What's Wrong With the World Today: Remote Control, Edition

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To whom it may concern: an off button should also be an on button.

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Somewhere in a low-slung office park with mirrored windows, Person X had an idea about how to make a better remote control.

Tucking in his golf shirt, this designer or engineer or inventor marched into his manager's office, rapped loudly on the door frame, and announced, "I've solved the on-off button problem, sir."

"The on-off button problem?" the manager responded, looking up from his General Tso's chicken. He hadn't heard of such a problem, but it was plausible that such a problem existed.
And that he should know about it.

"Yes!" Person X shouted. "People shouldn't have to think about whether their device is on or off! That's an anachronism! What is this, the 20th century? They should pick up the remote and simply see a touchscreen that says, 'Watch TV.' Just think about it: They don't want to turn a device on, they want to watch TV. Let's give them what they want."

Person X handed his manager a sketch he'd drawn on the back of a TPS report cover. "THIS," he said.

"This," the superior responded, "This is brilliant. Just touch what you want to do. This is the end of the on-button era!" The manager quickly dashed off an email up the chain, which he figured would forever establish his reputation as an incubator of creative people and ideas.

***

I've obviously made up the names, people, and dialog, but this bizarre logic is real. Look at this remote for the television where I'm staying this week. That upper-left button, which is in precisely the same place as all previous on-off buttons on similar remotes and features the icon that means 'power,' will not turn the television on. Someone stripped out the standard on function of the button, which has existed for decades.

Why? I HAVE NO IDEA. It's just another example of a solution to a problem that didn't exist in our overinnovation nation.

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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