Monday, July 8, 2013


All cabs in New York -- and, for all I know, in your town -- feature TV screens on the back of the front seat for what the city would probably describe as "the passengers' convenience." After a rather benign rundown of the per-second cost of your ride -- accompanied by the kind of music you would expect to hear when Tinkerbell flies by -- you are immediately bombarded by a made-for-taxi news broadcast along with commercials. 

Coming to a cerebellum near you.
But at least you have the option of turning it off and sitting -- perhaps napping -- in silence. It only seems fair, right? Not to Sky Deutschland, it doesn't. As the July 3, 2013 issue of the London Telegraph reports: 
Sky Deutschland has developed technology to transfer adverts from train windows directly and silently into commuters' heads. Passengers leaning their head against the window will "hear" adverts "coming from inside the user's head", urging them to download the Sky Go app. The proposal involves using bone conduction technology, which is used in hearing aids, headphones and Google's Glass headset, to pass sound to the inner ear via vibrations through the skull. 

The Tokyo commuter version of
fast-forwarding through commercials.
If it wasn't official before, it is now: When it comes to advertising, there's nowhere to hide. And that's the way, of course, Madison Avenue -- and its international associates -- wants it. It wasn't enough that you weren't allowed to fast-forward through commercials while streaming network TV series. Now you can't even take a nap without hearing someone inside your skull urging you to purchase a product. Leave it to the Germans, who proved themselves the masters of brainwashing, to take it to its literal conclusion.

The funny thing is, there are consumers who are not only cool with this, they fret that it might be darn-near shameful if we don't pay attention to every request to buy Buy BUY! Naturally, one of them felt compelled to check in with the New York Times Ethicist. (Yes, the paper that never double-checked the Munchausenesque fabrications of Jayson Blair has an Ethics column.):

Is it ethical to DVR a TV show and then fast-forward through all the commercials while watching it?

I'll give you a moment to wipe the vomit from your mouth before continuing.

All clean? Good. Now, to be fair, this reader, known only as G.G., wrote from Los Angeles. Therefore, he could be a mid-level executive in the advertising department of, say, the Fox Network, which really loads up on commercials and promos. Good jobs are scarce these days; G.G. might be concerned that Rupert Murdoch is not only wiretapping his phone but has installed cameras around his home to catch him in the act of ignoring the very
Kleig lights cutting across a moonlit sky --
or a TV viewer's skull being sliced by Murdoch's
advertising department?
product that pays his salary. This would be more a case of justifiable fear rather than ethical distress.
Murdoch, you see, is the owner of the newly-rebranded 21st Century Fox corporation, which holds a pretty good stake in Sky Deutschland, which you may remember as the pioneer of in-your-face -- make that in-your-brain -- advertising.

To his credit, Chuck Klosterman, the Times resident ethicist, alleviated G.G.'s fears, somewhat in the way a priest reassures a happily-married couple that sex on the kitchen counter is sanctioned as long as the steak knives are safely in the silverware drawer. That G.G. had to ask a New York Times employee if ignoring commercials was an acceptable act -- and that none of the readers' comments featured a statement akin to "This guy is an idiot and, furthermore, when did the Times become the nation's moral arbiter?" -- is further proof that we Americans are easy pickings when the next round of terrorism comes calling.

So the next time you're trying to catch a little snooze-time on your commuter train, Amtrak or, who knows, the passenger seat of the family car, and you suddenly hear the dulcet tones of the Geico gecko urging you to buy insurance -- you're not going crazy. You're just a demographic to be courted. Now shut up and go to sleep. Madison Avenue has work to do.


No comments: