THE BLOG
11/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remote Controlled

The remote control for Bernie's old TV, which still doesn't quite feel like mine, sits on my nightstand, next to the shinier one given to me by Time Warner Cable, the company that has the lock on service for my building. I find the clutter annoying but I keep them both there, just in case; they serve the same function as the phone. Utilities for emergency?  Emergency what? 

Even in the middle of this past night, when I had a lot on my mind and wrestled with sleep, I couldn't bear to pick the remotes up and turn them on. I still haven't figured out if I need them both to make the set work.  It seemed more addling to flip through channels with a bad day behind me than it did to just stare into space.

Ten years ago, before Bhutan had TV and before I knew about Bhutan, I wrote a story for the NY Times Circuits section about the remote control and how it changed our lives.
'A Gadget that Taught a Nation to Surf' was its headline.

Okay, so perhaps it wasn't as revolutionary as the birth control pill or the automobile or hot lead type, but the first wireless remote control, when it debuted in 1956, created a culture of instant gratification and couch potato-ness that had not, could not, exist before.  An earlier, wired version presaged the shape of things to come; it was called "Lazy Bones."  And there weren't even that many channels to flip through then.

"There's a huge magnetic force in the culture and it goes toward speed, and the remote control was an essential element in that direction," Todd Gitlin, a professor of media studies at New York University, told me back a decade ago. "'Move it along' - that's what matters. The speed of movement and the juxtaposition of different images is absolutely central to how people are living now."

It seems very quaint now, as I gaze at my iPhone and get ready to hit "submit" on the HuffPo blog software.  Forgive me, but since it was such a weird night, I must try to do something that I wish a simple button would make possible: Take a nap.