Each morning, I go to the AOL home page to retrieve my email, and way too often I'm greeted with moronic headlines like: "Mother finds lost son alive after five years living in her attic!" I then wonder just when AOL merged with The National Enquirer.
I pivot quickly to my email page but already feel violated by sensationalism and banality.
Now I'm in the city, hailing a cab. I get in and without any prompting, a news person is addressing me from a video screen. I try to turn it off. I have to hit the "Off" button repeatedly for it to take. This frustrates me.
Days later, I'm flying to California. When I sit down in my airplane seat, again the video is on right in front of me -- lots of sight, sound and motion, and some other telegenic host or spokesperson with lots to say. Thankfully, the sound is turned down.
I still choose to turn the video off, but in the narrow space my elbow keeps hitting the controls, and it keeps coming back on. My solution: I press the lightness button down, and that unwelcome, intrusive presence is plunged into blessed darkness.
And then there's my particular pet peeve: DVDs or blu-rays where I'm forced -- and I mean, forced -- to laboriously skip through endless previews of movies before finally arriving at my intended destination... the menu page for the feature I actually want to see.
When I try to shortcut to the main menu, a fraction of the time it works, but mostly I get that dreaded sign telling me: "This action is not allowed at the moment."
But hold on a minute -- I actually bought this DVD so I could watch the film without being impeded or interrupted. Yet the studio that sold it to me is making it exceedingly difficult for me to opt out of their self-serving advertising and promotional campaigns.
Now I can't blame CBS for all those erectile dysfunction ads; I know that if I choose to tune in 60 Minutes, advertising is part of the contract. That's the price I pay for free content, and yes -- the ads are when I go get that beer in the fridge and check on dinner.
And if I pick up The New York Times and see yet another photo of the Boston bombers, I accept that, because by scanning the front page, I'm making a choice to get the news. It's not forced on me.
The there's the movie theater. Even though I personally detest all those headache-inducing previews, by going into that space I implicitly expect and agree to endure them. And I know that struggling exhibitors would hardly consent to do away with them. So be it. I can mosey out to the lobby for some high-priced popcorn if I'm truly desperate.
Still, in general I'm conscious of all the time and effort involved in avoiding all the flash and noise that threatens to engulf us.
Harry Nilsson saw it coming on the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack: "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're saying."
(Would you believe it: an anti-advertising message from a former "Mad Man," who clocked in 17 years managing accounts at Ogilvy? It's akin to Yul Brynner telling us all to quit smoking.)
Of course it's unrealistic to expect a world where we only receive the media and promotional messages we want all the time. I certainly don't envision near-term extinction for that twin blight on our real and virtual landscape: outdoor billboards and banner ads.
Yet technology is gradually moving us in the right direction. With the decline of non-paid, "appointment" TV programming, and the corresponding advent of on-demand streaming, increasingly we'll be able to tailor what we see and hear to suit our own tastes, and also bypass unwelcome tabloid hype, junk ads and other assorted clutter.
The key to all of it is being able to opt in or out easily.
With respect to the movie preview issue on DVDs, some will claim that most viewers absolutely adore watching previews, whether in a theater or at home.
To which I respond: all the more reason studios should make it easy for that small minority (of which I'm a part) to choose to skip them.
And if I want to watch programming in a cab or on an airplane, let me hit the power button myself.
Like many other so-called civilized, developed countries around the globe, the U.S. is experiencing an explosion, both in content and how that content gets delivered.
But we are also a nation founded on freedom and the rights of the individual. Shouldn't that include being able to choose what we watch, read and see, along with when and how we do it?
Sounds reasonable to me!
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