TECHNOLOGY is improving every facet of our lives. Take the facet of urinals. Not too long ago I was with my friend Roy in a hotel bar in Anaheim, Calif., and Roy went into the men's room and came back to report that he couldn't figure out how to flush the urinal. "Plus," he said, "it's sending me messages."
So I went in there, and sure enough, instead of a flush handle there were some colored lights and a panel with little electronic letters that said "SYSTEM ON." It was the Urinal of Tomorrow. Probably there's a training course you can take to learn how to operate it, but neither Roy nor I had done this. We waved our hands at the panel for a while, in case there was some kind of sensor in there, but the urinal did not flush. Then we tried walking away from it while saying, in loud voices, "Well, we're all done with the urinal now!" But that didn't work either. The panel just kept saying "SYSTEM ON." Finally we left, at which point the panel probably said, "WHAT A PAIR OF CRETINS," and the electronic hand dryer laughed and laughed.Another facet of our lives being improved by technology is television. You young people will be shocked to learn this, but in my youth, back in the 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and mastodons roamed the Earth, we had to change TV channels BY HAND. Yes. Our TV set, which I believe was powered by steam, was housed in a humongous wooden cabinet with large doors that opened dramatically to reveal a screen about the size of a lady's wristwatch. When we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and walk all the way to the set - sometimes in our bare feet - and manually turn a knob.
It was hard work, but we didn't mind, because we knew that this incredible new marvel was enabling us to witness, right in our living room, something that preceding generations had never seen: gray fuzz. That's what was showing on most of the channels. We didn't care. We were thrilled, because we knew that this fuzz was being transmitted to our home from a distant studio that might also contain big celebrities such as Milton Berle. And sometimes, if the atmospheric conditions were just right and the rabbit-ear antenna (made by hand from the ears of an actual rabbit) was adjusted properly, the fuzz would form into actual shapes that we could sort of recognize.
"Look!" we'd shout. "It's Arthur Godfrey! Or possibly Trigger!"
We've come a long way since then. Today, thanks to technology, we have advanced solid-state color television sets equipped with cable, so that instead of being forced to choose among just a few fuzzy channels, we can't change channels at all, because we can't find the remote control. You'd think the control would always be somewhere near the TV set, but ours regularly turns up as far away as New Zealand. Apparently remote controls have a biological urge to roam, hoping to locate remote controls of the opposite sex so they can mate and give birth to billions of tiny garage-door openers.
But the point is that, when we can change channels, we can choose from as many as 50 of them, offering programs that range across the entire entertainment and intellectual spectrum, all the way from Sally Jessy Raphael (today: "Men Who Wear Brassieres On Their Heads And The Women Who Help Fasten Them") to Phil Donahue (today: "Teenaged Runaways Legally Married To Horses").
Yes, TV is already wonderful, and it's about to get even better, thanks to an invention called "fiber optics." This is, technically, a new kind of wire that will soon come into your home. You can't stop it. It's technology. One night, while you're sleeping, a fiber-optic wire will come slithering under your front door and writhe silently around your house; when it locates a television set it will rear back to strike and - ZWEEP - your set will be hooked up, and you'll be able to receive 500 TELEVISION CHANNELS.
Think of it! Now nobody, not even dead people, will have an excuse not to watch TV. There will be a channel for EVERYBODY. Arnold Palmer has announced that he's going to have a channel devoted just to GOLF. I swear I am not making this up. It will be called The Golf Channel, and it will be on 24 HOURS A DAY. You'll be able to turn your TV set on at 3 a.m. and watch golf-related programs (tonight: "Putters Of Lust").
And that's just the beginning. With fiber optics, you'll also receive first-run movies, sporting events, video games, weather reports, stock quotations, dental X-rays, credit information about your neighbors, the complete Watergate tapes, ransom notes, nuclear secrets, ointments, suppositories and your complete Permanent Record from school. You'll also be able to "tap in" to a vast electronic information bank. Let's say your 10-year-old son has to do a school report on the famous Greek philosopher Beethoven. Instead of looking the information up in a clumsy old-fashioned encyclopedia, he'll simply turn on your TV set, punch a few buttons on a console, and, within seconds, he'll be watching a movie called "Big Panty Party." Don't try to stop him, and above all don't try to turn off the set. The fiber-optic wire will be coiled nearby, watching you, ready to strike. SYSTEM ON.