Thursday, April 17, 2014

Empty Calories

I live on a lake in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  It isn't often that I leave the property - maybe weekly during the summer months, perhaps monthly (at best) during the winter months.  Today I agreed to accompany my wife into town.  "Town" is not large, but it's not small either; it has a population of close to 3500 people.  It has three gas station convenience stores (that I'm aware of), a McDonald's, a Burger King, Pizza Hut, Walgreens.  You get the picture.

We decided to stop at Pizza Hut for lunch.  They have a buffet, and it was the quickest available option for a salad (I had a craving).  As we were sat and munched our food, Emily (my wife) pointed out that it was odd that Pizza Hut had four televisions mounted to the walls all around the restaurant.  A brief glance confirmed her statement.  Indeed four televisions hung on the walls in each of the four corners, and each television was set to a different station, playing a different program...with no sound.

What was the point?  Is Pizza Hut attempting to compete with sports bars, hoping to attract the Monday Night Football fans for wings and football?  Perhaps.

For the most part I didn't think much about it.  So, there are TVs in Pizza Hut.  Big deal.  Yet, something Emily had said stuck with me.  "Why does there need to be a television everywhere?" she asked.  Why, indeed?

We stopped at one of the gas station convenience stores later that day to fill up the car and purchase a car wash (one of those automatic drive-thru washes) and as I pumped my fuel I was assaulted by a television...not just on my pump, but on every single pump on the property...blaring and echo of advertising from products like the new Dodge Ram to some synthetic oil that was supposed to make my car run smoother...more efficiently.

The cacophonous sound was overwhelming.  Why was there a television at the gas pump?  Are manufacturers and marketers so afraid of losing sales that they feel the need to intrude upon every conceivable space to pump us full of the need to buy?

It was the television on the gas pump that made me question the relevance of the television.  What was it's purpose?  Clearly to advertise to a 'supposed' captive audience.  What else are you doing while you're pumping your gas?  (One would hope you're checking your oil level and washing your windshield, but we know that doesn't often happen.)

Recalling my previous visits to town away from our property I realized there are televisions everywhere...most of which aren't even offering real content.  For example:  The local Hardee's has two televisions hanging in their lobby.  (I don't know why, but just follow me on this journey.)  Before we had internet in our cabin, I would have to drive to town and sit at Hardee's (where there's free WiFi) to check my email or use Facebook.  When I first started doing this, the noise from the television was mind-numbing.  Couldn't I just sit in peace and quiet?

However, at least they were showing somewhat descent content...both stations were set to CNN or some other 24-hour news outlet.  At least it was news, current events, something worth watching.  However, one day when I arrived for my weekly email session, I was shocked to see the television programing had been replaced by [what I can only describe as] Musak for television.

This new "programming" was filled with advertisements for partner companies, music videos for teeny-boppers, and other nauseating content.

The programming was almost as devoid of enrichment as the food Hardee's serves.

So here's where I am.  I don't understand why there needs to be televisions in restaurants and retail stores.  Shouldn't we be able to provide our own entertainment by speaking to one another, or at the very least shouldn't we be more focused on spending our hard earned dollar on what we came to purchase instead of having paid-for advertising crammed down our throats at every corner?

Think of it this way:  If I'm sitting at a restaurant, the last thing I want to do is watch television.  I should be able to carry on a conversation with the people I came with.  However, if I have to watch television, does it need to be so filtered that it might as well not even exist because it offers nothing of substance?

Thanks, Corporate America, for giving us two ways to dumb ourselves down and turn us into mindless sheep:  by first sticking a loud, flashy object in our face and basically forcing our attention toward anything other than the friends and family we should be spending time with, and then for filling that flashing idiot-box with content that can do nothing for us but demand we buy things.

No education.  No current events.  No talking points.  Just mindless chatter to fill the background and draw our attentions away from the relationships we should be cultivating.