Mitch Altman, founder of 3ware, has invented a universal remote control, TV-B-Gone, with a single function: it can toggle the power (on or off) of nearby televisions. Altman's goals are to help people extract themselves from the television world and attend to the physical world and the people around them, "improving conversation" and "freeing people from the attention-sapping hold of omnipresent television programming". Interestingly, according to reports I've read, there seem to be very few examples of people caring or even noticing when Altman uses the device to turn off a television. He has reportedly manufactured 20,000 of these devices, so it will be interesting to see how this story develops.
There are other efforts aimed at preventing people from accessing content in the digital world, e.g., cell phone jammers and WiFi jammers. A Wired article about the device speculates about future capabilities to shut down vehicle subwoofers and kill car alarms. Perhaps we're seeing a resurgence of the Luddite movement, a new dimension of the Attention Economy, or perhaps the Attention Ecology. What would life be like with a planet full of mindful people who were focused on the here and now? I'd love to find out :-).
[Originally heard about on NPR]