Migration — TMI

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I was in a waiting room yesterday with a TV blaring. Nothing new about that. I couldn’t turn it off or turn it down, so I sat as far from it as possible. It happened to be turned to Pravda – I mean Fox News. A young man and woman sitting near the TV seemed to be watching intently when the woman said, “I can’t stand Fox any more.” “Why?” the guy asked. “Because there’s too much going on,” she said. “You mean the news?” “No,” she replied, “they’ve got that great big logo and then the information at the bottom and then stuff running down the side. And the reporters talk way too fast.”

The guy didn’t respond, but I glanced up at the screen. Sure enough, she was right. The main topic of conversation (something critical about Obama) occupied barely half of the screen. The rest was news crawls, a huge logo, and monitors in the background showing other news items. The anchor sounded like the folks who deliver those disclaimers at the end of car commercials about the limits on the offer that’s just been made, clocking in at about 400 words per minute.

The Too Much Information phenomenon isn’t limited to Fox, or to television, for that matter. Lately when I log on to a newspaper web site, I have to navigate past an ad that covers the whole screen. It’s bad enough that it pops up the first time, but if I leave the main page of the site, it comes up again and again. Then I’m distracted by the mobile banner ad across the top and the little self-promoting squares below. (The Courant has a particularly unattractive man that it seems to promote at least once a week. I avoid the site until after caffeine as he’s too much to take before.)

If I actually want to spend some time reading an article, my eyes have to ignore the squirrely stuff on the right side of the screen. At that point I open another folder, My Documents, for example, and slide it over to cover the little people doing cartwheels or the tango, or Bill Gates running his mouth. Since I always work with the sound off, his ads are particularly funny but still distracting.

Sometimes just skimming the top of the story and scrolling down sends the wiggly ads up into oblivion. This technique works well for feature stories which operate on the yogurt theory with all the good stuff on the bottom. But for hard news, it means skipping the key bits at the beginning.

Distractions abound. As I’m writing this, I’ve left a bit of space under the Word screen and a quarter-inch strip is flashing little white type for something called Tesco, a grocery store in Great Britain. I bet they don’t deliver to the U.S. Time to cover up that ad!

The web designers have gotten savvy, though, and now they’re putting moving ads on the left side of the screen. My solution then is to slide the window off to the right far enough to eliminate the flashes and put the covering folder over the left side of the page. If the right side is still, I’ll leave that alone and just push the window to the left. What remains most of the time is a column roughly three inches wide – sometimes only an inch. But at least I can read in peace without risking epilepsy. Since my eyes are already compromised (20:400 without correction), I really prefer to protect them as much as possible.

Once in a while ads draw my attention, but almost never on the news sites. I did once click on an ad on Slate that offered free financial planning from Fisher Investments. After looking at an article, about the company I decided not to bite. Without opening the window, I knew I’d have to give up at least my email address, and I did not want those folks to be soliciting my money.

And then when I finish and close the window, I usually find despite my pop-up blocker that at least one of those small windows has opened – either looking for classmates or Netflix. It’s Alt-F4 time!

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