Ya Want Ads With That?

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Amanda “The Bellman” Marlowe

The other day a friend sent me a link to a New York Times article describing how Borders was planning to install large flat-screen televisions in some of their stores. The idea is to display “unobtrusive” ads and other content.

I’m instantly reminded of the scenes in Minority Report, where pedestrians are constantly barraged with ads targeted directly to them as they go about their daily business. When I first saw that, I was horrified, because I could so easily see that becoming our future.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go out to watch television. If I wanted to watch television 24/7 I would stay home—someone in my family usually has something on. I’m not particularly anti-television. I’ve watched my fair share of good stuff and my fair share of junk, and I have shows I try to watch regularly. But I generally prefer the printed word, and I have found I enjoy getting lost in my own thoughts. Television, for better or worse, does distract from thinking, from conversation, and from reading. I find I resent televisions in public spaces like grocery store checkout lines and restaurants. There’s something about a television that demands your attention, like a little child always shouting “Look Ma, look! Look!!” And suddenly all the attention is on the television, on some channel you have no control over. Gone with your attention are many human interactions you might have had. A chat with the person next to you, an intimate discussion with your date, or a smile at the checkout clerk are easily replaced by a glassy stare at an LCD screen. I understand that waiting in places can be boring, but do we always have to fill the blank spaces in with television? Especially with television that is little better than non-stop infomercials?

A bookstore is someplace I go to relax, to be with my own thoughts, to breath in ink particles (or book mold, if it’s a secondhand bookstore), and, oddly enough, to browse books. And if there’s a coffee bar, it might be a place I’ll go to chat with friends. But it’s not a place I go to watch television. It never will be. I don’t seem to be alone in this view. The overwhelming reaction I’ve gotten to people who have read the article is “Ack!” Several people have sworn if their local Borders follows through with the televisions, they’ll never set foot in the place again.

I understand a company wants to make money. And I understand that there is a great deal of money in selling ads—just ask Google. I also understand that Borders has always wanted to be seen as more than a bookstore. But given the reactions I’ve heard to this move, I have to wonder if perhaps they don’t understand their audience. Well, perhaps this whole thing will help out the independent bookstores. If so, then that would be a bright spot in an ad-filled future.

E-mail: bellman[at]toasted-cheese.com

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