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Remote Control Article in Chicago Tribune

 
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The Robman
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2006 7:18 pm    Post subject: Remote Control Article in Chicago Tribune Reply with quote

Here's a link to the article itself...


We are control freaks
As 'Click' opens, it's a fine time to look at how the remote has changed the way we behave ---- and think

By Julia Keller
Tribune cultural critic
Published June 22, 2006


Rarely does an Adam Sandler movie spark deep critical thinking.

But on Friday, the new movie "Click" opens in theaters. In it, Adam Sandler plays a man whose remote control can ride herd over not just his TV set, but also over time itself. He can fast-forward, pause, rewind.

To reflect upon how the remote control has changed how we do things, and how we interact with objects and activities, is to be forced to consider "the invisible in the obvious," as cultural historian O.B. Hardison puts it.

The remote control seems so ordinary that its extraordinariness is easy to miss.

In the half-century since it was first hooked to TV sets in American homes, the remote control has become faster, easier, sleeker, more efficient, more sophisticated and applicable to a spiraling number of gadgets: DVD players, ceiling fans, automobiles, draperies, security systems, etc.

Remote controls have gone from luxuries to necessities faster than you can say, "Hey, has anybody seen the clicker?"

And while the physical effects are pretty obvious, there may be a subtler fallout as well. Do our daily lives feel different to us because we're accessing so many technologies with remote control devices?

Certainly the experience of watching TV shows or movies at home has been completely altered by a clicker; we're more restless, more impatient, sifting through channels like a frenzied shopper facing a table of temporary markdowns. We're always aware that there might be something else -- something even more desirable -- on another channel just up the remote-control road, and the buttons under our thumbs make those programs irresistibly accessible.

Beyond TV sets, though, remote controls also are used in concert with more and more household functions and objects. Domestic life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was fundamentally transformed by the large-scale adoption of labor-saving devices such as washing machines, central heating, sewing machines and refrigerators, but the remote control, you could argue, has done even more. It has given us the illusion of control over our lives. And that illusion, more than indoor plumbing or self-cleaning ovens, has changed how we think.

"The remote control is like the steering wheel on your car," said Hank Eisengrein, national sales and training manager for Universal Remote Control, the world's third-largest maker of remote controls. "You still need the engine and the tires, but when you're out on the interstate, the one thing you don't want to be without is that steering wheel."

Rush to consolidation

Eisengrein, whose Harrison, N.Y.-based company makes 2 million remote controls a month for companies such as Comcast, Toshiba, Zenith and Motorola, as well as customized remotes for luxury homes with high-end entertainment and security systems, said his business has really stepped up in the past few years. For a long time now, everybody has wanted to control everything with a remote control; but nowadays, Eisengrein said, everybody wants to control everything with a single device.

Will the rush to "consolidate," as he calls it -- to load more and more devices being controlled onto the back of a smaller and smaller device -- ever end? Probably not, he predicted.

"There are just too many things you have to have control over."

Which makes the plot of "Click" seem infinitely plausible. Eisengrein's company, in fact, was approached by the film's representatives to see if Universal Remote Control wanted to pay for product placement. He declined, Eisengrein said, because the price seemed too steep -- and besides, who needs Sandler's mug when business is already booming?

"Remote controls cross all ages, all genders," Eisengrein declared. "It's become an expected item. No one physically gets up to turn on a TV anymore."

Does he feel guilty about enabling a technology that apparently is making us fatter and lazier?

Hey, don't blame the remote-control guy for the fact that you secretly wish they'd invent a way to get the salsa on the chip without your actually having to lean forward, and dip. "Lifestyles have changed," Eisengrein mused. "Americans have always put convenience first."

Indeed we have. Remote controls for TV sets were first developed in the early 1950s by researchers at Zenith, according to a technology history supplied by New Remotes, a Tampa, Fla.-based electronics supply company. The device -- primitive by today's standards -- was dubbed "Lazy Bones." Attached to the set by a cord, it moved the channel changer either direction and controlled the set's on-off switch.

Earlier, inventors had created devices that could run cars and model airplanes by remote controls. In World War II, the Germans developed cruelly effective remote-control technology to launch missiles. The dark side of remote controls continues to haunt us to this day, as insurgents in Iraq are able to plant bombs alongside roadsides and detonate them remotely.

