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Published on April 6, 2016

Smart TV v/s smart mum

Hey, this post is vintage content. It dates back more than 8 years ago: it may contain outdated and inaccurate information.

It must have been a couple of years ago.

I was visiting mum and dad, and a brand new TV set had recently appeared in the house. A smart TV, actually. Black, resting on a nervously asymmetrical, aerial stand, monolithic in the sense of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it dominated the space resting on a white kitchen shelf.

For Dad, television sets are special objects: his professional life began with valve television sets, just as television sets became popular. And from his life as a child, he often remembers the occasions when he went to watch television at the house of 'l padrun, the owner of the estate that my grandparents ran as sharecroppers. And 'l padrun, in his remarkable generosity, would give three sweets-three to him and his two sisters, while they enjoyed the evening in front of the black-and-white TV, in strict silence. And other moments of his life were also, to some extent, punctuated by some kind of television-related event. In '77 Italian TV officially started broadcasting in colour: the year I was born, to say.

To me, TV tastes old. Even in the monolithic, shiny version that Dad had just equipped himself with, I couldn't recognise anything but a monitor. That if the maximum interaction is pressing buttons on the remote control, then that's not for me and I start looking for alternatives. And there were alternatives, that day: the back of the monolith was chock-full of connectors, a godsend of inputs and outputs, in every format imaginable.

So, aided by a hot afternoon and the desire to do anything with Dad, I propose we try to network the object: there is an Ethernet port on the back and all we have to do is run a cable to the area where the ADSL router lives, over there, near the telephone. That said, we open five light boxes, find a path, thread a probe and, within half an hour, the monolith is on the network.

At that point, the screen - almost just a black foil, actually - and its remote control take on a whole new meaning. I've never had my hands on a Smart TV and I really want to see what you can do with it, I really want to.

Within a short while I realise that there is nothing smart about the monolith: whether I choose to translate it as smart, or translate it as alert, quick, the thing in front of me does not respond to the definitions.

The interface is slow and awkward. I walk around, explore. There is only one thing that, perhaps, in its ridiculous smartness, the monolith could do decently: show YouTube videos.

No, it does not do it well: to do a search I use an on-screen keyboard where I select and confirm one letter after another. If I make a mistake, I have to move with the remote control to the backspace of the virtual keyboard and then go back to the letter I wanted to type before I made a mistake. And confirm. And then again: right-right-right-right-ok, left-left-left-down-ok. A full-time job.

It may have been the curiosity revolving around the monolith, it may have been the curiosity generated at lunch by the discovery of the loofah sponge, the fact is that Mum discovered the internet that day. One video after another, curiosity won, defeated key after key of bad user-interaction by clicking on an awkward remote control.

Good mum! You had already tried, years before, but that mouse thing never sat well with you. And I get it: it takes a while to get used to a mouse on your desk. Better to start with an endless series of click-clicks on a reassuring remote control. At that point, however, the omelette is done: once the trigger is found, curiosity moves the soul and, in fact, a few months later, for the first time I saw you holding a smartphone. Two years later, you still treat it with something of a reverence, the way you treat situations that you don't fully understand.

So, since I've been thinking about it for a while, I'll start here: I'll tell you a little bit about what I do for a living, a little at a time, without rushing and without appointments. And I call it the internet for mum, this series.

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I am Silvano Stralla. I am a developer, I like taking photos and riding bikes.
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