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.

15 December 2011

Commuter chaos

The underground train arrives in the station and there is a mad scrum to get to the doors first.  Of course, travellers have to wait for passengers already on the train to exit first before they can get on, but if they are first in line at the door, then they stand a pretty good chance of getting one of the few vacant seats inside.  If it isn't your lucky day, then you have to complete your journey, in an upright position, squeezed between pushchairs, rucksacks and someone who's just consumed a particularly strong curry,

The train slows down and, in what resembles a game of reverse Russian roulette, you hope against all hope that one of the doors comes to a halt right where you are standing on the platform.  It's too crowded to go running after a door; you just have to hope Lady Luck is smiling on you today.  Eventually the train stops and all the passengers gravitate towards their nearest door.  But the doors in front of you don't open.  And even more peculiar, the area inside is devoid of crowds.  Why??? The other passengers up and down the platform disappear inside the train.  The platform clears.  The driver warns people over the loudspeaker to stand clear of the train. It's about to leave but you and a handful of fellow passengers still haven't boarded.  You desperately yank on the handle - repeatedly.  Nothing happens - repeatedly.  Why won't the damn door open?  A lucky traveller on the inside of the train gestures towards the glass separating you.  Can't the fool see that you're trying to open the door; why doesn't he help and open the door from the inside?  And then you see them: fluorescent yellow notices plastered all over the doors, at eye level so you can't miss them, and printed in big, red letters are the words "Out of Order."  And in case you are illiterate or don't speak the lingo, there is also a pictograph - it depicts a man trying to open a locked train door.  

Despite valiant attempts by rail workers, people still fail to notice these bright yellow signs.  There are so many pasted on the glass that they block out the light, yet people somehow don't notice them.  Do commuters walk around in such a hypnotised state that they literally do not notice what is staring them in the face?  Maybe they are totally brainwashed by mind-numbing, daily routine that they fail to register anything out of the ordinary that does not fit into their comforting, familiar practices.

The incidents are becoming more frequent (both broken doors and inattentive travellers) and I am at a loss to explain the phenomenon.
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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.