I subscribe to a mailing list called Idea A Day that sends out one idea each day. Any one can contribute an idea and most days it looks like anyone does. Usually you receive eclectic but whimsical and impractical suggestions that make you question the whole exercise. But just when you least expect it, there turns up a cracker making it all worthwhile.
A few days ago, this idea popped up : "Supply two remote controls with every television instead of one."
It's such a fabulous idea, I wonder why no one has come up with it before and why no manufacturer practices this. It's simple, practical and would hardly cost anything - but imagine the difference it could make. Of course, one could always add to one's collection by buying additional universal remotes, but how many of us would do that anyway?
My initial thought was it would be a handy thing, in case you break or misplace your remote. And for people living by themselves, that's what an additional remote would continue to be.
But as I started turning it over in my mind, I started seeing the similarities between the additional remote and the the kind of radical shift that Wikipedia's 'Edit' button brought about - a change in this case for consumption, and not for content creation. Every channel change (or any setting change) would be merely be 'provisional' - no matter how much you willed it otherwise. Any change you make could easily be reversed or changed further again by someone else (in the same room as you, unlike with Wikipedia) the very next moment, ad infinitum. The "tools" to control the TV were no longer solely yours.
How would that affect couples and families watching TV? Would it make make them more accommodative? What kind of protocol, agreements and behavioural changes would that bring about? How would it change the equations - and negotiations - between parents and growing kids, and between a couple? How would it change what they think of the TV? If TVs always came with more than one remote, how would that have changed programming?
I was also intrigued by the possibilities for social change. What would an additional remote do in patriarchal societies and households? Could we promote individual rights and freedom - surreptitiously - by making sure families in all parts of the world start off with TVs with more than one remote?
And the commercial possibilities. Will families that have a TV with 2 remotes, pick up a second TV earlier than those who don't? Could TV manufacturers use this as a tactic to promote rapid uptake of 2nd and 3rd TVs?
Of course, it would be naive to think that additional remotes cannot be lost, broken or 'misplaced' - so that things return back to business as usual. And with the spread of time-shifting technologies like TiVos, the migration to online video and, with an overwhelming part of the world population already with access to difficult-to-dislodge single remote TVs, much of this could remain a fantasy.
I feel there was a fork in the woods a while ago with an arrow saying 'Interesting times' and we took the other path. Or probably, there is a parallel universe where the world is currently being upended by the +1 TV remote.
[Original pic by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla]