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Thinking Out Loud – BUTTONS


By John Triplett

I remember the first time I watched television. Recall, if you regularly read this space, that I grew up in Great Depression conditions in Wyoming, which explains why I was eleven years old when I first saw a TV. I had read about TV—it was the rage, as were jet airplanes—and I was terribly interested in all things technical. It was in Salt Lake City, at Grandma’s. The TV stations did not come on until, as I recall, ten o’clock. I could hardly wait. It arrived, and Grandma turned on the TV (a set—in those days). Nothing. Grandma explained it had to warm up. Gradually an image materialized—a washed out image of people doing something—and moving—and with accompanying sound.

I was mesmerized, a moving picture and its accompanying sound, converted to electricity, then electromagnetic waves (the TV signal), then back to electricity (in Grandma’s TV set), and finally to a facsimile of the original, actual scene. I was very disappointed in the quality of the reproduction—so washed out, so faded, quite a poor reproduction of the source scene.  Television quality has come a long way.

We could get up, walk to the TV set, and adjust the volume. While up and standing, we could change the channel; there were only three, or five, channels, or something like that. Think, our hundreds of channels today, and we say, “There’s nothing to watch on TV.”

Today we exert ourselves to reach the remote, and buttons do all the manual stuff; a whole lot more than Grandma could do with the two or three knobs on her TV. Granted, we sometimes have to burn a calorie or two finding the remote—between the couch cushions, or under the sofa, or hauled off somewhere by the kids. I’m pretty sure this is about the same time “couch potato” was coined.

The same complaint (observation—to be polite) could be lodged about our cars. Time was (before me, but I still remember some) when we had to insert a crank through the front bumper into the engine and crank like crazy to start a car. Most of you will remember when we had to manually crank our windows up and down (ugh!). Now it’s the press of a button, or switch. I have a van (not so old) that I must squeeze or pull a latch, then manually slide, or pull open the side and rear doors.  My daughter has a van that does all this with just the press of a button on her key chain.

Well, enough. I could go on and on—household appliances, tools, airplanes, etc., etc.—but you get the idea. Now the drivel is all about the driverless automobile—or auto-car (I’ll do that one later). You just press a button to open the door, and again to close it. Maybe someday it will just sense that you are completely inside and close automatically. You don’t need to find, and insert and turn the key—just have it in your pocket or purse, and it does the rest. (We have that already, but you do have to burn 0.05 calorie to press the ‘START’ button on the dashboard.) Program in your destination and sit back and do whatever you do. A little further progress and you’ll only have to say, “Take me to Walmart on Main Street.” If you forget to say, “Main Street” it will ask “Which Walmart?”

Since button-pushing is the direction Earth is moving toward, I thought about what the next step might be. We have already, or are in the process of, moving from manually, or womanually (I’m trying to be correct) to the button-pushing world. What next? Well, obviously, eliminate the button-pushing! Just let the thought do the work for you. You approach the couch.  Obviously, you intend to watch TV. The TV turns on. You’re wondering what catastrophes or barbarisms have occurred today. The TV senses this and goes to CNN or Fox News (it automatically senses your political inclinations). You approach your car. It knows you are you, then opens and closes the door automatically. It senses your intention to go to work and does just that.  And etc., etc.

So, I thought why not get in on this next step in human progress (evolution?) and get rich at the same time (that’s Americanism, or capitalism, isn’t it?). So, I went to work, and it was a lot of work, but I succeeded in building a device that can sense your thoughts and do just what you are thinking. No cranking, or walking, or lifting, or button-pushing. My device (let’s give it a name—“Dora”—okay?) works exceedingly well.

But there is just one slight glitch yet to be worked out. Dora has trouble differentiating between thinking about something abstract and thinking about something with actual intention to do it. For example, I approach the couch, and yes, I’m thinking about the TV, and even about the events of the day. The TV turns on and tunes to BBC (my political inclination was a little hazy). But I was only thinking about TV and world events. I didn’t really want to watch anything.  I actually just wanted to take a nap. Now I have to figure out (mentally, of course) how to turn the TV off.

Or I approach my car, thinking about work. The car door opens, the engine starts, and Dora says, “To work?” But today is Sunday, I don’t even work today. I was only thinking about work and the commute. I should have been thinking about going to church. Then Dora would have gotten it right.

Okay, you see the problem. It’s got me stumped at the moment. Maybe someone reading this will see a solution. If so, please contact me. I will be eternally grateful, and will even consider sharing the proceeds.

© 2018 John A. Triplett

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