19 February 2006

Op-ed: TV in public places.

This little piece appeared in the Commentary section of the Austin American-Statesman on July 5, 2004:

TV in Public Places: Can We at Least Lower the Volume?

May I make a modest proposal? Here it is: If you're in charge of a television that broadcasts in a public space, turn it off -- or at least turn it down.

I suggest this because last week I spent a couple of hours subjected to a noisy television in a doctor's waiting room. There was a newspaper on the coffee table, and a few magazines were scattered around, but the dominant force in the room was the television. Judging from the reactions of the patrons in my corner of the room, the programs being shown were not of wide interest.

The practice where I waited performs outpatient procedures that require an hour or two, and all patients must have "a responsible adult driver" standing by to ferry them home. The woman sitting next to me, there in our corner farthest from the TV, made good headway into the novel she brought. Lucky her. My wife would have brought her knitting and passed the time enjoyably.

I myself brought a magazine and a book, but I'm one of those people who can't read with a television on, especially a loud one. I would have asked to lower the volume, but a couple of folks sitting near it seemed to be watching. I've noticed, also, that once a TV is up and blaring, asking to turn it down or change the channel becomes awkward. It is as though the TV projects an aura of reversed etiquette: Even though it is the thing making the disturbance, the burden is placed on you to find a polite way to minimize it. Arguing that the volume disturbs your reading? It seems unlikely.

This reminds me to think of a way to raise this issue with my children's dentist. His waiting room is littered with interesting toys and books, but the TV is always on at full volume, so of course that's what draws the kids' attention. Kids have better things to do with their rapidly forming brains. Let them do those things -- play, read, look at picture books, imagine -- rather than plant them in front of the box that does the imagining for them.

Or that keeps them from eating their lunch. Recently we took a car trip to Dallas to visit my parents. On the way we stopped to eat at a Dairy Queen. Inside, someone had parked a television on the first booth by the door -- aimed so that the staff could see it, I guess. "The Simpsons" were on at high volume. I have spent many hours enjoying "The Simpsons," but it's not an appropriate show for my little ones. Instead of a welcome break from the hours on the highway, lunchtime was a struggle. We were happy to get back to the quiet of the car.

The intrusion of television is something like the intrusion of smoking. TV doesn't tear down your health like smoking does, but the noise pollution from the one reminds me of the air pollution from the other. Thoughtful smokers don't light up in nonsmokers' houses or cars; they are courteous enough to step into the yard or to wait until the trip is over.

Why don't we treat televisions the same way? If you go to a sports bar, of course you expect some smoke, and of course the TV will be turned up loud. It's a sports bar. But in a doctor's waiting room? The last thing I want is some new ordinance forbidding it, but I would like common courtesy to take over, so that we defer to non-TV watchers as we defer to nonsmokers.

After sitting for a while, I realized that the waiting-room TV was tuned to the E! network. A little homework reveals that the local cable package including E! costs about $46 per month, roughly $550 a year. I came up with a list of popular magazines the medical practice could subscribe to for the same amount. Ready? AARP The Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Better Homes & Gardens, Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, Field & Stream, Forbes, Fortune, Golf Digest, Good Housekeeping, Money, National Geographic, Newsweek, Parents, People, Prevention, Reader's Digest, Runner's World, Scientific American, Shape, Smithsonian, Southern Living, Sports Illustrated and Time. Those should offer plenty of diversion for the practice's patrons.

One popular weekly is notably missing from my list. If it puts away the television, the doctors' practice won't need the No. 3 magazine in the country -- TV Guide.

1 Comments:

Blogger Chris Huston said...

Timmy, boy, it does my heart good to see you writing about television, knowing how [understandably] disenchanted you are with the thing. Even something of this tenor, which is really more about etiquette than TV. But I love to see it because, even as (and probably especially as) a televisiophile, I could not agree more.

What IS more, is that the situation is all the more irritating, since, as you briefly observed at a couple of points how, not only is the TV on when waiting patrons could be making use of the time more constructively (especially considering the context) and with less encumberance, particularly for kids and particularly when other more commendable choices are provided, and not only is it on at a disruptive level, BUT ... what IS invariably selected to be blaring from it?

When was the last time you saw any of these TVs blaring George Paige's voice backdropping a Brazilian Wandering Spider building its burrow? Or Charlie Rose in an inspiring interview with Barry Diller? (Let's forget the easily navigable programming constraints here, for a moment.) Nope. No siree. It's gotta be Oprah or Dr. Phil or the Young and the Clueless or Springer.

It's like they are trying to find the answer to "How stupid CAN you get? Really. We're curious."

Dentists will be so accomodating when it comes to "Oh, would you like some novocaine, would you like this, would you like that?" and yet let this flipping idiocy blare at me for 15 minutes before I get in the chair, and now, even WHILE I'm IN the frazzlin' chair.

You know, so often, people will justify their choice by saying things like, "Well, if you don't like it, don't watch/read/smoke/whatever it." Ya know, set your magazines out, your books, your toys, whatever, but when you turn on the fecking TV, I can't go anywhere. It is like second-hand smoke. I suddenly have no choice.

In fact, in a way, it's worse because it's innocuous *enough*. Of course, in the most significant sense, unlike smoking, it is innocuous, but it just comes back to basic courtesy, which is clearly still (as I suppose it always will be) far from common.

10:59 PM  

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