Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wanted: A Refuge from Interactive TV

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wanted: A Refuge from Interactive TV

Article excerpt

LAST week USA Today published a thumbnail survey called "Do We REALLY Want to Interact with TV?" It found that 32 percent of adults in the United States said they'd be likely to suscribe to an interactive television system, with certain demographic groups more likely than others to say yes.

Some of us apparently can't wait to be interactive. Corporations large and small are in the midst of rather frantic dealmaking to capitalize on the prospect of electronic linkage with practically every last person and group. Earlier this week, for instance, AT&T said it had bought into a company that lets people all over the country play video games with each other on personal computers.

Such interactivity may be marvelous, but its appeal depends on the unspoken premise behind the USA Today question: that the viewer is the one who would be in control. The more I read about how the purveyors of this technology are poking into the nooks and crannies of our lives, the less control I suspect we'll end up exercising. Already they can get you in your home, in your car, in the woods, on the ocean. You are theirs by one device or another - satellite-linked portable phones, octopus-like home-computer networks, or some other merciless messaging system.

I was canoeing with my younger son the other day and realized that half the pleasure was our unreachability. The old line in pop songs about "no more telephones" sprang to mind. But in the brave new world of electronic connectedness, no such respite will exist. Don't think you can escape to some blind corner like the character in Orwell's "1984" who avoided Big Brother's control this way. The messaging mania doesn't even require two people these days: Some beepers are activated by a remote computer that "anticipates" trouble and signals you in advance, before another human even knows. With desktop videoconferencing systems, you can't even duck a soporific business conference. The meeting follows you to your work station, where you must be ready to make a personal appearance - a kind of captive show-business personality prepared at all times to go on camera.

And at home they can get you through the TV set. …

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