The folks over at Wired have an item up on the inventor of TV-B-Gone. It’s a small universal remote designed to do one thing: shut off any television set. The inventor, Mitch Altman, came up with the device so that he could shut off TVs in public places such as restaurants or bars where they tend to intrude on the act of socializing.
The device, which looks like an automobile remote, has just one button. When activated, it spends over a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, the most popular brands first.
For Altman, founder of Silicon Valley data-storage maker 3ware, the TV-B-Gone is all about freeing people from the attention-sapping hold of omnipresent television programming. The device is also providing hours of entertainment for its inventor.
At a Laundromat and cafe down the street, a lone man sorted clothes in the glow of larger-than-life bikini babes on a 60-inch Sony HDTV. A punch of the button and the screen instantly went dark. He went on folding his T-shirts, seemingly unaware of the change.
“It’s always like that,” Altman said. “It’s so much part of the environment in the U.S. that people don’t even notice when it disappears.”
It is different in Hong Kong, Altman said. There, when he clicked off store TVs, everyone looked around to see who did it.
At Best Buy, neither customers nor staff responded as one set after another turned off—Sony TVs first, then a JVC and an Apex, all from a single click. The interview was easier without competition from Pirates of the Caribbean.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I can relate to the argument Altman puts forth in favor of his device. TVs have become almost omnipresent when out in public and I know first hand that they can interfere with socializing. I’m not a big TV watcher myself and when I do watch TV the last thing I’ll tune to is a sports broadcast as I have absolutely no interest in them. Yet there have been times when I’ve been having lunch with coworkers at the local Red Robin, where TVs are spread throughout the dining room, that I’ve caught myself watching whatever was on the sports channel the TV was tuned to rather than actually conversing with my friends like I had intended. Admittedly this tends to occur because they were busy discussing something I had nothing to contribute on, but it was a big distraction just the same.
On the other hand I think it’s asking for trouble to have people wandering around with these remotes engaging in battles over the TV’s power switch (the remotes can also turn the TVs back on) as that’s easily grounds for a fistfight in some situations. In the case of the displays at Best Buy there’s a very valid reason to have all the TVs turned on. There are also plenty of people who will frequent a particular bar or restaurant specifically because it does provide TVs to watch the game on. There’s something to be said for people having to ask the folks who run the establishment to turn off a TV if it’s bothering them as that leaves the decision up to the proprietor as opposed to a handful of people sitting around with TV-B-Gones trying to force their their preference on everyone else in the area.
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the troublemaker in me finds this sort of device very appealing. Altman is selling TV-B-Gone to the general public. It’ll set you back about $15,