But as all true students of remote control technology know, it was Zenith employee Robert Adler who made the remote control what it is today: a certified part of the American home, as beloved as a cocker spaniel -- without the fuss and kennel bills. In 1956, the company began marketing his innovative remote, which employed high-frequency sound to control a TV set's functions.

Today, virtually all TV sets are sold with remote controls, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. So even if you want to change the channels yourself, you can't.

Powerless

Without the remote, "your set is useless," noted Dan Ruback. "On the majority of TVs made today, you can't even get to the power button. And if you get to the power button, you can't pull up a menu."

He's the senior vice president of marketing for New Remotes, which specializes in reuniting people with remote controls that have been lost or stolen. More than 100 million people go out searching for replacement remote controls each year, Ruback said, which makes the remote controls in his warehouse -- he has upward of a quarter of a million -- precious commodities.

"Our phones ring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Ruback said, as people who can't find the remote grow increasingly desperate. "The remote control is everything."

So as modern life -- and Sandler's movie -- remind us, we're tethered to our remote controls. We're needy, we're hooked and no rehab stint can save us. We're more attached to the means by which we access technology than the technology itself. We want to dictate, to dominate, to be in charge, and we want to do that with the absolute minimum of physical exertion.

We hand over our lives, without a second thought, to a hunk of plastic. We give up control in order to assure ourselves that we're in control.

But maybe our motivation isn't strictly laziness. Maybe it's not just our reluctance to stand up, walk across the room and handle things manually. Maybe our eagerness to embrace remote controls -- to put our palms in charge of the known world -- has something to do with just how complicated and chaotic that world has become.

With remote controls, we can persuade ourselves, even for just those lovely fleeting moments when we're switching channels or opening drapes or turning down the thermostat, that we really do have some say in our destiny. That we're not eternally subject to the harrowing randomness of fate, a fate that can send avalanches and floods and earthquakes and tsunamis, or even just the personal tsunami of a layoff or a divorce.

A remote control is a way of whittling the world down to size, of making it seem slightly less threatening and capricious. It's a relatively new technology that happens to soothe the most ancient fear: that we're just hapless scraps blown about by an indifferent wind, that we're doomed and can't do a darned thing about it.

And that's a lot of philosophy to lay at the galumpfing feet of Adam Sandler.

----------

jikeller@tribune.com

- - -
[i]Remote facts.

-In the 1940s, the first non-military use of remote control hits U.S. market: garage door openers.
-In the early 1950s, Zenith sells its first TV remote, called "Lazy Bones," which uses a wire connected to the television.
-Zenith introduces the "Space Command" wireless TV remote control in 1956. It sold 9 million units over the next 25 years.
-In the mid-1980s, the first Universal Remote Control is sold.
-By the year 2000, the average U.S. home has four remotes.
-In 2005, the State of Virginia passes a law forbidding hunting with a remote-controlled firearm or other weapon.
-In 2006, a Japanese company introduces a "floating" remote to control its high-tech bathroom.

Sources: Consumer Electronics Association; Knowledge Networks/SRI; San Francisco Examiner; Christine Rosen, "The Age of Egocasting," The New Atlantis; about.com; Tribune files.
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floyd1977



Joined: 10 May 2006
Posts: 198
Location: Montgomery, IL

PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 9:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Which makes the plot of "Click" seem infinitely plausible. Eisengrein's company, in fact, was approached by the film's representatives to see if Universal Remote Control wanted to pay for product placement. He declined, Eisengrein said, because the price seemed too steep -- and besides, who needs Sandler's mug when business is already booming?



I believe Christopher Walken's character gives Sandler the remote in Click. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Walken's character in "The Stepford Wives" used a Kameleon.
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The Robman
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 9:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're right about Walken giving Sandler the remote in Click, but I don't know about Stepford Wives.

As for the URC guy not wanting to pay for product placement in this movie, judging from the reviews it's received so far, I think he made the right decision! Smile
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streetskater



Joined: 18 Feb 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2006 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well I was already using the Plug 'n Power to remotely control lights and appliances before I even heard of JP1. When I did find it --was like finding home.

As a phenomenon JP1 is at least as important in my opinion for it's utilization of the WWW to bring together folks with a common interest to merge their resources and come up with AMAZING solutions. It's the internet fullfilling it's promise in a most positive way.

I can't say, however, that I enjoy the association with Adam Sandler--however remote.
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