SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



May 29, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- One thing we all share is scanning obituaries.
jpg Dave Kiffer


(A) if a person is older than us, they have lived a long and fruitful life.
(B) If they are younger than us, they were tragically taken before their time.
And, ( C)  if they are our age?

Well, we really don’t want to think about that. Yet, we still want to know so we can check off all the reasons why we will outlive them, significantly.

By the same token, we are often caught up in the all “hullaballoo” when someone famous shuffles off this mortal coil.

For example, the airwaves have been tsunamied in recent weeks with music by Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and the Bee Gees.

We use these famous folks passing as a way to relive the music of our youth. Inside, we mourn our own aging, because if this was the soundtrack of youth, then our youth must also be gone.

It is equally disturbing if those artists are either just slightly older or slightly younger than ourselves  (see C above).

But lost in all that recent humming along to our lost youth was an obit that hardly caused a ripple in the public consciousness and certainly didn’t lead to an elegiac musical marathon.

And yet, I believe that this man is more responsible for the way we are today than any of the above named “music icons.” Or any music icon ever for that matter.

His name is Eugene Polley. I don’t expect you to go “aha.” I certainly didn’t when I saw his obit on a Chicago newspaper website recently.

But he is responsible for the way you spend a significant amount of your free time. Yes, indeed, there would no real Couch Potato Nation without Eugene Polley.

No, he did not invent the couch.

Nor did he invent the potato, or even the potato chip.

He did not invent beer or soda or popcorn.

He didn’t invent the TV. But you are getting warmer.

Once upon a time, we lived in a backward era when – if you wanted to change the TV channel – you actually had to get up, walk across the living room and change the channel.

Quelle horreur!!!!

Yep, that was what you did. You lifted your bottom into the air, used your legs to propel you to the 18 inch TV (and that was a wide body screen in those days) and you actually used your fingers to twist a little knob either to 2 -13 or into that excitingly undefined area called UHF!

Yep, more than your thumb or index finger got a workout! Shocking.

Of course you only had – at best , 15 or 20 channels – to choose from. Today’s similar channel knob would have to be the size of Milton Berle’s head to cover the number of channels we have available.

Recently our family went through a period of having to replace our remote (universal remote, hah!!) and that involved getting up to change the channel or least to turn the TV on and off (yep, right now at least one reader is thinking “they actually turn their TV off?!?”).

We found we were far less random in our surfing, for sure. And It somehow seemed so “middle ages” to have to do it manually.

Fortunately, thanks to Eugene Polley, things are different in 2012. In 1955, Mr. Polley invented the Flash-Matic, the first wireless channel changer.

Initially, it was a luxury item that few people had. But with the explosion of the cable television industry in the mid 1970s, the “remote control” replaced the knob as the controller and “channel surfing” became as inalienable a right as life, liberty and the pursuit of Jersey Shore.

For that we have to thank Mr. Polley. We can now sit in our comfy chairs and click madly away from channel to channel, catching a snippet here, a snippet there of a dozen different shows, without once have to put our creaky knees into motion.

Even those folks who snootily sniff their sneezers at even the mention of TV, find themselves waiving their hands in the air and clicking the “channels” on their sub atomic wave radios or their automatic climate controllers.  And, of course, WIFI remotes  anyone?

Of course, the technology has changed since 1955, but the same basic idea applies. Is it possible to spend an entire evening sitting in a chair? We now have Barcaloungers with mini-fridges. Next we will attach porta-potties (which were actually a 16th Century invention before we all decided we needed separate rooms for our bodily functions).

So, it’s time to raise a toast to Eugene Polley, who at 96, lived a long and fruitful, and life changing life.

Shall we all click away his channel at once?

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More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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Dave Kiffer ©2012

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