A few months ago I went to get the oil changed in my van, and as I walked into the waiting room at the dealership, I noticed the most amazing thing.
Yes, silence. The TV was off and the two other people sitting in the room were happily reading books or magazines. I commented on that, and they both said that it was wonderful to have the TV off.
How about that? They thought it was wonderful to have the TV off. Why? So they could read.
There are many places where we’re held captive by TVs that are on, supposedly for our benefit. And ironically, these places also have stacks of magazines for us to read. Wouldn’t it be easier for us to read without the TV? I go to the offices of three doctors who have TVs on in the waiting area, and when I go there, I put soothing music on my iPod to drown it out so I can read.
My dentist, mercifully, doesn’t have a TV in his waiting room. The only thing that could possibly distract me from my reading is the music that the receptionists are listening to behind the desk.
There are so many places where we’re held captive by TVs that are on, supposedly for our benefit. I remember a ride on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry 10 years ago, where there was a TV on no matter where you went, and they were all set to CNN. There was no way to escape them unless you either went to one of the outside decks or went back down to sit in your car. But if you simply wanted to sit at one of the tables on one of the inside decks and enjoy the view, you couldn’t get far enough from the current day’s reporting of death, destruction, and mayhem…things that maybe I didn’t want my kids to have to deal with while we were on vacation. I complained saying that I didn’t mind there being a TV on the ship somewhere tuned to CNN, but it shouldn’t be in our faces everywhere we went.
But the iPod and its like are game-changers. Not only can I now drown out what’s on their TVs by listening to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Bolero, or even Tubular Bells on my it while I read; I could listen to a podcast of my choosing. I could listen to Freakonomics Radio, The Bowery Boys, or selected downloaded segments from NPR’sMost Emailed Stories.
And irony of ironies, the iPhone, iPod Touch, and other similar devices allow us to even choose what I want to watch. I can watch Singin’ in the Rain, a TEDTalk, or an episode of Mythbusters. Privately, without inflicting it on anyone else. I can even watch CNN…but only if I choose to.
Now, for those of you who complain that this simply puts each of us into our own private little world, where we don’t interact with those around us, isn’t the same true of reading, that activity that many of you complaining have raised to almost sacred status? Whether I’m reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, or even taking a nap, I’m in my own little world. So what’s the difference? I think that I should have the option of retreating into my own little world, or that my family should, without being held hostage by what someone else has chosen for us.
OK, wait, I know…you in the back seat over there. You’re gonna ask what the difference is between the car dealership and my dentist’s office…besides cars and teeth. What’s the difference between someone choosing the TV show I have to hear and someone choosing the music I have to hear.
Really? You’re really asking that question? The answer is so basically simple. The background music doesn’t require any of your attention. It can be there without intruding on your little world, and doesn’t force you to listen to it. The TV show or movie that you didn’t pick sucks you in despite of, and maybe even because of, all efforts to resist and ignore it. Perversely, the more you don’t want to hear a movie or TV show, the harder it is to tune out.
So for Pete’s sake people…enough with the TVs in captive public spaces.
Turn it off already!