Have you ever thought that, like the weather, television is something that everyone talks about, but no one does anything about it? Like the last survivor of the invasion of the Body Snatchers, you watch the youth around you become absorbed in the great mind-sink hole that is modern media. I am often reminded of Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time, who watches her baby brother become hypnotized and entrapped by IT, “his eyes slowly twirling and his jaw slack.”
Well, friends and colleagues, your hour has come. TV Turnoff week begins on April 24th, and there is a new weapon against the media monster: It is “TV-B-Gone,” the universal remote, brain child of San Francisco inventor Mitch Altman. Imagine your new power when you walk into a family restaurant and find you can’t converse with your son because he is glued to a sporting event playing behind your head. In seconds, the TV is off and your son belongs to you. No one has noticed you playing with the small plastic trinket attached to your key chain, and everyone around you suddenly seems friendlier, more human.
Mitch decided that enough was enough back in the 1990’s, when he found the ubiquitous box interfering with so many aspects of human engagement. As he likes to say, “Think of it: you’re staring at a box, a piece of furniture, for hours. That’s a piece of your life that you’ll never get back.” In 2004 he left 3Ware, an electronics company he co-founded, to start Cornfield Electronics, the maker of TV-B-Gone. When asked about his invention, Mitch writes:
“I invented TV-B-Gone as a fun way to get the message out there that: a TV being on or off is a choice! TV-B-Gone gives everyone the power and satisfaction of controlling the media in their lives. TV’s are popping up everywhere. Do we really need to have this powerful medium impinge upon us everywhere we go? Do we need to be advertised and marketed to everywhere we go? Do we need to meekly submit to its presence? TV-B-Gone gives us back some control and power to choose the answer to those questions (and it's fun).
Also, choosing to work on TV-B-Gone was not an easy choice. But about 3 years ago I made a conscious choice to use my time for what I truly loved. I chose to stop working on lucrative projects that were somewhat satisfying in order to allow time in my life for working on TV-B-Gone, something that had been burning inside of me for years, something I knew I wanted to make a reality. It was a scary risk to take. As it turned out, it worked out for me. That wasn't a guarantee. But what was certainly guaranteed was that if I didn't make the conscious choice to make room in my life for exploring what I love to do, I would still be spending my time doing things that I don't love.”
Mitch has “an advertising budget of zero,” but he has sold over 85,000 gadgets in the US, Asia and Europe since 2004. His product is promoted by word of mouth and the Internet. He was especially popular with the media back when his product first hit the market; though he is no longer the target of the same level of hype (or anger) he still speaks regularly to the public, and is part of the San Francisco Unified School District’s annual TV Turn-Off effort.
TV B Gone is small, and easy to use without attracting attention. Some pro-TV activists have complained that TV-B-Gone violates others’ freedom to watch television. However, television grew as an institution on the premise that it could deliver “eyeballs” to advertisers. As Steven Bodzin points out in his article for Wired.com, those eyeballs belong to you. This playful device gives parents the capacity to re-claim their children’s eyeballs, as well.
TV Turn-off week is the last week in April—just around the corner, in fact. So fear no more, and arm yourself with a TV-B-Gone. You get a free, snappy T-shirt for every four devices purchased. They can be found at “www.TVBGone.com” or simply through your favorite search engine. (Disclosure: I am on the Board of TV Turn Off Network, and have no financial relationship to Cornfield Electronics!)