Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



The Simpsons shorts, 1987

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1990s: Couch Potato Politics


Geller and Williams concluded that by the 1990s there were more American homes with a TV than homes with a refrigerator.44 Subsequently some people must have missed out on grabbing a beer from the fridge during commercial break. But no urgent need for "physical zapping" any more as the remote control was by now largely sold as a standard feature with every TV set. Zapping devices became so omnipresent that households confused their video remote for the stereo remote, and the stereo remote for the television remote. Next usability became unwieldy: the lack of accepted interface guidelines guaranteed that the amount of buttons kept multiplying. Remote control anarchy reigned.45 TV-Guide noted that the zapper had also entered couch potato politics as "the most avidly used and fought over device in the electronic cottage".46 Howard Markman, head of the University of Denver's Center for Marital Studies, identified channel-surfing as "one of two major marital issues of the '90s, the other being the scarcity of time together".47