In a world where convenience reigns supreme, the evolution of technology has led us down a path where every aspect of our lives is meticulously controlled by a single, omnipotent device: the remote. The evolution of remote controls is a fascinating story in itself.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Nikola Tesla experimented with remote control devices, including a patent for a “method of and apparatus for controlling mechanism of moving vessels or vehicles.” However, these early concepts were more focused on industrial and military applications.

From the TV to the car to the AC and the gaming device we have remotes for a gamut of things. Now, we’ve come so far that we’ve even done away with the physical remote. The remote is now in our phones; we can change channels, control the ambient lights of our room and the AC temperature using the device’s Bluetooth or Wi-fi, without even needing another gadget, relaxing on our beds like we are Royalty.

It is a point of wonderment, however, if we control the remote or the remote controls us. Picture this: you’re lounging on your sofa, bingeing on your favourite show, when suddenly your sibling decides to walk in the room and change the channel. That’s when the real fight for control begins, and the remote actually controls the mood of the house by instigating fights.

Sometimes instead of your sibling, you need to fight with the remote itself. You know, when your remote refuses to work and hitting it becomes a legitimate troubleshooting technique. The drill is to give it a few well-placed taps on the back, a shake or two for good measure, and miraculously, it springs back to life. It’s like nudging a stubborn engine into action on a chilly morning, except here, you get a ticket to ride to the oasis of entertainment.

And let’s not forget the ritual of changing the position of the batteries. It’s like a secret dance passed down through generations of frustrated remote users. You swap them around, cross your fingers, and voila! The remote responds as if to say, “I was just testing you.”

Previous generations didn’t have it this easy. Only a few could afford TV sets in India, and even those lucky ones didn’t have an oasis of entertainment, all they had was a small pond of TV channels (Doordarshan being the most prominent one) from which they could consume all their content. There was no multiplicity of options for them, their day-to-day programming was dictated by the government. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part was that you needed to get up from your seat to change the TV channel. The arduous journey from one’s comfortable seat to the TV set was marked by a sense of purpose and enthusiasm in the said change-maker. You could see from the gleam in their eyes that they were about to actually make a change.

The remote perhaps stands as the most symbolic of all objects for today’s generation of armchair activists, epitomising our yearning for change while exerting minimal physical effort to attain it. We crave the semblance of impact without the commitment to substantial action. Whether it’s airing grievances on social media about trivial matters like Starbucks misspelling our names or engaging in surface-level activism without actually going out in the field to make a change, such actions offer a fleeting sense of significance.

Yet the remote, in all its humble glory, symbolises a lot of positive attributes too - it reminds us of our ability to adapt, to find solutions to mundane fights, and to wrestle back control, one battery change at a time. So, the next time you find yourself locked in a battle with your remote, remember: it’s not just a device, it’s a symbol of comfort, convenience, and our eternal human desire to change things up while conveniently wanting to sit back in our places.

(Hamsini Shivakumar is a Semiotician and founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting. Prabhjot Singh Gambhir is Manager: Creative, Cultural Insights & Semiotics at Leapfrog)