Week 2: The Remote Control and the Couch Potato

Disciplined and Disciplining co(a)gents: The Remote Control and the Couch Potato.

The remote control and the couch potato. Stereotypically, the 2 fuse together to produce one of the most recognisable images in recent times (take Homer from the Simpsons for example). However, the text puts forward a rather unique and interesting perspective to this age old stereotype.

The author’s key aim is to highlight our changing habits with new technology (as the title of the book, “In Reconnecting Culture, Technology and Nature” suggests). In this reading, the author uses the remote control as the technological device which has altered our human habits.

The main key concept behind the author’s argument is ‘disembodiment’. This is in relation to how the remote control is making the human body rather redundant as the author phrases it, “There is a sort of bypassing of the body…” where it is almost perceived to the extent that the human mind is directly controlling what it wants to do (in this case just simply switch channels). A form of existential control so to speak. Although we are technically still using our body (primarily our fingers) and hence are not completely disembodied, the author uses the term in more of a metaphorical sense. According to the definition of ‘disembodied ‘in the Collins English Dictionary,

1. Lacking a body or freed from the body; incorporeal.

2. Lacking substance, solidity, or any firm relation to reality.

Using the first definition, the author uses the physicist Stephen Hawking as an example; the author highlights his case for disembodiment. “Hawking himself is not a body…but a pure mind that is in unmediated contact with the cosmos.” Despite being physically crippled with motor neurone disease (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cambridgeshire/science/2003/10/stephen_hawking.shtml), the author has pointed out that he is a true genius, his physical disability doing nothing to damper his mind. Through technology (in this case his artificial voice box) he bypasses the human body the “medium of communication”, making it redundant. However, the author does acknowledge that Hawking and his technologies that have enabled him to communicate his thoughts and ideas are maintained through the help of Hawking’s assistants.

However, the second definition paints or more less idealic picture. In today’s domestic society, the introduction of the media of television along with its companion device, the remote control, have created a new generation of “unhealthy”, “unproductive”, “uncultured” and “uncivic” behaviour. There are stereotypically known as couch potatoes. Using Green’s (1995, p. 78) definition, a couch potato is “one who is addicted to watching television and does this while lying on the couch, as an inert and brain-dead as a potato.” In the introduction of the text, the author admits his guilt in practicing “couch-potato-ness” and it is rather embedded in our society, with nearly everyone participating in this lifestyle.

But really, assessing the author’s argument, we see how imbalanced his case of disembodiment is. Hawking is a rare case. On the contrary to the number of physically impaired, intellectual geniuses, how many people are there on the other end of the spectrum? How many completely able bodied people are there who refuse or reluctantly use any form of physical or intellectual activity, preferring the rather mundane routine of the coach potato? The scale tips vastly under the weight of the physically heavier of the two.

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