Some men spend huge amounts of time souping up their cars. Others delight in enhancing their pectoral muscles. I, however, get my kicks from making disparate gadgets work in tandem. And if that happens wirelessly, the head rush is even greater. I'm not sure why remote-controlling pushes my buttons (as it were) but the other day I spent a glorious 20 minutes getting an iPad to control iTunes on a laptop, which then streamed the music wirelessly to a phone that was sitting in a speaker dock. (And then I cried because I was so lonely...)
Anyway, enough about me. Remote controls celebrate their 60th birthday this year: 1950 saw the launch of Lazy Bones, a device that communicated with the TV via a long cable. Five years later, the Flashmatic could change the channel wirelessly using light flashes – but the TV could get confused by light sources and if someone lit a cigarette you could find yourself watching Bonanza instead of The $64,000 Question.
These days, we have an odd relationship with the remote. We can't cope without it (a recent survey revealed that 28 per cent of people would rather surrender their toothbrush than the remote) but we curse their complexity and the number of them we seem to need. Even "universal" remotes, for all their good intentions, are frustrating to programme, erratic in performance and horrible to look at.
But things are changing.
Smartphones and tablet computers are buttonless, wireless devices that perform multiple functions without complaining, and are actually pleasant to operate. Meanwhile, the computer and the television are dovetailing. Borderline geeks like me have had a computer hooked up to the TV for a while; the enjoyment of watching YouTube footage of kittens in widescreen is only slightly offset by having to kneel awkwardly on the floor to type stuff in. But by 2015, some 43 million of us will have internet-connected TVs. And new Google TV and Apple TV devices are controllable via neat smartphone apps. Why wrestle with a cumbersome keyboard when you can tap and swipe a glass surface instead?
Well, actually, there are a couple of reasons. Phones tend to drift off to sleep, for one thing. Also, all the wireless activity tends to cane the battery. But it's still fun to control PCs or Macs with them. Check out Gmote for Android, or Rowmote or HippoRemote for the iPhone – a bit of fiddling about and you become some kind of tech-savvy magician. You almost feel as if you could turn the street lights on and off.
But even more thrilling things are afoot (if you can imagine that). Logitech's Revue, a Google TV set-top box package, may come with a slightly annoying keyboard controller, but the associated app for Android phones takes full advantage of the fact that you can talk into said phone: yes, voice recognition.
At last, you can shout for The X Factor to disappear, and it will do so. Intel have also been working on a remote that can sense and learn which household member is holding it. This will eventually allow me to sit back and be served up my favourite film without even having to think, while a remote-controlled robot drops dollops of ice cream into my mouth. It's the future.
* Swedish broadband supplier Telia is running a competition to find examples of passive-aggressive notes being exchanged between neighbours via the names they choose for their wireless networks, or SSIDs. Those neighbours too fearful of confrontation to actually speak to one other are renaming their SSID to things like "Keep the noise down," in the hope that the person making the noise will see it. Most of us will have seen the classic "keep out" or "buy your own broadband", but a quick survey on Twitter reveals more creative examples, such as "I can hear you having sex," "your wife is having an affair," or the frankly disturbing "come and play with our cat".Reuse content