Friday, December 22, 2006

Gadget History

Here's something for you if you find the history of gadgets remotely interesting. Ralph Kinney Bennett, at TCS Daily, has a history of the remote control. Some of us are actually old enough to remember the early days of remote control wizardry. I'm not of an age to recall the very first versions of the device that most of us couldn't live without any more, but I do remember the first TV we got when I was growing up that had the incredible power to change the channel from across the room, and the all-important "mute" capacity. Those were heady days.

I also remember the VCR my friend's parents bought, back when it cost a thousand dollars for the new technology (and a thousand bucks was a truckload of cash), and my folks would no more have dreamed of spending that kind of money on something to play movies on your TV, when there were at least six perfectly good channels available--in color--for free, than take a hammer to the new Ford station wagon. That VCR was the much boasted evidence of my girlfriend's household superiority, and I was appropriately humbled in its presence. The one bright element, the thing which kept my chin just a little higher than it might otherwise have fallen, was that the remote for that monument to victory in the War of the Joneses had to be connected to the VCR via a twenty foot wire.

Our TV remote was wireless. We never tripped over the cord, thank you very much. It also made a very satisfying "khunk" sound as the dial on the television manually turned in response to the distant impulse from the wonderful little magic box that sat on the table next to my father's special chair. I remember sometimes, when no one else was around, pushing the buttons, just to make the dial turn, and hear that particular sound. I didn't even want to watch anything; I simply wanted to make the dial move by magic. Now, of course, it would drive me nuts if I had to push a button over and over to get the TV to go past all the shows I didn't want to watch and onto the channel I did, but at the time it was just so darn cool that we didn't have to get up and walk across the room--and the best part of all--we didn't have to listen to the commercials.

It turns out, we have the founder of Zenith to thank for the remote control. His reason for the development of our favorite gadget? He hated commercials as much as the rest of us do. What he really wanted out of the deal, for all of us, was the mute button. Have a look at Bennett's article if this sort of history sparks your interest. I found in entertaining--and there are no commercials.