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    Beverly Beckham

    For many, remotes are out of control

    The remote controls in Beverly Beckham’s house.
    The remote controls in Beverly Beckham’s house.

    My son says that when he hires a baby sitter to go out for a night, it takes him longer to explain how to turn on his TV than how to care for his three children. But most times, despite his tutorial, the sitter winds up giving up and handing the clickers to the 4-year-old who can access “Dora the Explorer” and “The Octonauts” in a flash, but has no idea how to find anything else.

    Bring that tech-savvy 4-year-old to my house, though, and he can’t find “Dora” and “The Octanauts” any better than I can, because in New York he has Time Warner Cable and at my house we have Comcast, and what works for one does not work for the other.

    This is what’s frustrating about television today.


    There are hundreds of programs at our fingertips, but no easy way to get to them. My daughter Lauren has Verizon. My daughter Julie has Comcast, but with a different clicker and setup than I have. Some friends have Cox. Some have the Dish. Nationally there’s AT&T and Charter Communications and Bright House and Mediacom, all with their own sets of instructions. Plus, everyone has a different kind of TV and a different DVR and different clickers. No one has what we all need: a keep it simple, stop, go, one size fits all, universal on/off/play button.

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    “Mom, the kids want to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ How do you put on your DVR? How do you get the TV off cable?”

    It would be easier to explain how a nuclear power plant operates than to explain this. “Press power on the Samsung clicker. Then press source. Then scroll down to the icon of the DVR player. No, not that one. The other one. Then press power on the Panasonic clicker. Where’s the Panasonic clicker? I don’t know. It’s there somewhere. Look under the couch. Did you find it? The batteries are in the top desk drawer. You have to use a knife to get the cover off. Did you do it? Is it working? Great. Now press click. Then play.”


    For the upstairs TV, it’s a whole different set of instruction. And more wailing and moaning and the gnashing of teeth. “Mimi! We can’t get the TV to work!” Which is why I always, always come running — why we all come running — whenever somebody wants to watch anything in our homes.


    If automobiles were this complicated, if they came with steering wheels in different shapes and sizes and brake pedals anywhere, willy-nilly. If seat adjustments were above the visor or next to the sun roof, if you had to press a series of buttons to go forward and another series of buttons to reverse. If every model of car had to be turned on and operated in its own unique way, we would never get anywhere.

    Rental cars would be a Rubik’s cube.

    My friend Anne tells me she has a universal remote. She says her TV is easy to use.

    “How does it work?” I ask her.

    “I don’t know,” she says. “Peter set it up.” Peter is her 40-year-old son.


    “What do you mean you don’t know?”

    If every model of car had to be turned on and operated in its own unique way, we would never get anywhere. Rental cars would be a Rubik’s cube.

    “Well, he hasn’t taught me how to use it yet.”

    I wouldn’t want to go back to the days of three stations and black-and-white TV, though I do miss “Community Auditions” with Dave Maynard and the simplicity of knobs. Plus no one ever had to teach anyone how to turn a dial.

    Now to watch “Sofia the First,” my granddaughter Charlotte presses 763 on her Infinity clicker. “What’s the number for “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” I ask her, and she shouts “52530263!”

    Computers. Printers. Smartphones. Digital cameras. Microwaves. Stoves. Washing machines. Dryers. Lawn mowers. Hedge clippers. I can work them all.

    But the TV? I can work mine. Other people’s? All those buttons? All those codes? Not so much.

    Which is why I carry a book — no buttons to press — wherever I go.

    Beverly Beckham can be reached at beverlybeck-