TV remote wasn't always so ... remote

May 26, 2011 at 1:06 PM ET

L5 Technology /
The L5 Remote app for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad; it costs $59.95.

Some of us don't have the remotest idea how to work today's remote controls, other than using the power, volume and channel buttons. That's testimony to how complicated remotes have become since they first landed in our hands some 60 years ago, and why products like universal remotes have become universally disliked.

This tool of convenience has turned many into frustrated flingers of said devices. But it wasn't always this way.

At Technologizer, Harry McCracken provides a fun overview of the remote's history, sharing a Zenith ad from 1951 showing its appropriately named "Lazy Bones" controller.

"No jumping up, not one knob to touch or retune!" boasts the ad. Of course, this is why we're all out buying the Wii today, because we stopped jumping up to change stations or the volume and became BarcaLounger lizards and now need to do something about that.

McCracken notes that the TiVo remote, aka" Mr. Peanut" because of its Mr. Peanut-like shape and look, was probably the "most iconic new-and improved remote control of its era," largely because  of its "user-friendly consumer-electronics interfaces in general," with the buttons being "thoughtfully arranged and well-labeled ... There’s a lesson there for everyone who’s attempted to radically rethink the remote over the years."

Now, of course, we can use our smartphones as remotes. And some of us can just use our minds — not to turn the set on, but to keep it off.

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