Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Remote Control

By Dennis Hinkamp

From the couch to the economy.

I always associate the word “drone” with a person’s annoying voice; but now drones can actually kill you. They are the natural progression in what has increasingly become a remote control world.

I was sitting in my truck staring at the new iPod-compliant music center, which is a recent upgrade from the mastodon-like cassette player that came with the vehicle, when I noticed the tiny remote control unit. Since I was sitting only about eight inches from the thing, I tried to imagine under what circumstances I would ever require the services of a remote control. I suppose a remote control aimed at the dashboard could be great fun for a van load of youths wanting to annoy their soccer moms or for slightly older youths setting the mood for a Saturday night of back seat frolicking.

Both of these uses are years behind me living only as sweet manufactured memories of things I never did, but I digress. I see the remote control as a metaphor of our times; a little incomprehensible gadget to which ponderous broad-butted Americans abdicate all their tasks.

Everything we have comes with a remote control. Not only my truck MP3 player but the television, stereo, car locks, garage doors, porch lights, radio and even a fan I bought not long ago. From the minute you wake till the time you return to dreamland, you can do almost everything by remote control.

It used to be a shop-worn joke for us baby boomers to recall the tough times of our youth when we had to actually get up off the couch to change the channels on a television. Now, I’m not sure if I would even know where the buttons are. Some TVs don’t even have them anymore.

There’s not much our nation actually does these days. We are designing more and more unmanned weapons to fight our wars, and people spend chunks of their lives in computer-generated virtual worlds. Traffic cops have been replaced by stop light cameras. Little robots roll around Mars doing our exploration for us. Large hockey puck-shaped domestic servant robots can be bought to scurry around the house sucking up dust and scaring the pets.

I can’t help wondering if our lingering financial crisis emerged because we and the government were hoping everything would work by itself. When the financial sector stopped working, everyone started pointing the remote control at it, madly pressing buttons to see if that could fix it. Wait, maybe the battery in the remote control is dead. Nope, that’s not it.

Finally, having exhausted the extent of their expertise, the government decided to actually get up off the couch and try to fix it. They ran to the back of the economy to see if it was actually plugged in. “Dang, no, that’s not it either. Does anybody remember where we put the instruction booklet?”

Like everything else, it’s probably buried in that drawer with all the rubber bands and twist ties. Stay tuned.

Dennis Hinkamp would also like to remind people that all those billions of remote control units send out electronic signals that may or may not control your brain.

This article was originally published on July 29, 2011.