26 December 2011

Brainwashed and ready to spend money

Many underground stations in Munich have screens on the walls above the train lines.  These show headline news, weather bulletins, fact of the day, Trivial Pursuit-type questions and other meaningful pieces of information you really need to know when away from home.  But everything comes at a price: if you want to learn whether it's raining or not above ground, you have to subject yourself to the ubiquitous adverts that also accompany the bulletins.  

It's highly interesting to observe commuters on the platforms while they are watching the screens.  (Sociologists could do a field study and gain valuable insights into urban, subterranean, behavioural practices of modern man/woman.)  Quite simply, passengers are mesmerised.  They congregate in pools in front of the screens (there are two or three along the platform) and simply stare in rapt silence at the moving pictures, irrelevant whether it's financial news or ads for an Indian takeaway.  Of course, the projection is silent; there isn't even music.  So there isn't any need for passengers/viewers to be quiet - it's not like they're watching Harry Potter at the pictures and have to be 'shhhh'ed.'  People are so transfixed by what they see that, in the interest of public safety, when a train is approaching, the screen turns black and a warning sign fills the void: "Attention!  Train arriving."  Otherwise it would be a big shock if a thundering underground train suddenly blocked off your view, and you'd feel a bit peeved, too, if you missed the answer to the previous Quiz of the Day question.  

Stations with projectors are so quiet: no one shouts on their iPhones, nor do people gossip loudly.  They are all too wrapped up in the show on the wall.  And here's the cherry on the cake for the advertisers - they have a willing and captive audience.  The travellers on the platform are stuck there until the train arrives (and if it's late, even better), they can't go anywhere and in order to relieve the monotony, they stare vapidly ahead of them.

For the transport company, it's a win-win situation:
  1. Passengers are kept docile - they don't get all stroppy when their train is late.  They simply forget to look at the announcement board and don't notice how much time has passed.
  2. Passengers are kept quiet - they don't wander up and down the platform, talking loudly and bumping into each other.  They wait silently, huddled together like a flock of sheep in a downpour.
  3. Said transport company can rake in big bucks in advertising fees.  After all, we all know how crowded public transport is with potential customers.
Make no mistake, I do not condemn these passengers.  I am one of the crowd on the platform and many times have found myself similarly immobilised while waiting for a train.  The really savvy passengers make a beeline for the few empty seats that are situated right in front of the screens; they don't have to stand while viewing and its' a bit like being at the cinema.  I find it difficult to explain: just what is it about moving pictures that makes us immune to our surroundings and we forget time and place?

Time was when a train station was a place that enabled you travel from A to B.  Nowadays it's just one more marketing opportunity for companies to exploit.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.