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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Toilet TV

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

From a media watcher in Canada comes news which is both amusing and sobering, According to AdNews Online Daily, a company called NewAd Media has already installed new videoboards in public bathrooms in Toronto. From what I can gather, the video screens are mounted above the urinals in men's rooms and inside the toilet stalls in ladies' rooms. An infrared sensor turns the board on when someone stands in front of it (for the men) or when one sits on the toilet (for the women). The boards display "45 second full-motion broadcast quality video clips with sound," it is reported, and although the news item I saw didn't mention it specifically, you can bet that what the videoboards are showing is advertising.

More than 80 of these videoboards are already operating in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.

On the humorous side, what they're going to call these things might be interesting. Toilet TV? (At least they don't call it "streaming video"). I'd like to suggest that they call them "Channel Number One" and "Channel Number Two," but you may have even better ideas.

And I'd love to meet the research team who decided that the videos should be 45 seconds long. No doubt that's more than enough time for some "audience members" and not enough time for others.

Can't you just imagine the lines in the bathrooms when these devices spread?

"Aren't you done YET?"

"Yeah. I'm done, but I want to finish watching the video."

And I'm sure that more than one wit has pointed out that this new venture has finally put advertising where it rightly belongs.

But lest we take this new development too lightly, I hasten to point out that it represents the further encroachment of video into our most private moments. TV screens are now venturing where they never have gone before.

It is perhaps the growth of a trend rather than the start of a new one, this proliferation of video. Video is now present nearly everywhere already, from the big screens at sports arenas (where you can watch the game on big screen TV while actually being there in person) to TV's in classrooms, at airports, in doctor's waiting rooms and, of course, at work. The technology has been around for a couple of years now so that you can watch live TV programs on your computer screen while you're (presumably) working. A new line of minivans now comes with a built-in VCR (but for the passengers only to enjoy - not the driver - at least for now). We have TV's not only in our living rooms, but also in our bedrooms, under the cabinets in our kitchens and outside on the porch. With the increasing miniaturization of battery-operated TV's, it's now possible to carry a TV with you wherever you go.

And now there are TV's even in public bathrooms.

The day may come (perhaps it is already here) when you'll be able to go through an entire day (or life?) without ever being more than 10 feet from a TV screen.

Does that remind you of anything?

In George Orwell's classic novel "1984," there are telescreens everywhere - in every house, in every room, and on every street corner. And they are never turned off.

No, I'm not suggesting that our TV screens are two-way (as the ones in "1984" are), nor that we're being spied on by Big Brother or the Thought Police.

But we are not only watching more TV than ever before, we're watching our televisions at times and places where we never have before. Video screens are at least as ubiquitous today as they are in Orwell's novel.

And there are those who suggest that we're becoming as dependent upon them as a junkie is hooked on his particular drug-of-choice. They are everywhere, it is argued, because we want them to be everywhere, we need them to be everywhere. We are afraid of doing even the briefest and most basic acts alone, without the warm glow of the television to keep us company. Some people say that.

Most video screens in the year 2000 push commercialism rather than political propaganda, but there are those who say that there's not much difference between them.

I'm not one of those people. Not yet. I still see this "bathroom TV" as more of a curiosity than as a harbinger of government (or commercial) enslavement.

But I can certainly see how one might think otherwise.

And then the whole notion of "Toilet TV" becomes more sobering than humorous.