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Kate Langbroek: What To Do When Your TV Is Smarter Than You

This article originally featured in Sunday Style

I marvel at people who want their children to be ‘gifted’.

You know the type. They put speakers up against their burgeoning, incubating bellies so that their unborn can be stimulated by classical music. They hire nannies to speak to their toddlers in foreign languages, or enrol them in art classes featuring the word ‘Einstein’.

They are, they claim, stimulating their infant’s intelligence. But, in reality, they are making a rod with which to beat their own backs. Because being smart is highly overrated.

Take my TV. Until last year, I had a dumb TV. In fact, the only TVs I ever knew were dumb. Now, before you take offence and perhaps accuse me of bullying these electronic devices, let me remind you that’s just how the world was then.

Everyone’s phones had become smart, but our TVs were still blessedly stupid.

In fact, the nicknames were very matter-of-fact about that: it was the ‘idiot box’ or the ‘boob tube’.

And I loved them for it. They sat blankly until you flicked on the ‘power’ button, and only then they would come to life. Plus, they’d have shows on them that were mainly, as you would expect, stupid. Like programs about ice truckers, or game shows featuring short people with big teeth, or endless reality series with pretty people frolicking in bikinis (who were even dumber than my TV).

Occasionally, if you grew tired of bogans baking or building, you could flick over to the ABC or SBS. There, you could watch politicians squabbling, or enjoy yet another doco about Hitler. And when you wearied of that, you would hit the ‘off’ button and the TV would revert to its silent, mute state. It was such a great system — in retrospect, it was pretty much perfect.

Then some clever clogs somewhere decided TVs had to be ‘smart’ … and now my life is ruined. First, the new TV arrived. It was slim and sleek and had a BIG, BIG screen. It had to be mounted on the wall. And it took two electricians two days to wire it in, with such a furious tangle of black cables and cords, they reminded me of a pair of cooking show contestants wrestling with squid-ink fettuccine.

There was much perspiration and murmuring to each other and rubbing of chins and climbing on the roof, as well as endless talk about Foxtel boxes, wi-fi and digital blerps — and it was total madness. But then, finally, it was done.

So, we got into bed gleefully the first night to watch some shows we had hitherto only heard about and that came on new ‘streaming services’ called Netflix or Stan or Presto or Telstra TV or Quickflix or Foxtel Play. And it was dazzling! So many shows hidden in so many places. And we started watching a series that everyone was loving, and just when we were about to watch the second episode, the screen on the new smart TV went blank. Totally BLANK.

To watch our TV in Australia, we had to call a man in America, who talked us through settings and systems in a singsongy patient voice that exhausted parents use to speak to tantrumming toddlers.

Then we had to call someone else in India, and go through more instructions, which took an hour and a half. After all that, I was so desolate and overwhelmed and angry and frustrated, I did something truly incredible. I read a book — and it was so easy.

All you need is a book and some eyes. Best of all, books make you smarter. Which is great, because, if I’m ever going to watch TV again, I need all the help I can get.

Kate Langbroek

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