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  • Archive for November, 2009

    Goodbye, 7-Eleven. It Was Nice Knowing You

    There are 6,200 7-Elevens in North America and by this time next year all of them will have TVs. Like Carl’s Jr., which made a similar announcement a few months ago, the TVs show a mix of advertising and the same innocuous programming that you see in any other out-of-home TV platform: music, sports, entertainment, or what you might call musicsportsentertainment.

    Do we need yet another business chain making their customers captive to vapid audio-video media? Of course not. The content is throw-away. We’re already saturated in musicsportsentertainment. To force upon us yet more musicsportsentertainment when we’re just tying to find batteries for our camera is cruel even if its not unusual punishment.

    The programming is just an excuse for the advertising. We all know this. The outside advertising brings in revenue and the in-store advertising helps draw attention to products the company wants to push.

    7-Eleven is privately owned and its entitled to do whatever it wants, but I won’t be shopping in the stores any longer, just as I won’t be eating at Carl’s Jr any more. I like to choose the media I consume, so until the day comes when all my media-free options are taken away from me, I’ll avoid businesses that treat their customers with so little respect that they bludgeon them with unsought media.

    Audio-video media is push media. It’s pushed out to you even if you don’t want to consume it. It treats all of us the same, just a set of eyes and ears to absorb whatever content is thrown out at us.

    Print media is different. It’s what I like to call pull media, because it has to pull us in before we consume it. It doesn’t just wash over us indiscriminately. We have to decide to consume it. If we so decide, we read it; if we decide we don’t, we don’t.

    Marshall McLuhan likened TV consumption to renting out our brains. In my mind, he was getting at the same push-pull dichotomy. Since we have to use our brains to read—to translate the abstract code into something that has meaning—we have to be active partners with the media. We are the active agents that decide whether or not we want to consume the content.

    Since audio and video content washes over us without us having to decode it, we are in a sense taken for fools or made out to be saps because we’re renting out our brains without being asked for our permission.

    When I was in college in the early 1980s I worked at a 7-Eleven. It helped pay for my education. But now the chain wants to push out vapid content and ads that I have no interest in consuming. Since it made that business decision, I’m making the personal decision not to shop at its stores anymore. I won’t be an unwilling receptacle for throw-away content.

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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    47 Anti-TV Books

    I’ve been seeing interest in our occasional posts updating various book collections we maintain, so I’m posting this update to our anti-TV book collection, now 47 titles strong. If you question why so much of our world is organized around screen media in general and TV in particular, you might find this collection of interest. I’ve done Internet searches on the topic and as far as I can tell this is the most complete list of anti-TV books available. If I’m missing a title, please let me know!

    47 anti-TV books:

    Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy (Algora Publishing: 2009), Robert Freedman

    The Age of American Unreason (Vintage) (Vintage: 2009), Susan Jacoby

    Living Without the Screen (Lea’s Communication) (Routledge: 2008), Marina Krcmar

    The Assault on Reason (Penguin: 2008), Al Gore

    Media Unlimited, Revised Edition: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (Holt: 2007), Todd Gitlin

    Television (Dalkey Archive Press: 2007), Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Jordan Stump: FICTION

    Noise: How Our Media-saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families (Ascension Press: 2007), Teresa Tomeo

    Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets (Eastern Washington University Press: 2007), Barbara Brock

    Remote Controlled: How TV Affects You and Your Family (Ebury Press: 2007), Aric Sigman

    The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid (Algonquon Books: 2007), Ellen Currey-Wilson

    Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It (Bloomsbury USA: 2006), Thomas de Zengotita

    Noise (Viking: 2006), Bart Kosko

    Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (New Riders Publishing: 2006), Adam Greenfield

    iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind (Collins Living: 2008), Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

    Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin: 2005), Neil Postman

    The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest (Pine Forge Press: 2005), David Croteau and William Hoynes

    The Medium is the Massage (Ginko Press: 2005) Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

    We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind
    (The Disinformation Company: 2004), Martin Howard and Douglas Rushkoff

    The New Media Monopoly (Beacon Press 2004), Ben Bagdikian

    Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Console-ing Passions) (Duke Univ. Press: 2004), Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson

    Feed (Candlewick: 2004), M.T. Anderson: FICTION

    The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Monthly Review Press :2004), Robert McChesney

    Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon: 2002), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

    The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life (Penguin: 2002), Marie Winn

    T.V.: The Great Escape! : Life-Changing Stories from Those Who Dared to Take Control (Crossway Books: 2001), Bob DeMoss

    Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, 2001), Robert Putnam

    Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Console-ing Passions) (Duke University Press: 2001), Anna McCarthy

    Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say (Riverhead Trade: 2000), Douglas Rushkoff

    Glued to the Tube: The Threat of Television Addiction to Today’s Family (Sourcebooks: 2000), Cheryl Pawlowski

    Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It (Simon & Schuster: 1999), Jane Healy

    Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge–And Why We Must (William Morrow: 1999), Kalle Lasn

    Spy TV (Slab O Concrete Publications: 1999), David Burke

    Get a Life! (Bloomsbury Publishing: 1998), David Burke and Jean Lotus

    Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter (Sage Publications: 1998), Roderick Hart

    The Commercialization of American Culture: New Advertising, Control and Democracy (Sage Publications: 1995), Matt McAllister

    …And There Was Television (Routledge: 1994), Ellis Cashmore

    Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (The MIT Press: 1994), Marshall McLuhan, with an introduction by Lewis Lapham

    The Disappearance of Childhood (Vintage: 1994), Neil Postman

    The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives (Oxford Univ. Press: 1993), Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis

    Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (Vintage: 1992), Neil Postman

    The Age of Missing Information (Plume: 1993), Bill McKibben

    Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience (Communication Series) (Lawrence Eribaum: 1990), Robert William Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine Books: 1987), Ray Bradbury: FICTION

    No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (Oxford Univ. Press: 1985), Joshua Meyrowitz

    What to Do After You Turn Off the TV (Ballantine Books: 1985), Frances Moore Lappe

    Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Harper Perennial: 1978), Jerry Mander

    The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Univ. of Toronto Press: 1962), Marshall McLuhan

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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    When rudeness is the business model

    Broadcast Engineering is one of those wonderful professional trade publications that are indispensable to their readers but a complete mystery to anyone else because of their technical expertise.

    For reasons too obscure to go into, I know a little bit about the publication and its stellar reputation among its readers, so I was thrilled to learn Brad Dick, its editorial director, wrote a column on Noise Wars, which looks at captive-audience media.

    What makes the column so significant is its readers. Broadcast Engineering subscribers constitute the technology brain trust for the communications industry. Without them, there would be no communications industry. So when Brad commiserates with his readers on the daily battles we face with unwanted TV and audio media, he’s talking to the people that make such intrusion possible. They create, manage, repair, and produce the technology that underlies the transmission of audio and video media.

    Brad makes clear what we all know to be true at some level: technology is wonderful as long as we use it responsibly, in a way that respects others. Whether we like it or not, each and every one of us has the power at his or her fingertips to make the lives of others a living hell. Nothing except my own conscience keeps me from watching TV in my backyard on a warm summer night with the volume cranked or having a raucous party until 3 a.m. Nothing prevents me from driving down a residential street at 4 a.m. blasting music from my $7,000 car stereo—nothing other than fellow feeling.

    Sure, someone can call the police on me but we all know how effective that is. As Brad says, you’re probably better off dealing with it yourself. Noise might be the biggest complaint among neighbors, but police don’t have the manpower to enforce nuisance laws well. And in any case, relying on the police is a blunt instrument; in every case it’s better to work noise and other nuisance disputes out by appealing to our common humanity.

    Since each and every one of us commands the ability to disturb others, you can never have enough police available to keep the peace if we all didn’t buy into the idea, at least at some level, that we owe each other a measure of respect. I can’t imagine that even the worst boom car offender—the guy who gets in his car and just doesn’t care if he disturbs others or not with his music—doesn’t enjoy peace at some moments of his life. He must know at some level that others show him respect that he withholds from them.

    As Brad says, it’s all about respect. “[O]ur lives are affected by the rudeness of others and the general intrusion of both noise and video flashing images being blasted into our personal space.”

    There will always be rude people. What’s harder to accept is institutionalized rudeness. Locating intrusive audio and video media in places where we can’t escape it, like elevators and buses and subways—is institutionalized rudeness. That means, as a business model, some institutions are thumbing their nose at fellow feeling.

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

    , ,

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    The American cultural aesthetic: Mid-modern CNN

    I’m thinking about the decorative style of downtown San Diego, which is a kind of mid-modern CNN. If you’re wondering what mid-modern CNN looks like, think airport sports bar. That about sums up the San Diego urban aesthetic. Oh, yeah, there’s an ocean there, too.

