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This year's must-have anti-consumerist stocking stuffer!




At EuroDisney, before they can see "Honey I Shrunk the Kids", visitors are ushered into a dark, carpeted room to wait for the next show to begin. Stuck there, with nowhere to go, they are forced to watch Kodak commercials on long banks of televisions. Standing in line at Disneyland is now a business all in itself. And these visitors, who've already paid their money, are now the perfect captive audience.

Luckily, on the day I was there with my young daughter, I had a prototype of the TV-B-Gone universal TV off switch. Very slowly, I pulled it out of my bag and aimed it up at the nearest televison. I pressed the button and my mouth fell open. The entire bank of TVs on my side of the room had gone black.

"Man," I thought "the future starts now!

Mitch Altman invented the TV-B-Gone after trying to hold a conversation with friends who'd been hypnotised by a silent TV in a restaurant. Looking like the tailfin of a tiny Batmobile, the device sits on a keyring and offers the user a single button. When pressed, it emits the "sleep" command for every known television, one after the other. Within 60 seconds, the one you're watching will turn off.

"I have a subversive little agenda behind the whole thing" says Altman, "People in our culture tend to not think about turning televisions on or off, they just assume that they're on. And I would just love it if some people were ready to handle the thought that turning a television on or off is a conscious choice."

Watching television without a choice is another growing phenomenon. As TV viewers are increasingly able to fast-forward past commercials or rent videos without them, advertisers have become more enthusiastic about televisions in public places. Post offices, air ports and doctors' offices now force anyone waiting in line to watch repeating offers for skin care and double glazed windows. (For a hilarious example of how advertisers think about you and your privacy, have a look at the Viewrinal!)

Altman calls TV-B-Gone a "personal safety device" for people who don't want their psyche bombarded with messages about how they should look, how they should think and what they should buy.

"If you carry around a TV-B-Gone," says the inventor "you can keep television away from you more often."


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