Saturday, March 05, 2016

I Don’t Want My FTV

If you've never been, it's worth taking a trip to the Newseum in Washington DC. Located just off the National Mall not far from the Capital, the museum is a fabulous exploration of journalism and the media. In addition to the engrossing displays on the evolution of TV News to historical newspapers, it has special exhibits on the coverage of 9/11 and iconic photos that document significant events of our time. It also has a few unexpected and unique touches, such as amusing tiles in the rest rooms that show questionable headlines from newspapers far and wide ("Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case"). But because it is a museum focusing on the media, also in the rest room I wasn't too surprised to see the water taps topped by little TV's.

In spite of the context, I was a little dismayed. After all, in today's modern world, there are precious few places where you can get away from the constant bombardment of electronic advertisements. You expect it when you are online: sidebars and banner headlines fill half of almost any website you visit. But even out in the physical world, the bits and bytes don't stop pummeling you. Drive down the road, and high tech billboards stream an ever changing barrage of commercials and promotions. Stroll past a store, and whether it's Victoria's Secret or Bass Pro Hunting and Fishing, there's a better than even chance that there will be a screen nestled among the merchandise showing the product in action. I'll leave it to you to decide which is more exciting to watch, and which you shouldn't let the kiddies see.

All that means that one of the few places you could escape from the electronic noise was the rest room. While there might be some music pumped in, that was usually the extent of the intrusion. (Let's not get into the subject of those who insist on using their cell phones while going about their business. One word: Argggg.) At most higher end establishments, the walls are mercifully free of come-ons of any type. At some more rollicking neighborhood joints, you might find a few old style flyers tacked up advertising upcoming musical entertainment. And yes, you occasionally come across some where the "media" consists of a crude scatological drawing and a scrawled "For a good time call 555-1212."

But if space was the final frontier in "Star Trek," washrooms are the uncharted territory for flat screens. Mind you, we're talking about public accommodations: it's not uncommon to find small TV's in bathrooms in high-end hotel rooms, with some even built into the mirrors that are invisible when off. And so while there may be wall space in a public restroom that could hold a 42" monitor, it's hard to imagine someone stopping between, er, "tasks" to take in an ad for a new Hyundai.

Enter Faucet Impressions. One challenge of video advertising is to get people to focus directly on an ad at the best time, and not just glance away. What the company does is mount a four-inch or so LCD screen directly to the water faucet above a sink. Just below the screen is the auto sensor that turns the water on. So in order to start the flow, you wind up looking directly at the screen. Move your hands slowly to find that sensor, and as the water starts so does the ad, running from the beginning precisely where you are looking.

And that's what I encountered. It was not a part of the museum displays, but your basic electronic billboard in miniature form. The company boasts installations at places like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Seven Clans Casino in Northern Minnesota. In those environments one can imagine them running ads not only for specific products, but promoting events on site be it a show, restaurant or their reason for being: "Now that you have clean hands, clean up at Roulette! Table 25 has an opening!"

As for me, I washed and dried, then headed back out into the displays. I walked past the flashing screens showing coverage of past political campaigns, and found my way to the collection of front pages throughout history. Sometimes all you want to do is read something that's not forcing you to catch it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to turn off his electronic thingies. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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