Hitching on the Information Highway
by Kal Rosenberg
After Mom passed away we carried home her big TV -- her first and only
color set. We had bought it for her birthday twelve years before. It
was bigger than the one in our bedroom so we put hers there instead. It
had no remote control, so I asked Sandi to please pick up a zapper first
chance she got. She did.
The DeLuxe Universal Remote lay inside an impressive bubble pack. It
claimed the ability to remotatize any TV set in this and nearby
galaxies. It came with a nice little instruction book. The nice little
instruction book had forty-eight pages. On page three it proclaimed
that anyone over the age of six could easily program the zapper.
Still, I knew we belonged to the electronically challenged generation.
Despite a solid liberal arts education, we had been unable to play
recorded music since our eight track went. But now the Universal Remote
Company was making us a promise. It was my big chance, especially since
I felt I knew more than most six-year olds. This new link in my golden
chain might at last connect us with the twentieth century before it
ended. I fantasized operating CD players -- whatever they are -- and
pre-setting our VCR (which would no longer mock us with insatiable 12:00
... 12:00 ... 12:00 ...). I might even glide across a suddenly
comprehensible Internet! We could leave our horse-and-buggy days
behind, appliancewise. A powerful mantra from the DeLuxe Universal
Remote zapper would empower us, placing us at last in harmony with the
strange and distant electronic universe in which we now floundered.
I read each of the forty-eight pages in the nice manual. (Six-year olds
must be much smarter than in my day!) I scrupulously switched, set,
held, waited and pushed. All was in place. I hit the final button.
Nothing. I was dumber than a six-year old. Dumber than his shoes. I
was Neolithic. Obsolete. A fossil. Frozen in an ice block of time --
like a lump of pineapple in a Jell-O mold -- somewhere between pin boys
and the Shirelles. It seemed that God was not about to let us cross
over into the land of cyber-milk and virtual honey, even after aimless
wanderings in the vast Computer Desert, lo these many years.
As I put the remote back in its bubble pack I thought about making an
excuse for when I returned it. I would say it was not my size. As I
turned the package over to re-staple it, there in bold red print was
what seemed to be my last chance to ride on the Information Highway: IF
YOU FOLLOWED ALL INSTRUCTIONS AND THIS UNIT FAILS TO OPERATE YOUR
ELECTRONIC APPLIANCE, CALL THE 800 NUMBER BELOW. DOUBLE YOUR MONEY BACK
IF OUR UNIVERSAL REMOTE FAILS TO PERFORM!!!
Another promise. With three exclamation points.
I must have done something wrong, and some kindly phone voice,
accustomed to assisting primitives, would gently lift me higher, higher,
until we dazzled with zapper-competence. I phoned the 800 number.
"Universal Remote customer service. This is Jeffrey. How can I help
"Jeffrey, I have your remote. I can't get it to work."
"Which model please?"
"It's the DeLuxe."
He seemed annoyed. "They're all DeLuxe, sir! Is it the DeLuxe
Universal Remote One or the DeLuxe Universal remote Two?"
"I don't know. How do you tell?"
There was an exasperated pause. "The 'One' has a big 'One' on the
front, sir." Another pause. "The 'Two' ... "
" ... has a 'Two.' Okay Jeffrey, it's a Two. I'm with you so far."
"Okay then. What brand is your set?"
"Super. How old?"
"That works for me. Now, how about all the steps on page sixteen? You
"How about the trouble-shooting section, pages forty-four through
"Not to worry. I'll walk you through it. First, get the original
remote and turn it over."
"Yeah. The one that came with the set."
"Jeffrey, if I had an original remote why would I buy yours?"
"What I mean is, Jeffrey, for one TV I only need one remote. Why would
I have two? If I had the original, I wouldn't have had to buy one."
"So, you don't have the original then."
"Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me your set never had a remote?"
"Well," he laughed, "that's bad, because this one won't work."
"Oh, but that's good, Jeffrey. You can just send me double my money
"We can't do that."
"It says so right here on the package."
"Yeah, but if your set never came with a remote then no remote will work
'cause you don't have a sensor."
"There's no mention of 'sensor' in the nice instructions. If we needed
one of those things, somewhere in here is should have told us that and
we would have bought one."
Another one of those pauses. "Sir," he said softly, as if speaking to a
child, "let's say you have this car, and you want to take a ride. Now,
you have the key, but there's no engine. So, you open the door, you get
in, you turn the key. Now, what do you think happens?"
"I think I get double my money back for that car!"
"Sir! Everyone knows you need a sensor in your TV for a remote to
work. What you are saying is ridiculous. Either this is some kind of a
joke -- which I really don't appreciate -- or you've been asleep for
twenty years." Then his tone suddenly changed. "I don't mean to be
abrupt or rude, sir. And please excuse me for asking, but are you all
right? Is there someone there with you I can talk to? Someone who
takes care of you? Do you know your phone number? I'll have a
supervisor call you right back. Maybe we'll send you double your money
back. Would you like that! Hello? Sir? Hello?"
I hung up. It was like I was struck down by a modem (which until
recently I thought was a feminine hygiene product). This young boy --
what could he possibly know of life -- who had just spoken to me as if I
were a six-year old (and not a bright one), became seriously concerned
because I was out of touch with his reality. And so I was.
I still would like to surf the Web, watching megs and gigawhatsis scoot
around us. Patiently we will wait for our high-tech Fairy Godmother,
our booted up Robin Hood. But slowly I'm learning. A little here. A
little there. You know what those computerniks say: "Hit any user to