Ghost in the Machine

In the spirit of cell phone jammers, it would seem unsurprising that someone would spend some years in his basement constructing a device that would do the same to television sets.

Enter TV-B-Gone, an invention by Mitch Altman, released in October 2004. I must be late to the party... I only became aware of this device through yesterday’s Hit & Run piece.

While I can respect and admire the entrepreneurship that has assumedly netted him some good income, I was generally amused by the contradictory statements by Altman himself.

IT WAS UNDER SIMILARLY PROSAIC CIRCUMSTANCES that the idea for TV-B-Gone came to him. He was having dinner with friends in a neighborhood restaurant. Up in a corner near the ceiling a television screen flickered. The sound was muted, but Mitch and his friends found themselves turning their attention to it anyway--an experience that every citizen of every country wired with electricity has had at one time or another.

"You could just feel this screen suck the energy right out of the conversation," he says. "I thought, 'Gee, I wish I could turn that thing off.'"


"What I want to do is, to take this annoyance of having TVs everywhere, and bring it back to the realm of choice," he says. "You should be able to choose whether you want this machine on or off. You should be able to think about it. Does having this thing talking at us, whether we like it or not, make our lives better, or worse, or what? Let's at least have a chance to think about it, and talk about it, and then make a choice."

Did the neighborhood restaurant that owns the televisions, dishes, chairs, tables, carpeting, and everything else within those walls have any say in the matter? Does Mitch take a survey of patrons in every establishment he walks into to find out if anyone might be watching the TV he's about to zap? Perhaps someone is sitting at a booth with a couple people engrossed in their own conversation about the breakup of Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt. An occasional glance toward the CNN Headline News ticker wouldn't be entirely unappealing.

So much for the realm of choice.

What next? What will the next portable little black-box-gizmo be that will alter the performance of others' electronic devices? If not for the reasons Altman described, then it’ll certainly be a toy for teenage pranks.

As Mr. Altman explains:

"I just don't like TV, and I'd like people to think more about this powerful medium in their lives."

...whether you like it or not, apparently.

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I can't tell you how much I

I can't tell you how much I hate TV's in restaurants, and to a lesser extent bars. What's amazing to me, is that they're pretty much everywhere now. I'm surprised, in other words, that there aren't more places advertising a tv-free environment. I'm sure a smart person could build a fairly successful business.

As for TV-B-Gone...whatever. People will just turn the TV's back on, making the device nothing more than a practical joke. Now, if they could make a a real TV jammer, as opposed to a really good universal remote, then maybe they could really do something.

I agree - this thing is no

I agree - this thing is no different from a laser pointer in a movie theater. The cellphone jammer, on the other hand - I can see a justification there, having come within a hair's breadth dozens of times of being plowed into by gabbing morons driving one-handed on Atlanta's city streets and freeways. I don't support pre-emptively ticketing people for accidents they may cause by using cellphones; I think that's one case where fun and satisfying vigilantism independent grassroots action is definitely the better solution.* :twisted:

*If somebody can come up with a cellphone jammer that also makes the affected cellphones emit loud, piercing tones into the users' ears, I will pay whatever price they want for it.