    Come to think of it, mid-modern CNN sums up most of the urban, suburban, and even rural aesthetic of much of the United States, as if our country is a private company run by the entertainment committee of a frat house. How did it come to this?

    Almost everyone I have a beer with in a restaurant says they find the introduction of TV to even high-end restaurants a step backwards. Not because they don’t like TV. They’re dedicated TV consumers, like any good American. But they find it somewhat offensive that it’s become so hard to just find a quiet restaurant in which to enjoy the company of one’s dining companions. I always wonder on what basis managers make their decision to turn their restaurant, whatever its aesthetic had been, into mid-modern CNN. It’s like they take their aesthetic cues from the elevator of a Marriott Hotel.

    Speaking for myself, I’m looking forward to the day the when the baby boomers retire and the techno-fused millennial generation takes over. You read about this generation being wedded to their instant messaging and social media, not to mention their virtual words, but moving from a mid-modern CNN aesthetic to a high Facbook aesthetic stries me as progress.

    If you’re going to push giant screens out to me whether I like it or not, then I’d rather have the interactive, participatory wit and irreverence of a Facebook wall with conversation, commentary, and even YouTube videos than the sportsentertainmentmusic that passes for high culture at an American business hotel.

    The only negative I can see from the baby boomers passing into retirement is that they’ll bring their mid-modern CNN aesthetic to the nursing home. Since I’m a baby boomer myself, that means I’ll be spending my golden years in front of a bank of TVs in the dining hall watching the same basketballfootball game that I seem to have been watching since 1978, except that the basketball uniforms have gotten looser and the football uniforms have gotten tighter.

    I expect the last thing I see before I die is yet another beer commercial. That’s a great way to go out of this world—the same way we went out of the frat house.

    , , ,

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    53 Digital Detox Books

    Digital Detox Week is in April but any time is a good time to step back and put in perspective our dependence on things with screens. In that spirit, I offer up this collection of 53 books that remind us our dependence on TVs and other digital audio and video media is not a natural condition:

    One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World (Free Press: 2009), Gordon Hempton

    Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence (Harper: 2009), Anne Leclaire

    Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy (Algora Publishing: 2009), Robert Freedman

    The Age of American Unreason (Vintage)(Vintage: 2009), Susan Jacoby

    Living Without the Screen (Lea’s Communication)(Routledge: 2008), Marina Krcmar

    Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (Inside Technology) (The MIT Press 2008), Karin Bijsterveld

    The Assault on Reason(Penguin: 2008), Al Gore

    iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind(Collins Living: 2008), Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

    Media Unlimited, Revised Edition: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives(Holt: 2007), Todd Gitlin

    Television(Dalkey Archive Press: 2007), Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Jordan Stump: FICTION

    Noise: How Our Media-saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families(Ascension Press: 2007), Teresa Tomeo

    Manifesto for Silence: Confronting the Politics and Culture of Noise (Edinburgh University Press: 2007), Stuat Sim

    Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets(Eastern Washington University Press: 2007), Barbara Brock

    Remote Controlled: How TV Affects You and Your Family(Ebury Press: 2007), Aric Sigman

    The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid(Algonquon Books: 2007), Ellen Currey-Wilson

    Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It(Bloomsbury USA: 2006), Thomas de Zengotita

    Noise(Viking: 2006), Bart Kosko

    Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing(New Riders Publishing: 2006), Adam Greenfield

    Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture (The MIT Press: 2006), Barry Blesser

    Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business(Penguin: 2005), Neil Postman

    The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest(Pine Forge Press: 2005), David Croteau and William Hoynes

    The Medium is the Massage(Ginko Press: 2005) Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

    Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Console-ing Passions)(Duke Univ. Press: 2004), Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson

    Feed(Candlewick: 2004), M.T. Anderson: FICTION

    Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World (Harper: 2003), Sharon Heller

    Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media(Pantheon: 2002), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

    The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life(Penguin: 2002), Marie Winn

    T.V.: The Great Escape! : Life-Changing Stories from Those Who Dared to Take Control(Crossway Books: 2001), Bob DeMoss

    Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community(Simon & Schuster, 2001), Robert Putnam

    Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Console-ing Passions)(Duke University Press: 2001), Anna McCarthy

    Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say(Riverhead Trade: 2000), Douglas Rushkoff

    Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It(Simon & Schuster: 1999), Jane Healy

    Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge–And Why We Must(William Morrow: 1999), Kalle Lasn

