September 10, 2008

Kill that picture!

Although my usual bedtime ritual is to read before falling asleep, recently, I have been listening to old radio dramas on CDs or watching recorded TV programs. For making a smooth transition from wakefulness to sleep, there is much to be said for the CDs; one can lie down, turn off the light, fully absorb the program material, and, imperceptibly, fall asleep. Both reading and watching TV sometimes result in my waking up in the wee hours of the morning propped up uncomfortably in my bed with the lights on.

Months ago, I decided to rewatch Babylon 5, the sci-fi series from J. Michael Straczynski, which I own recorded on videotape. Because the series has more than 100 hour-long episodes, I’ve had some opportunities to consider the transition to sleep when watching Babylon 5 at bedtime.

I find that I can stay awake watching the television longer than I can reading a book. At some point, I need to acknowledge that it’s time to get to sleep, however, even if I can stay awake and watch more Babylon 5. I have taken to laying my pillows flat on the bed, turning out the light, hitting the Sleep button on the remote control, and lying down to drift off. If all goes well, I will be asleep before the television turns itself off, but, in any event, I reset the tape counter before lying down, so I can rewatch what I can’t see lying in bed with my eyes closed.

The only thing wrong with my falling-asleep-to-the-TV routine is the brightness of the screen. Not only does it light up an otherwise dark room, but it often makes the room darker or lighter suddenly, a behavior not conducive to drifting gently off to sleep. Of course, I could adjust the brightness and contrast controls to minimize the light given off by the television, but this would mean readjusting them when I want to return to normal viewing—not an attractive option.

There is a Mute button on the remote control that turns off the sound. Why isn’t there a corresponding button to turn off the screen? Why not indeed! Such a control would be useful when you want to fall asleep with the TV on, but it might also be useful on other occasinons: when something is being shown that you don’t want to see or don’t want your children to see, for example.

Having thought up a new control for my remote, I began to consider what to call it. I immediately thought of labeling the button “Blind.” I realized, however, that this was not a good choice. “Mute,” which I take to be a verb, rather than an adjective, means to diminish (or extinguish) the sound from. “Blind,” as a verb, can have any of several meanings, but the one that comes to mind most readily is to make sightless. The television does not have sight, however; it emits light, rather than receives and interprets it. I began to consider other words meaning to prevent light from getting through: mask, veil, shroud, cloak, hide, shield, eclipse, obscure, conceal, or, ironically, screen. Other candidates include words that indicate reducing the light intensity: dim, bedim, darken, befog, or obfuscate. For labels on remote controls, short and obvious is always better than long and obscure. How about a Mask button or a Cloak button? Or, if the screen does not go completely to black, a Dim or Darken button? My personal favorite is the Mask button. This would make a fine addition to any TV remote.

So, is anybody going to add this control to their televisions?

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