When we were travelling most of 2019, and staying in multiple hotels, Airbnbs, and homes of family members and friends, there were two challenges we faced almost every time: How to operate the shower and a far greater one, how to make the TV work. Each time we wanted to watch something, we were confronted with multiple remote controls, with scant explanation on what buttons to press to see the evening news, or watch a movie.

Now that we have a place to stay, our household is no different. We are proud owners of four remote controls, one each for TV, cable, the sound bar, and Roku. Together, they have 120 different buttons you can press, some of which would be meaningless to you, as they are to us. To get the news channel, you press the TV power button on the sound bar remote and then the source button on TV remote to make sure you are on HDMI 2. Next comes the cable remote’s turn. It allows you to select the channel. Now, once you get the channel you want, you need to go back to the sound bar remote to adjust volume.

Want to watch a movie? We subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime channels. However, to get there, you will need to select HDMI 4 as the source and then learn how to operate the Roku remote. Again, don’t forget, the sound volume cannot be controlled by any remote except the one for the sound bar.

Isn’t technology wonderful? I am an engineer, so this all should be easy. However I am also a senior citizen and find the product complexity unnecessary and infuriating. Pray tell me, why do I need so many choices?

Talking about that we bought a Subaru about a year ago. This is a stripped down version but yet it comes with mind-boggling number of buttons and screens. The main instruction manual is a five hundred and thirty nine page long. It is choke full of information on how to operate the vehicle and its accessories. The section on seats, seatbelts and SRS airbags run for mind-numbing seventy-six pages! Do they expect their customers to go through this crap just to make sure that they are properly restrained in their cars?

If you want to know all about instruments and controls, you need to read just one hundred pages, and another hundred will tell you all you need to know about starting and operating the vehicle.

I didn’t read all these pages, of course, but had to glance through them to figure out what most of the switches and buttons do. The last thing I want to happen is press the ejection seat by mistake (I am kidding). Still there were some switches that were not mentioned in the Instruction manual. Two were hidden in the overhead console and two near cruise control. Then, I read somewhere that if my vehicle is equipped with the EyeSight system then I need to get another manual for that. I was told that indeed our vehicle has an EyeSight system, so I went to the website and found a pdf file of the manual. Guess how many pages are there in that manual? One hundred and sixteen!

We are reaching a state of absurdity, I think. Yes, AI will come to rescue when all we will have to do is to speak properly and the system will do what we want. No instruction manuals required. However, until that happens, we are caught into this quicksand of increased product complexity, driven primarily by “we will give choices because we can, not because anyone asked us to. “

Interestingly, at the other end of the spectrum are some products made by companies such as Apple. They have taken the elegance and simplicity of their products to an absurd level and end up creating the same level of frustration as those that come with too much information, as in the above examples.

So, recently, we got the Apple TV to replace Roku, which is also a streaming device you connect to your television. You get a neat little box containing neat little black components of the device, and practically no instructions. I figured out how to connect the main unit to my TV, but had a great deal of difficulties understanding what the remote did. As I said, there are no instructions. Like the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey, puzzled at encountering a slick black obelisk, I looked at the small thin black obelisk in my hand, turning it around, and wondering how one can use it to go up and down a simple menu on the screen.

Finally, it took an explanation from our son-in-law to figure out that the top part of the remote is like the touch pad on my laptop. You move your fingers and press it to create action on what you see on TV. Also, there is a Siri like capability on the remote. You just say what you want to watch and it will appear on your screen. Would it have destroyed Apple’s brand image if they said these things on a small piece of paper in the box?

Same issues with their new iPhone. My wife and I went through a hilarious episode when we could not figure out how to switch the damn thing off! Now we are not dumb…we have gone to college and earned many degrees among the two of us. Is something wrong with us or the manufacturers just don’t get it?

I say, enough is enough.

I am a retired management consultant who enjoys reading and writing on a variety of subjects. I am fascinated by people, places and physics.