Ancient and distant are the days when the out-of-touch masses lightheartedly joked about the inability to navigate the quagmire of programming their own VCR. Of no surprise, the 28-page owners’ manual that accompanied the unit was of little use as we sat hunched, for hours at a time, in front of that mysterious black box perched upon a shelf below the family room television set.
“What is this, rocket science?” Long before we ever came up with the descriptive “user-friendly,” and frustrated to no end, we would grumble under our breath, “This is way too complicated!”
Fast forward, pun intended, and now it only takes three or four remote control devices for any of us to merely watch TV! Programming anything at all is the least of our worries. We’ve reverted to more fundamental and base needs such as, “Where the heck is that channel located I was watching yesterday? Was it on Netflix, Prime Video, Acorn, Roku, AppleTV, Hulu, Sling, Spectrum or YouTubeTV? I forget!”
Finding our way presumes, of course, we haven’t misplaced, in the first place, any of those now much smaller black boxes wedged between the cushions of our couches and summarily known as “remotes.”
While we are all searching for quality and meaningful “face time” in these increasingly sequestered days, we find ourselves relegated to mindlessly “face” the television set for increasing periods of “time!”
Binge-watching has soared to previously unforeseen heights! If the term’s synonymous with “marathon-watching,” then some of us might be approaching “ultra-marathon-watching!” This could be a whole new category of vegetation!
Unwilling to get sucked into the undertow of streaming, now literally raging like whitewater rapids, I have come to discover, how shall I say, an “alternate reality” of sorts! Rather than careening off the edge into boob tube oblivion, I find the remote control devices rather calming and maybe even instructive for this “sheltering in place” life.
All this navigation of the big black screen via the remote has given me pause, pun intended once more, to reflect and ponder. Have you ever noticed the expansive relevance of these handheld components? No, I’m not talking specifically about how they manipulate the goings-on of the television, the streaming services, the DVD player and the sound bar. There seems to be a hidden power come to light in these reclusive days.
Explore some of the buttons on any of them, and you quickly see what I’m talking about. Governed not only by our governor, but by this pandemic, these remote control units seem to be speaking into my life.
Certainly there is the “pause” button where we all essentially find ourselves given the public health threat. Do not fail to notice, however, the “open/close” button on the DVD remote reminding us of that longed-for hope over and against the current reality. When hunger pains are manifest, who doesn’t press the “menu” button and head for the refrigerator? These days, it’s not just about what’s in there, but those many carry-out restaurant menus magnetically affixed to the fridge, too.
Who hasn’t endured a video conference where some manager has placed you on “mute”? If you happened to be a “numbers” person and enjoy counting cases of COVID-19 in your area, the number pad can function as a mini calculator. I even have a small “home” in the shape of a house to call to mind my domestic incarceration. Yes, I would very much like to “exit” this place, but nearby is the warning to “stop!”
If I do get out and about, I am prompted to quickly “return” and be “back”! There is also that counterclockwise “arrow” that appears to be going around in circles, indicative of these mind-numbing days.
Without a doubt I’d prefer to “advance” out of this to some version of normal, even extend a hand or give a hug, but looming up there in the corner is that hard-charging “back arrow.” Inundated with a bottomless pit of reruns, I am wanting to press “next” but am left with the do-over of “replay” and “previous.” While taking in the unending “input” from all the experts and hoping the vast “info” will “guide” us all, I wish for the day I can select “clear” and move ahead unencumbered.
There is no missing that not-so-subtle, buried down below in the corner, unwelcomed, and an ugly button entitled “wide.” It is nothing less than a cruel reminder of one consequence of this sedentary existence while reclining as a couch potato simultaneously dining on a variety of other carbohydrates, too. Regardless if I turn the volume up or down, or even change the channel, there’s no getting around my “slow play.”
My only hope and prayer, and I suspect yours as well, are for those days to arrive where everything will be “OK” and that we can move outward again, in any and all directions, safely and securely as we finally “power” on again! Maybe then we can finally put down the remote and be on our merry way.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org