October 29, 2004 There seems to be a bit of a killer-app, global-demand-exceeds-supply hype surrounding the TV remote control known as TV-B-Gone. Put simply, it's a small keychain device that can turn off any television set. It does this by generating the on and off power code for every model of US, Asian and European televisions. It is just a remote control. It works on the same principle as your TV's remote control. But it gives anyone the power to turn off any TV anywhere at any time. Anonymously!
The manufacturer openly encourages this use of his technology to turn TV sets off in public places on the basis that ambient media is intrusive and that as humans we have the right to choose whether we should be bombarded with sound and vision.
While we're of the belief that ambient media is proliferating and has reached impolite levels of intrusion in many areas, we do not agree with the promotion of readily available devices designed to cause disruption-to-services of the world's information display systems. Some TV sets might be playing daytime television or commercials but there are millions of others helping billions of people a day.
What happens when the inevitable idiot or prankster indiscriminately turns off the tv-based public information systems when he goes to a shopping centre, sporting venues or worse still an airport. One suspects the ever-alert airport authorities might take a dim view of this device and anyone found carrying one. Or a sports bar prankster spoiling everyone's fun during the last five minutes of a big game.
This product has the potential to create mayhem and it is being sold to anyone with US$14.99.
Now we may be wrong. The device might be being bought mainly by people who want to be able to turn off their kids TV to get them to do their homework, but we suspect not. So what does the incredible popularity of TV-B-Gone reflect about society's mindset? Is the population feeling overwhelmed with the intrusiveness of television as an ambient medium or perhaps technology in general? Is this the beginning of some type of neo-luddite movement?
We think the spectacular rise of the TV-B-Gone across the world's news services is more the result of clever media manipulation . By appearing incredibly successful, TV-B-Gone has generated massive publicity which in turn might actually make it incredibly successful. Light a fire on the internet and a billion people might have heard of your product soon after, and that's what happened.
We think the appeal of TV-B-Gone is based on the mischievous thrill and the feeling of power gained from disrupting other people's lives. Hopefully, people like that are in the minority. Our best guess is that TV-B-Gone's customer list is more likely to be a catalogue of sad, maybe even mentally ill people than the world's technophiles and early adopters.
The only reason this device will stay on the radar screen might be the disruptions it will cause.