Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

Are you old enough to recall when someone actually had to get up out of their seat, walk to the television set and physically change a dial to switch to a different TV channel? Such a thing seems rather quaint now that we live in the age of remote controls. Today, the person in the room with the remote control has the power in his or her hand to determine what everyone else will — or won’t — be watching.

The other day while cleaning our bookcase-style headboard in the master bedroom, I found myself dusting off a total of four remote controls in that location. It made me realize how spoiled we’ve all become now that there’s no longer the need to actually walk to a device to control it. There’s one remote control which turns the bedside television set off and on, and also controls the volume. It’s handy for getting a quick weather report early in the morning — or turning off the television set in the middle of the night when one of us wakes up realizing that both of us fell asleep before the end of the bedtime news broadcast. There’s also a second remote control that changes channels on the television set. It’s the one I sometimes try to gently pry from the sleeping Dennis’ fingers when he has nodded off during a sporting event and I’d rather watch an interior decorating show or a movie before I fall asleep.

There’s also a small, squarish remote control that can sometimes be hard to find when I’m groping groggily around the headboard just before 6:30 a.m. It’s the remote control for the radio Dennis bought me for my birthday a few years ago. I like to turn it on to hear the local radio station’s weather report, national news headlines and local news first thing in the morning. The radio is only about 4 feet from the bed, but what a luxury that little remote control is, especially on those cold winter mornings when the covers are so nice and warm before a chilly trip to the barn.

The fourth remote control is a relatively new addition. It’s the easiest one of the bunch to see, because the others are all black in color and this one is white. It’s also arguably the summer months’ most important remote control — it turns our window air conditioner on and off and also adjusts its thermostat up or down. Having an air conditioner in our room isn’t anything new, but this year we decided we needed a quieter one than what we’d been using previously. Having bought an extra air conditioner last summer when a family visit had all bedrooms in use during the hot weather, we had noticed that it ran much more quietly. And it also operates by remote control, which is not a bad thing. Now, when we want to hear if rain is falling outside or whether that was one of our cows we just heard mooing, it just takes a second to turn off the air conditioner noise.

We have several other remote controls elsewhere in the house. Our television set in the dining-sitting room has a DVD player attached to it, which needs a separate remote to operate it. There’s also a remote control to operate our CD player, but I must confess I’ve never used that feature and don’t even know where that remote might be by now.

The other year, I hit upon a great Christmas present for Dennis, who leaves for work early on those frosty mornings when his car takes forever to warm up. I got him a remote starter for his car. Now it can be nice and toasty by the time he finishes his coffee and heads off to work. It also works great during summer months to activate the air conditioner and avoid entering a stifling hot vehicle. The only downside to this feature is that, if you accidentally hit the button once too often on its remote control — the one on the key which automatically locks and unlocks the car — the vehicle automatically starts when you don’t want it to, and it might be hours until you realize your error.

What’s next in the world of remote-controlled devices? There are already remotely controlled drones that can survey crop conditions without the farmer leaving the farm’s office. And, remote security cameras keep an eye on things around the farm when the farmer isn’t there.

I’m sure there are many other such devices I don’t know about and more being developed. I guess the key is to use them to become more efficient, rather than letting them turn us into the stuff of science fiction images — just oversized heads with limbs atrophied from disuse. We can’t let that become remotely true.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.