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Remotely Challenged: My Technological Struggle to Watch TV

(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight)

At the risk of irretrievably dating myself, I remember a time in my childhood home when we had to get up to change the channel. There were precisely six channels to choose from, so unless you were really unhappy with the program you were watching, you might just grin and bear Perry Mason or Hee Haw. Then, the most important innovation of the modern age found its way into my young hands: the TV remote, an absolute revelation in that it allowed you to cycle through your limited options…while laying on your ass!

I cherished my remote as one would a puppy, keeping it groomed and fed (with big batteries), and protecting it from my older brother’s grimy hands as best I could. My pet was brown and surprisingly heavy and you had to aim well and push down hard on his buttons to make things happen, so even though you could stay put, you still needed to earn each channel change.

I readily admit to be electronically challenged and blissfully ignorant about issues such as pixels, plasma and surround sound.

For the next couple of decades, I handled a series of TV remotes with relative ease as the functions remained elegantly simple: on, off, change channel, volume. I could do that. But then something went very wrong. The TV remote got successively and exponentially more complicated until one day, I no longer recognized my old friend. A half dozen buttons had become 50 blinking lights that had to be pushed in militarily precise order. And that was just to turn the damn TV on. Watching a DVD required a synchronized key-turn as if launching an atomic attack. I won’t even speak of my DVR challenges, except to say I’ve provided my children with hours of malicious glee as they watched me desperately try to record and retrieve American Idol.

“It’s intuitive, Mom,” they groaned at me.

“Why did I birth you?” I groaned back.

I readily admit to be electronically challenged and blissfully ignorant about issues such as pixels, plasma and surround sound. I happily listen to music on my clock radio. Really, I just want to watch TV, so for my anniversary gift last September, I made a decidedly unromantic request of my spouse: Make it easy for me to watch any show, anytime.

This took some doing. Consultants were consulted. Components were compared. A sizable sum of money changed hands. And then one day a few months ago, two handsome young genies arrived to grant my wish. Judging by the amount of computer equipment they had in tow, they were simultaneously setting up an NSA spy network. It took a full two days to install my simple system, one that even allows us to play songs on our iPhones over every speaker in the apartment without leaving the comfort of our beds. (One son has been known to wake the family to the strains of Edelweiss played at full blast.)

During the installation, I took copious notes on how to use the various functions and I asked a lot of questions of my unfailingly patient AV dudes. “Show me one more time,” I said 100 times. With their help, I signed up for Netflix and Amazon Prime. Once they departed, my genies and I emailed back and forth about glitches (mine, not the system’s). Then came the moment of truth: I lay down on my bed under my favorite blanket, picked up my new palm-size remote and pointed it at my pretty new TV. I pushed one button for “ON” and one to access Netflix. I pushed another to identify who was watching (I am, for chrissakes!) and then one more to select my show. And then… Orange is the New Black appeared! There was Piper in her prison jumpsuit! My husband can bug the crap out of me sometimes but at that moment, I loved him very much.

My new remote can do a million circus tricks but six months after that first button press, I still do the bare minimum when it comes to commands. Yet, I can swing from Downton Abbey to Breaking Bad with the touch of my pinky. And really, who could ask for more?

Filed under: TV


Amy Barr

Amy Barr is a veteran magazine editor. She started her career as an editorial assistant at Working Mother magazine and rose through the ranks to become Executive Editor before joining Time Inc. to launch the online edition of Parenting, where she served as managing editor. Amy was also part of the online launch teams for, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The South Beach Diet and Everyday Health. You can find Amy on Twitter at @amylbarr.


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