The Joys of Modern Life: 27. Zappers

COULD IT be that things were so much more complicated then? Did we really pull ourselves clean out of our chairs, walk over to the TV set and - risking all kinds of cardiovascular complications - manually press a button to change the channel? I can practically hear the mocking, tinny laughter of the Smash robots echoing up from TV Hell.

Thank God for the TV zapper - once an item of unadulterated luxury, it now comes with even the lowliest TV set. They have been democratised, and zapping has become a right, not a privilege. How do they work? Who cares? Like butlers, zappers are discreet. And they are reliable: treat your zapper well, feed it the occasional battery, and it will reward you for years. Rarely do zappers go wrong. They are the unsung special agents of home entertainment. Little effort is put into making them look good, for zappers are mere functionaries. Of course, zappers can be irritating. Like gloves, umbrellas and matchboxes, they are good at getting lost - children are particularly good at finding them obscure new homes. For this reason, households circumscribe a zapper home-turf, usually atop the TV set, while hotels often have them on a bendy wire like a telephone receiver - oddly, people like to nick them even though they are nothing without a host TV. Such is their near-erotic allure.

The classic zapper hiding-place is under a sofa cushion. But sometimes they elude us for longer, and we are thrown back into the dark age of manual channel-changing - making us love the zapper even more when it re-emerges.

Zappers have even helped change home entertainment. No longer does the family have to commit itself to one stodgy programme.With zappers, television consumption is a promiscuous search for instant gratification. And frankly, this model suits the medium much better than the patrician fallacy of "instructive" TV.

Zappers have carved their own special role in small group interaction. Command the zapper, and you are the king of infinite televisual space. Lose the zapper, and you are at the mercy of the tribe leader. People get over this by taking turns with it, or throwing it from chair to chair in informal rotas. But as TV watching is increasingly a single person's activity, this is not too great a problem.

Zappers have also introduced interesting new body language variations. Some aim a zapper like a gun, putting their whole bodies behind it. Others have a more quizzical, circular approach. Zappers can even offer a substitute for language; a kind of semaphore. A friend's elderly relative had suffered a stroke, causing chronic dysphasia. Rather than attempt to speak, his emotions were conveyed via zapper-fire - rapid staccato channel changes expressed anger; sprightly hopping showed a lively interest; smooth, considered channel surfing meant that calm reigned.

Zappers are finding new applications daily. Many already have zappers for their stereos; some have them for their curtains. Advocates of "smart" domesticity suggest that households will soon sport a mega-zapper for everything: kettle-boiling, window-opening - possibly even toilet-flushing. But somehow it is the combination of the TV set and zapper that achieves true symbiosis.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'