This is the first in a series of posts about how ordinary words morph into something else.

Remote…What’s the first definition that springs to mind? Something physically far way. Or something in the past. Right?  Or it can mean controlling something from a distance, as in NASA controlling from earth the rover, Curiosity, on Mars. But to most us, there is an even more common usage of this word: the remote, as in never having to get up and manually change a tv channel, or the music player, or the wall heater, or the ceiling fan or your table lamp! 

I suppose it’s sort of like the Pharoah’s snapping of his fingers and a slave running up to fetch food. But snapping fingers couldn’t lift a stone to build a pyramid, or automatically light a torch. Today we have that small genie at our fingertips. One push of the button and voila, something happens as soon as it’s pushed. That is until the battries die!

The first remotes were large and bulky and tethered by a cord to the tv set. Back then they made use of radio waves to transmit a signal. Of course that caused problems when your tv was on the wall next to your neighbor’s set of the same make! Technologists, ever trying to make our lives easier, reinvented the remote to utilize infrared light and all those problems vanished. The next step up was the creation of the universal remote that could be programmed to send and receive the codes from any of a multitude of devices. No more grabbing the wrong remote and wondering why it wasn’t working. Oh, there even is a device where you can stick a small tag on your remotes that sends out a special RFID (radio frequency id) signal to that the special remote that came with them and it will then make the tag beep. A remote for a remote!

Thus the remote has gone beyond the pushbuttons for changing channels or playing a DVD. Cars now can be started by special remotes, their doors can be locked or unlocked by remotes, and yes, you can even put a tag on your kid, that when you press a remote will locate him!  Now if only they would invent a remote that could instanly dump a bag of money on our livingroom floor!

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