In Touch

Taxi cab screenI'm wired. I bought an iPhone this spring, and ever since, I've had it all, all the time: maps, e-mail, video, calendar, SMS, restaurant menus, Craigslist, everything. I never find myself wishing I'd lugged my six-pound laptop with me at lunch, and it's been months since I last paid for Wi-Fi in a coffee shop.

One of the reasons I'm so happy with it is because it's almost completely under my control. I turn it on and off, I check e-mail or not, and so far I haven't been spammed with marketing texts. I even used it on a commuter train last week to browse shopping sites for furniture.

Then there's the targeted, syndicated content on the TV at my doctor's office - sometimes more interesting than sitcoms at the gym. The screens inside elevators solve an age-old problem: In New York, at least, they're a great way to keep from making small talk with strangers. I'm not ignoring you, I'm just watching my stocks.

But there is such a thing as saturation, and I'm not convinced it's a personal threshold. When we feel inundated with media, the only cure is to reassert control. That's why it's always worth giving the consumer the out. I'm grateful that NBC lets me watch The Office on its Web site, but I'm even more grateful that I can mute the pre-roll and interstitials. (By the way, NBC, I'd probably watch them with sound if you didn't show the same commercial over and over in each episode. Entertain me, will you?)

The flexibility and creativity of nomadic media will be great for everyone as long as a consumer is still allowed to say, "No, thank you." Like this: While running a bunch of errands recently, I caught a cab amidst the chaos of shoppers on Sixth Avenue and headed downtown. It was such a relief to shut the door and sit back. A cab ride can be such a luxury in the city, all that space and quiet to yourself. So I was startled by the noisy TV embedded in the back of the driver's bench; it was showing a sports program and a bunch of other split-screen tidbits.

I looked out the window, trying to ignore it and just enjoy the ride, until it occurred to me that the thing might at least have a volume control. Would the driver be annoyed if I fiddled with the pricey-looking screen? Then I remembered: I'm the consumer here; I'm in control.

I found the touchscreen button, and I turned it off. Next time, I might watch.
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