Two of my favorite movies, Blade Runner and Total Recall, have these scenes where their view of the future is filled with video screens hanging everywhere as the characters move about their daily lives. Amazingly, this future has already arrived, and we have become screen addicts. I can go from my home PC, TV, Kindle, cell phone to subway (multiple TVs per car, playing sports highlights and other ads), to restaurant and sports arenas. Our cars have a GPS and seat-back videos for the kiddies. There are billboards that are just large video displays popping up around town, almost to the point of being too distracting with their changing images. Bus shelters and even taxicabs have video advertisements running both inside and out. Even our phones have multiple screens and video cameras now.
Remember those old days when just sports bars were the only ones that had TVs? Now the average restaurant is chock full of video “walls” and even some have TVs in every booth, like the jukeboxes of yore. And watching TV is no longer a passive activity: both my wife and my daughter pull out their phones or laptops to check some random thought online, look up an actor’s IMDB profile, or text their friends while watching a show.
The Cowboys and Giants stadiums are other examples of immersive video environments. I had a chance to tour the Cowboys’ stadium before it was finished the day they actually turned on the gigatron that is hanging over the field between the 20-yard lines, and it was interesting. All work stopped and all eyes were focused on that screen when they starting playing some football video highlights. It was almost like a religious experience. Maybe that was the intent. But the big midfield screen isn’t enough – there are more than two thousand regular-sized TV screens scattered throughout the place, if you ever can take your eyes off the enormous one hanging over the field. Each TV has its own IP address and can be programmed individually to display something during the game, making it an advertiser’s wet dream.
Speaking of screens in cars, remember when you last talked to your kids or played the alphabet game on a long car ride? It required nothing more than your own powers of observation: no batteries or technology needed. Now every passenger has to have his or her own video cocoon to pass the time.
As an experiment, a college in Pennsylvania last week tried to turn off Facebook, Twitter and IM for an entire week across its campus, which is a single 16 story building in downtown Harrisburg. Nice try. During this self-inflicted ban, the college was host to a conference on social media trends and a video game tournament for high schoolers. I guess going cold turkey proved more difficult than they first thought. Of course, students could still have access via their mobile phones to get their fix, or walk over to a Starbucks nearby. That is, as long as Facebook itself is online and doesn’t have outages of its own doing.
It used to be that having one monitor on your computer was considered sufficient. That seems so old fashioned, like looking at a model T now. Today’s geeks have surrounded themselves with at least three screens per PC, and traders have entire video walls sprouting from their desks. Why bother with virtual reality goggles when you can sit inside your own computing landscape?
Yes, we are addicted to screens. How many families sit down to dinner with their devices nearby, just in case they get a text that needs attention? Well, I will keep this column short this week, just so you can get back to more important business. But it might be good to take a few minutes to walk outside and see how far you can get before you see another screen.