    Get a Life!(Bloomsbury Publishing: 1998), David Burke and Jean Lotus

    Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter(Sage Publications: 1998), Roderick Hart

    The Commercialization of American Culture: New Advertising, Control and Democracy(Sage Publications: 1995), Matt McAllister

    …And There Was Television(Routledge: 1994), Ellis Cashmore

    Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man(The MIT Press: 1994), Marshall McLuhan, with an introduction by Lewis Lapham

    The Disappearance of Childhood(Vintage: 1994), Neil Postman

    The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives(Oxford Univ. Press: 1993), Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis

    The Soundscape (Destiny: 1993), R. Murray Schafer

    Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (Vintage: 1992), Neil Postman

    The Age of Missing Information(Plume: 1993), Bill McKibben

    Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience (Communication Series)
    (Lawrence Eribaum: 1990), Robert William Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    Fahrenheit 451(Ballantine Books: 1987), Ray Bradbury: FICTION

    No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior(Oxford Univ. Press: 1985), Joshua Meyrowitz

    What to Do After You Turn Off the TV(Ballantine Books: 1985), Frances Moore Lappe

    Noise Pollution. A Scientific and Psychological Look at a New Hazard (Franklin Watts: 1984), Shan Finney

    Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television(Harper Perennial: 1978), Jerry Mander

    The dangers of noise (Crowell: 1978), Lucy Kravalar

    The Tyranny of Noise (Harper Colophon: 1971), Robert Baron

    Noise Pollution, the Unquiet Crisis (University of Pennsylvania: 1971), Clifford Bragdon

    The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man(Univ. of Toronto Press: 1962), Marshall McLuhan

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    Plug for Target: a store that understands the quiet

    Several people have mentioned Target to me since Algora Publishing came out with my book on captive-audience media called Noise Wars. Just this weeked Theodore Rueter, the president of Noise Free America, complimented the book in a review on Amazon for its stand against compulsory media—and, yes, he also mentions Target’s policy, implemeted about 15 years ago, to can the canned music.

    So, here’s my official plug for Target’s policy to eschew overhead music and just let shoppers enjoy their own thoughts while they’re looking for school supplies or a bargain on paper towels.

    It takes a self-confident company not to try to manipulate its customers’ emotions by piping in focus-group-approved music. In my book, any company that respects its customers enough to let them shop without trying to give them a sensory experience is all right with me.

    Worse than the music is the point-of-sale TVs or other video monitors throughout so many stores today. These are less about trying to manipulate your mood and more about bludgeoning you with information you haven’t asked for and have no way of tuning out. It’s an egregious form of disrespect. So, I’m happy to give Target this free publicity as a thank you for treating its customers as adults with minds of their own.

    Here’s Rueter’s Amazon review, posted this weekend:

    Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomyis an outstanding book. It is exhastively researched, very well-written, informative, interesting, and entertaining. It is extremely useful for the fight against “compulsory media” and other forms of noise pollution.

    Robert Freedman examines the explosive growth of “compulsory media,” which is now everywhere: buses, airports, gas station pumps, taxis, elevators, sports stadiums, schools, downtowns, restaurants, subways, restrooms, doctor’s offices, gyms, stores, and malls.

    Freedman points out that there is now “street-furniture TV,” in which “media companies install TV screens in ‘street furniture’ like bus stops, kiosks, benches, and the other structures that make up the familiar landscape. ‘People can actually watch movie trailers at bus stops,’ says Jean-Luc-Decaux of J.C. Decaux North America, a French marketing group with US operations based in Chicago” (p.27).

    I dislike compulsory media intensely. This past summer, I left a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game during the first inning because of the constant pounding from the public speaker system and the organ–even between pitches! (They also blasted rock and roll in the men’s room.) I recently walked out of a chiropractor’s office because of the annoying ‘background music’–even in a treatment room. When I asked the chiropractor to at least turn it down in the treatment room, he refused. I try to go to the supermarket on Sunday mornings, because that’s when stores tend to play quieter, classical music. One of the reasons I hate flying is because of the constant, irritating announcements (“Attention passengers. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not accept packages from strangers”), as well as the ubiquitous presence of television monitors broadcasting CNN.

    As Rob Freemdan points out, increasingly, there is no place to hide. In terms of shopping, the only refuge is Target, which eliminated “background music” more than 15 years ago. I go out of my way to shop at Target.

    I highly recommend Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy to anyone interested in social trends, media studies, social psychology, or social activism. It is a terrific read.

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