24 May 2012

Distancing ourselves

Eugene Polley is pictured here, and he died of natural causes Sunday at a suburban Chicago hospital, said Zenith Electronics spokesman John Taylor. The former Zenith engineer was 96. So the photo was taken a while ago. As was the invention which brings up the reason for this blog.

In 1955, if you wanted to switch TV channels from one show to another, you got up from your chair, walked across the room and turned a knob. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

That's also the year that Polley invented a new product to go with a new Zenith television. They sold the tv with Flash-Matic tuning. The TV came with a green ray gun-shaped contraption with a red trigger. The advertising promised "TV miracles." The "flash tuner" was "absolutely harmless to humans!" Most intriguing of all: "You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen." That became what we now know as the "remote control."

Polley was proud of his invention even late in life, Taylor said. He showed visitors at his assisted-living apartment his original Flash-Matic and how it had evolved into the technology of today. "He was a proud owner of a flat-screen TV and modern remote," Taylor said. "He always kept his original remote control with him."

Polley's Flash-Matic pointed a beam of light at photo cells in the corners of the television screen. Each corner activated a different function, turning the picture and sound off and on, and changing the channels.

We don't know tv without such remote.

What other distances have now been conquered? I watched in the Summer of Love, July, 1969 as one small step for (a) man happened on the lunar landing with Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr.  The Apollo astronauts put a set of mirrors on the moon to calculate with more precision the distance to/ from the moon. They found that when the moon is closest to earth it is 363,104 km (225632 mi) away. When it is at its furthest point, it is 405,696 km (252,099 mi) away. The average distance is 384,393 km (238,854 mi) away. And last month worldwide we saw the moon at its closest in years. So, space is getting smaller, in a way.

People engaging in war and battles throughout history were more often than not engaged in hand-to-hand combat. That all changed with the advancements of gunpowder and thus we could shoot from afar, rather than knife, sword, fist, one another into submission.  So gunmen can shoot at presidents or congresswomen, or strike in drones controlled from hundreds of miles away. Now nameless and shameless homicide bombers (most wrongly call them "suicide bombers.) can blow up others in their determined methods of war without any personal considerations.

My friend and colleague in ministry Darrel Proffitt in Houston (Katy) Texas, shared a story from the internet. It's unhappy on so many levels, and yet so telling of our distancing from one another: "Yvette Vickers, a former [model] and B-movie star, best known for her role in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, would have been 83 in August 2011, but nobody knows exactly how old she was when she died. According to the Los Angeles coroner's report, she lay dead for the better part of a year before a neighbor and fellow actress, a woman named Susan Savage, noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox, reached through a broken window to unlock the door, and pushed her way through the piles of junk mail and mounds of clothing that barricaded the house. Upstairs, she found Vickers's body, mummified, near a heater that was still running. Her computer was on too, its glow permeating the empty space.
The Los Angeles Times posted a story [about Vickers' death] that quickly went viral. Within two weeks … Vickers's lonesome death was already the subject of 16,057 Facebook posts and 881 tweets. She had long been a horror-movie icon …. Now she was an icon of a new and different kind of horror: our growing fear of loneliness."


I wrote Darrel back, "When neighborhoods became 'hoods, it means we lost the role of the neighbor. Tall fences, privacy, internal entertainment systems... we don't have to know people anymore. Shame on us." And Darrel wrote me back about a man who has written much on this subject. Darrel encouraged me re:  "Robert Putnam's book _Bowling Alone_? He describes this phenomenon accurately."

So now I have ordered this book from Putnam and will read it soon, and probably re-engage with this topic. 

In the meantime, check on your neighbour, won't you? 

Read more here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/kansascity/obituary.aspx?n=eugene-polley&pid=157747711#storylink=cpy

No comments: