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How the Remote Control Rewired the Home


  I live in a small two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C. All of the chairs in my living room are located on one side of the room, across from the HDTV. This arrangement suits the size and design of our television monitor, but then, big screen TVs were made possible by the remote control. Without a remote, no one would want to sit across the room from their television set. Our HDTV-oriented living room makes group gatherings difficult, but that hardly matters since media consumption has become its primary function. The living room has four remote controlsthe national averagethat completely commandeer the coffee table. If theyre not on the table, they tend to go missing, and without its remotes, the room becomes dysfunctional. My living room is proof that remotes rewire the home physically and socially, which may be why Polley was not the first person to liken remote controls to indoor plumbing.

  Shortly after U.S. radio manufacturers introduced remote controls in 1928, Popular Science published an article describing additional ways that Radio Aims at Remote Control. In it, Alfred P. Lane imagines wired remote controls running through a house like pipes and helping to modernize family life.   

  Lanes article attempts to persuade consumers that remote controls can unify the home instead of dividing it, as the mass media were then doing. Although radio broadcasting made domestic recreation more attractive for many people, it disrupted family routines and family space; remote controls, though they promised luxury, only made the problem worse. In Lanes day, remote controls were small mechanical devices connected to home radios by short, flexible cables: they enabled users to change the volume and turn their console on or off from up to twenty feet away, depending on the length of the cord.

  Integrated remote control was too invasive (and expensive) to catch on with most home owners, but the problem of how families might cohabit with the mass media only became more pronounced in the TV era. In the 1950s, remote control manufacturers and hobbyists developed new remote controls to combat the annoyance of commercial interruptions and reclaim the living room as a multi-use space. The Blab-Off, introduced in 1953, was allegedly inspired by advertisers aural intrusions into the nuclear family. As Laura Albern explains in a personal recollection of her fathers invention, the Blab-Off was a response to the challenges of shared domestic space: “‘There ought to be a way to shut off the blab without running over to the TV, my mother griped. Itll wake the kids.’” Whereas early television advertisements showed families coming together around the set, television remotes acknowledged that such scenes were not always realistic. Americans purchased or built remote controls to address differences in sleep schedules, leisure activities, and even taste among family members.

Keywords:remote control rewired the home,remote control factory,remote control manufacture
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