound level in the room. The voice of my favourite country music crooner, which until then had been gracing the atmosphere at its usual sweet, soothing decibel level, suddenly and steadily began rising from soft to loud to mind (and speaker) blowing. Bedlam ensued. Unaware, at first, of what was causing my warbling hero to scream like a kid on a roller coaster, I dashed from one side of the room to the other in a frantic effort to quell the din. Responding to all this fur-raising commotion, the cat sprung to life like a cartoon kitty trying to dodge an airborne frying pan and bolted from the couch, revealing the stereo remote control with its volume button on which he had been resting his big furry bulk.
This served to concentrate my thoughts, for the next few moments, on the relative value of cats and remote controls and which, if forced to make a choice, I would continue to keep in my house. It didn’t take me long to decide that, faced with that difficult decision, fat old Buddy with his teeth that need professional cleaning and his recurring urinary problems would be back living by the abandoned railways tracks where I found him and my blessed remote control would be sitting on the polished coffee table where it belongs, like a gleaming gold chalice on a pristine holy altar. Buddy could henceforth scrounge for rodents while I, like the master my remote control has made me, would continue to order around all my heroes in the music business with the touch of my thumb, telling them when and what to sing and how loud to sing it.
The remote control for my little stereo has 59 buttons on it and the only way it could be improved is if 59 more could be added. Not for me these plain, pathetic remotes for dummies they sell in the stores now, the kind with four big buttons and lettering the size of which is often found on rural mailboxes. I hate to sound elitist but it’s plain to me dummies have no business fooling around with remotes in the first place. To simplify modern technology’s most advanced achievement in such a crass way is to mock human genius and ingenuity.
I like my science complicated, whether it’s my phone, my computer or my TV. I feel cheated when I open the box to my latest gizmo and only a 20-page, paper brochure, passing itself off as a manual, falls out. I want my instruction books big and thick and impenetrable, with lots of language which, to the average sod, would seem too foreign to comprehend. No pictures, diagrams or 1-800 help lines for me. Just plain and complicated technomumbojumbo is all I want in a manual.
But even a chopped-down, scaled-back shadow of a normal remote control, what a crooked stick is to a finely finished cane, is better than no remote control at all. On my coffee table, there are four of them, all lined up like a command board in a NASA control room and if personal economics and modern science come together at the right time, there will be four or eight or 16 more some day.
Total inactivity should be the goal of every man and woman of the New Millennium and only when we can spend entire days and weeks in one comfortable chair and never have to move except to once in a while look to the Heavens and thank our Maker for our good fortune, will we be able to say we are truly civilized. With our hands on our remotes to control light levels (they exist), remotes to turn on the fireplace (seen ‘em advertised) and remotes to activate the robot to bring the chips and pop (on their way), we will know what it means to be absolutely free.
What scientists will eventually have to turn their talents to, however, is the problem of how to keep household animals from disdainfully stepping and lying on the precious buttons of all these devices. Might I suggest tiny brain implants which would allow a cat owner, for example, to remotely and silently command the pet to go downstairs and hide under the basement steps where it belongs?
Surely remote-control inventors have lots of experience creating things for tiny brains, so this shouldn’t be beyond them.