All thumbs and out of control

If you want to know whether you're out of shape, take this simple test: Count the remote controls you have lying around your house.

If the number exceeds, say, four, then you're probably not getting enough exercise. If it exceeds six, you don't need a mirror to tell you that your jeans are too tight. Ten or more remotes mean you're lucky your heart still beats.

The remote control is one labor-saving device that does its job all too well. It's possible to keep ourselves entertained in countless ways without ever moving from the sofa. The only muscles many of us work with any regularity are the ones that move our thumbs.

Not that jumping up to switch channels was such great exercise. I remember those pre-remote days, when TVs had dials on the front of them, and it wasn't much of a workout to take those few strides over to the channel changer. But even then people found ways to avoid hoisting themselves off the couch. The only reason families had children was so the parents could order them over to the TV to switch from "Ozzie and Harriet" to "Gunsmoke."

Back then, we only had three or four channels. Now, we have hundreds of channels, and there's still never anything good on TV. But we idealistically hope we'll find something worth watching, and the remote control makes the channel-flipping search possible.

Here's the way most people (or, at least, most men) watch TV: Flip, flip, flip, flip, pause for show that might be interesting, nah, flip, flip, flip, brief nudity, flip, flip, flip, flip, check the score, flip, flip, flip, oh, look, sharks, flip, flip, flip, flip, funny commercial we've seen 200 times, flip, flip…

We have Dish Network at our house, and all I watch anymore is the on-screen guide that tells what's on the many, many channels. I scroll up and down, scanning titles and times, searching for something, anything, that might keep my eyeballs busy for an hour. I could spend that same amount of time and brainpower reading a book or puzzling over life's mysteries or planning my financial future, but no, I'm busy hunting for basketball highlights.

Our newest remote arrived when we recently replaced our 20-year-old "hi-fi." Naturally, the new stereo came with a remote control. Now I can play hours of music without jumping up to change CDs or adjust the volume. I can even skip that one lousy song that's federally mandated to be included on every album.

The stereo remote brings the number of remote controls in our living room up to four. (Household-wide, we have eight, I think, but I might've missed one.)

Since I insist on being in charge of all the remotes, my place on the sofa looks like Captain Kirk's command chair on the bridge of the Enterprise. I've got complete control of all electronics, and I'm steering us right into the Obesity Nebula.

I know there are "universal remotes" out there that combine all the functions of all the electronic gizmos onto one skateboard-sized device, but I'd never be able to program one. My VCR said the time was "12:00" for years, until my kids got old enough to fix it.

So, I'm stuck with my many remote controls, exercising control over my electronics, but little else, only getting up from the sofa to fetch more snacks. (If they ever design a remote control for the fridge, I'm doomed.)

But my thumbs are in great shape.

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