Tim Dowling: my latest tech crisis is straight out of a sitcom I’m watching | Life and style

My wife, the middle one, the youngest and I are watching TV. It is rare for us to watch the same thing without one of us complaining, but we have selected an old episode of a sitcom we have all seen before, some of us many times.

As the credits roll, the streaming service tees up the next episode automatically, with a countdown that gives you an opportunity to intervene.

“Eighteen seconds? That’s ridiculous,” says the middle one, using the remote to shorten the countdown. Ah, the impatience of youth, I think. But I also think: I would like to know how he did that.

By the end of the second episode, which coincidentally focuses on an older character’s inability to operate a TV remote, the novelty of togetherness has worn off.

“That’s enough of that,” my wife says, standing up. The middle one slides from the room. The youngest one, I notice, is already gone.

“We must do this again some time,” I say. “Not tomorrow.”

Once the room empties, I grab the remote to interrupt the countdown, but nothing changes. I press the button harder, and harder still. The countdown finishes, and a new episode begins.

“That’s weird,” I say, to no one. I find two new batteries and replace the ones in the remote, but the episode continues. My wife comes back in.

“You’re watching another?” she says.

“Not on purpose,” I say. “This thing doesn’t work.”

“Is it the batteries?” she says.

“I just changed them,” I say.

“Ask one of those two,” she says.

“I can’t ask them,” I say. “We just watched a show about an old person being unable to work a TV. It’s too raw.”

“Can someone help Dad?” my wife shouts. “He’s having a technological crisis.” Thunderous footsteps roll down the stairs toward us.

“What?” says the middle one.

“It worked for you before,” I say, holding up the remote. “Why doesn’t it work for me?” He takes the remote and presses several buttons. The episode on the TV, now funny as torture, remains.

“Huh,” he says. “Did you put new batteries in?”

“Yes,” I say.

He unplugs the box from the back of the TV and plugs it back in again. The episode disappears, then reappears.

“I give up,” he says, dropping the remote into my lap.

I sit there alone for a long time, pushing random buttons. I think about turning off the telly and going to bed, but I know this series has more than 200 episodes. When I switch on the TV tomorrow night it will still be going. And the night after that. And next week. Something must be done.

“Help!” I shout. The youngest one appears. I give him the remote, and a pleading look.

“Did you put new batteries in it?” he says, punching away at the buttons.

“Yes,” I say.

He consults his phone. I pull out my phone and start to shop for an identical remote. It doesn’t take long to find one.

“Thirty pounds!” I say. “Insane!”

“Press home and menu at the same time,” the youngest one says.

“They should be offering to send me a free one!” I say.

“Press menu nine times, then remove batteries,” he says. “What witchcraft is this?”

“I’m glad you said it,” I say.

“Press home for 40 seconds, then wait 60 seconds,” he says.

“I mean, if you’re struggling, I feel better,” I say. “At least I’m not like some old person from a sitcom, who can’t …”

“Give me your phone,” he says.

“Why?” I say. “I’m still looking at …”

“Just give it to me,” he says, snatching it from my grasp. He holds a phone in each hand, eyes darting from screen to screen. I watch a bit of the latest episode on the TV. I guess I could get used to this, I think.

Suddenly the episode disappears, and is replaced by a programme menu. Then a different programme appears.

“Here,” he says, handing me my phone. Its screen now features a graphic representation of the buttons one would normally find on a TV remote control. When I press pause, the TV screen freezes. When I press play, it unfreezes.

“You turned my phone into a remote?” I say.

“You’re welcome,” he says.

“But can I …”

“What?” he says. There is something about the exasperation in his voice that makes me think I should choose my next words carefully.

“Can I still use it as a phone?”

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