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Season 7, Episode 31 -- Keep Your Paws Off My Smart TV

Change is in the air. Can you feel it? I can, and I don’t like.

I don’t like it at all.

These days, it seems like everything, from age, to technology and even other species, are plotting against me, leaving me to fend for myself as they streak into the future without me.

As I explain why I feel this way, maybe it’s more appropriate to say, “Change is afoot,” since that’s what led to my latest uneasiness about the world – or evolution – passing me by. It occurred Thursday last (sounds so poetic and sophisticated when it’s put that way doesn’t it? … “Thursday last”), and Joan and I had settled in to watch some evening television.

Recently, we purchased our first Smart TV, and I was excited because I’ll take anything that will make me smarter. Joan then corrected me by saying it was the TV that was smart, explaining it would allow us to integrate all our TV watching “stuff” in one place, without needing additional wires, boxes or remotes. Then, she reinforced that nothing about it (the TV) – or anything else – could or would make me smarter.


So, in other words, this so-called Smart TV was going to do the exact opposite of making me smarter. In effect, by doing more things than our old TV, it would allow me to be dumber because presumably, it knew more than I about most things TV.

For the record, I was OK with that.

Soon after we brought it home (about a week ago), we pulled it out of the box, attached the small plastic legs, plugged it in and turned it on. After 15 minutes, we knew, to quote my mom, “just enough to be dangerous” about this new world of television, which meant we could access channels, change the volume and work a few of the major features that led us to want a smart TV in the first place.

Satisfied with ourselves and the “unit,” we accepted our new, smart family member as one of our own. Over the next several days, we learned additional features and functionality, which made us both feel smarter, not so much about TV itself but about the decision we made to bring this technology into our home. The picture was crisp and clear, the sound was better than our previous units and the ability to have all our TV watching needs and wants at our fingertips was nothing short of life changing. (That’s a total exaggeration, but I needed a third thing for the list of benefits, and it sounded right.)

Then, Thursday hit.

As we settled in on the couch and readied ourselves for a little binge-watching (lately it has been “Downton Abbey,” we were late to the game but please don’t judge), Sadie (our 11-year-old blind terrier-mutt) decided to join us. In reality, she decided to join Joan because in Sadie’s world, I’m just a third wheel in this relationship.

As Sadie jumped onto the couch, she stepped on the Smart TV's new, all-in-one, Magic Remote (that’s really what it’s called; these Smart TV people seem quite full of themselves and their inventions). Then, with a lack of awareness that only a blind, 11-year-old dog could bring to the party, she snuggled in next to Joan with said remote tucked under her, and immediately fell asleep.

“No worries,” I thought, as I deftly and surgically extracted the remote from underneath Sadie and handed it to Joan. And with the same level of deftness (is that a word?) and surgical precision, Joan began depressing buttons, hitting arrows and moving through menus like a seasoned Smart TV pro. But then it hit us. Something had happened when Sadie stepped on the Magic Remote. Something annoying. Something horrible.

Our Smart TV was talking to us. Every time Joan hit a button – any button – a non-descript, emotionless woman’s voice would tell us what she (or it, or Joan) was doing. Without concern or panic, Joan began accessing menus and features, finding the one she (and we) were sure would take care of the situation. She toggled the feature from “on” to “off,” but instead of turning off the voice, it simply told us what we were doing to the TV. “Audio Guidance turned on … Audio Guidance turned off …”

Joan hit some numbers, hoping she had remedied the situation, but it didn’t work. Again, the TV spoke.

“Channel 30 … ESPN … College Basketball … 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. … not rated.” Joan tried something else. “Channel 87 … BBC America … Planet Earth … Rivers and Streams … 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. … not rated.”

Still unfazed (for the record, I was already off my gourd with frustration), Joan went back into the menus, revisited several features we (again) were sure would take care of the situation. I know we agreed because she’d select it and look at me, and I would nod in agreement like it was a scene from Apollo 13.

“Channel 44 … CNN … Chris Cuomo … 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. … not rated.”

On and on it, went with Joan continuing to try new – and by both our opinions, correct – things to rectify this horrible, potentially life-changing (but in a different way) situation. After 20 minutes, Joan made the executive decision to simply settle on a channel for the evening (how charming and old school!) and tackle the problem the next day with fresh eyes.

We watched our program, and Joan went upstairs, with Sadie and her incriminating paw in tow. Not ready for bed, I decided to watch a basketball game, but every time I hit a button, this “thing” would talk to me, and not in what I would call an appropriate “inside voice.” (Did I mention it appeared to be immune from volume control or the “mute” feature?)

“ESPN … College Basketball … Kentucky vs. …” click. “ESPN … College Basketball … DePaul vs. …”

click. And on it went. Finally, I settled on a channel, more because I was so sick hearing that voice than anything else. I don’t even know who was playing, but it didn’t matter because even the annoying announcers’ voices were better than that synthesized bot yelling at me every time I did anything.

The next day, Joan figured it out (because she always does; if the task would have been left to me, I would have either thrown the unit into the garbage and started over or regifted it to someone smarter), and peace had been restored to our home and our TV world.

Yet I couldn’t help but consider how two things over which we – relatively intelligent, capable human beings – should have superiority over (dogs and TVs) could temporarily bring us to our proverbial knees. (OK, I can’t speak for Joan, but I certainly was brought my proverbial knees).

Am I getting so old that I can’t keep up? Or is everything – from technology to the animal kingdom – evolving so quickly that it’s all passing us by, summarily knocking us down the food chain one rung at a time? Is it possible that Sadie -- our blind dog -- is smarter than us, smart enough to operate a Smart TV and activate Audio Guidance because she needs it to change the channels and listen to her favorite shows when we're away?

The good news? After spending some time with the new TV and the Magic Remote, I think it’s a keeper, and Joan (also a keeper) seems to have regained control over that domain. Then, I saw Sadie eating poop in the yard, so evolutionarily speaking, I think we humans are safe.

For now.

© 2019 David R. Haznaw

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