Technology Trend: Ubiquitous Television Screens

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Today I became hyperaware of how many video screens we are exposed to as we go about our everyday activities. With the advent of cheap, flat-screen displays, we now see them everywhere. You will find them at the Albertson's check-out counter, in the McDonald's dining room, at a Denny's restaurant (where I am now), behind the tellers at your local bank, in the doctor's office, and (my favorite) mounted above the gas pump at your local Shell station.

All of these screens are taking advantage of a "captive audience". If we are stuck waiting, even for a few moments, there is an opportunity to expose us to more advertising. Apparently, the attention span of the average American is so short now that we cannot even sit for two minutes without the need to glance at a screen. They give us what they want and they give us what we want (well, some of the time). The primary content is the now-familiar "infotainment". The screen at the doctor's office will give us tips on staying healthy while also force-feeding us pharmaceutical ads. The grocery check-out screen will show us the sales of the day when not annoying us with soap-opera highlights.

A local McDonald's I frequent just installed a screen in the dining room. It was activated literally as I sat eating. The technicians were attempting to explain the operation to the store manager. "Will this thing be on all night?" was all that she could ask. She did not seem particularly thrilled with this addition - another piece of technology to maintain when the ice-cream machine was already breaking every few days. But, as a franchise, she was probably required by corporate to install the device.

So if this is the trend - that we must now have screens everywhere so that no advertising opportunity is lost - where do we find refuge? What happens when you find a screen above the urinal in the men's room? You're staring right at it. What choice to you have? There really is something Orwellian about this. Not only are there more monitors, there are more surveillance cameras as well. More and more of what we do is captured on camera and stored on a server somewhere.

Is this a case of technology fulfilling another one of our "needs" or is it overkill? Yes, I know that these screens generate advertising revenue for the corporations which install them. But I am also sure the average consumer sees it as waste -- we'd rather have lower gas and food prices than see money spent on more screens.

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