When I was a little girl, our television sat on a black, metal, swivel stand between our living room and dining room. Each Saturday morning my siblings and I watched cartoons and shows like Fury, all in black and white, in the living room. Each weekday evening, the TV was swiveled to face our dining room table, and together our family ate supper while watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report.
On the front of the television were three clearly labeled dials. The smallest dial turned the set on or off and controlled the volume. Above the on-and-off, volume-controlling knob was a slightly larger dial that we turned to select the channel we wanted to watch. I can still hear the soft, clicking noises the dial made as it moved through the thirteen or so station options. In between those two dials was a third one that was used for bringing the picture on the screen into clearer focus. It didn’t do much, but it got twisted a lot. A three-year-old could operate that television set.
Today in my living room sits a television set with absolutely no dials on it, and I miss them. Thanks to the magic of fiber optics, this television can bring in several hundred different channels, all of them clearly focused and in brilliant color. However, were I to approach this television set and run my hands over every one of its flat surfaces, I would not find a dial to let me choose a channel. Nor could I adjust the volume or focus the picture. All of those functions are now controlled remotely.
I despise remote controls. Our television alone has three, and when used correctly, these remotes let us view television programs, record upcoming shows on the DVR, or watch DVDs. Learning to use the three remote controls in proper combination is a challenge that takes many adults years to master. Why can’t we just have dials on the front of the television? Is it all that much trouble to get up out of a chair and walk across the room to make adjustments? We didn’t used to think so.
Of course lots of things had dials when I was young, even the telephone. When I wanted to make a call, I simply lifted the receiver, listened to make sure no one else on our party line was currently using the phone, and dialed seven numbers. In a few minutes, voila, a real person answered. Usually this was my grandma or a school friend. Never once was I greeted by a stranger’s voice advising me to listen to the full menu before choosing an option.
Our radio had dials, and so did our record player. We turned the dial on the iron to select the correct temperature for the item being ironed and on the toaster to determine the brownness of the bread. We dialed the oven to 350 when making a cake and to 450 when baking cornbread. We adjusted the dial inside the refrigerator to make our food cooler and the dial on the water heater to make our water warmer. It was so easy!
Our clocks and wristwatches had their equivalent of dials. If the power went off and the time had to be reset, I simply turned the dial that moved the hour and minute hands until the time was right again. There was no worrying about a.m. or p.m. I usually knew if it was day or night. I wound the dial on my wristwatch every day to keep it running, and I made minor time adjustments using the same tiny dial. Granted, my watch did not tell me the date. I had a wall calendar for that.
In our attempts to make difficult tasks easier, we have succeeded in making simple tasks impossible! While visiting at my sister’s house a while back, I wanted to help her with household tasks so I offered to dry a load of wet clothes for her. Getting the clothes into the dryer was all I managed to do. After shutting the dryer door, I found myself facing a control panel that contained as many lights and buttons as the cockpit of a small plane. I was clueless as to how to turn the dryer on. I left the laundry room and settled for just sweeping her kitchen. I still know how to use a broom and dustpan.
I don’t want to go back to the days of wringer washers and freezers that have to be defrosted. I just long to be able to find the oldies station on my radio without having to consult the 50-page, fully illustrated, multilingual instruction manual that came with it. I want to know how to turn on my oven timer without accidentally setting the thing to self-clean. There may even be something on television that I want to watch, but that will require the use of those blasted remote controls.
I miss the days of Fury.