screens, there are screens everywhere

Todays post is inspired by this article from the Times (I find I’ve been reading it more lately, to make the most of it before I have to pay).

The bit of the article that you want is just after writer Sathnam Sanghera discusses the impossibility of explaining the internet to his mother. In case you’re reading this from the future, and there’s a paywall already up, here’s what he says:

A couple of months ago I interviewed Gelong Thubten, a Buddhist monk, who had just emerged from a four-year retreat, and asked him if he had noticed any changes about the world. His quick reply: “Screens. Suddenly, there are screens everywhere.”

He’s right. There’s absolutely no getting away from the damned things: they’re on office walls, in buses, constantly in our hands in the form of iPods and smartphones. And if there is one thing that represents our age, it is surely the unnecessary, blinking flatscreen TV, beaming out a bland image.

Nothing to disagree with there. Sanghera is right – the blinking things are everywhere.

An average trip from my flat, on the bus, to my local shopping centre (the massive Westfield) will include the following screens:

  • The ticker at the bus stop telling me that I’ve inevitably got 27 minutes to wait until the next bus
  • The rotating CCTV screen on the bus, showing the bald patches and coat backs of other passengers, the point of which seems to be to simply to let you know you’re being watched
  • Two huge digital ad screens outside Westfield
  • One huge and many small ad screens inside the shopping centre itself
  • Screens in shop windows showing ads and clothing
  • And my iPhone, which is pretty much 90% screen

I am no scientist and know nothing about WTC the effects of the above. I can only note the increase. But this leads nicely on to another point which has struck me for some time.

Outside London, this proliferation doesn’t appear to be an issue. The same trip, from my family home on the outskirts of Nottingham, into the city centre, might yield one screen if I’m lucky enough to catch one of the new fleet of buses with legroom. This will show rotating ads promoting the local college, florists and other businesses, recruiting bus drivers and asking you not to eat, drink, smoke, play music or defecate on the bus. (Only joking! They let you smoke…)

This extends to other advertising too. A trip around the ring road in Nottingham – no ads, or at least a number close to zero. (I can’t remember the location of a single hoarding.) A trip around the A406? Ads, ads, ads, with a soundtrack of pirate radio interruptions. Of course it’s a busier road, and maybe the consumers trapped on the North Circular are more susceptible and valuable for advertisers. But the general effect is one of peacefulness (aside from the hundreds of cars and factories, of course) contrasted with busyness and noise.

Coming back into London, the advertising is the first thing I notice. It starts with the Nissan sign loves on the M1 saying ‘Welcome to London’ (never did a welcome seem less welcoming) and really hits at the Brent Cross/M1 roundabout. Then it doesn’t stop again until you leave London.

Another comparison: trains that leave the commuter belt (i.e. to Grantham or Birmingham) with those that serve Surrey and other suburban railways. And then compare both of these with the tube.

So which are more effective? The occasional ad in a city with very few? Or one of the approximately 270, all in a row, around the Brent Cross roundabout?

I’m not saying too many ads is a bad thing. But it is nice to leave London once in a while. It’s like giving your visual cortex a breather.