When I was a young whippersnapper and could eat at McDonald’s three times a week without a health care proxy, there was a separation between television programs, the commercials that funded the television programs, and the advertisements for upcoming television programs that would attract more sponsors, who would fund more televisions etc. I could watch an entire episode of Growing Pains without being distracted by a tiny Tony Danza plugging Who’s the Boss in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, berating Samantha for buying a $300 pair of boots with her modeling money. I watched shows to be distracted from my life. I did not need a distraction from the distraction.
The only superfluous animation on television then was the channel with the stock-ticker, and I was subjected to that only on days when school was closed and my grandfather came over to watch me while my parents worked. I guess he never got the memo that the kids were supposed to choose the show.
But no channel these days leaves the house without distracting animation at the bottom of the screen. It would be like walking around without pants. During a show about an elite fighting force that infiltrates terrorist cells by offering discounted driveway sealing, there’s a little bride-to-be trying on a wedding dress in the bottom-right corner. During a show about how to make zucchini casserole in a coffee cup, there’s a tiny cupcake wearing an even tinier smiley face. During a sit-com about teenagers mouthing-off to their parents, there is a two-inch promo of a sit-com about teenagers mouthing-off to their parents.
I’m sure that when the networks decided to add the moving miniatures at the bottom of the screen, it was after careful market research that showed the average viewer’s brain could handle this level of multi-tasking. For to absorb the full meaning of the television program and the promo, the nervous system has some work to do.
In the same amount of time that Derek Jeter has to decide whether to swing at a pitch, the average television viewer has to decide whether the promo is worth the transfer of primary focus from the airing program. In the time that Derek Jeter has to move his arms, legs, and torso simultaneously to connect the bat squarely with the ball, the average viewer at home has to make note of the name, date, and time of the upcoming show without missing any of the witty dialogue or dramatic irony of the current show in which the viewer has so heavily invested. That so many millions of people can do this for four to six hours a day without going crazy is a testament to the nobility of the human mind.
I, however, have never been able to do that. Yes, I am one of those poor souls who was born with a brain incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. I cannot even go through the preliminary decision-making stage without shifting my mono-focus. If I watch a program, and a tiny video or animated graphic appears at the bottom of the screen, I am compelled to convey my full attention to the promo, whether I am interested or not.
And when the brief interlude is over and I just as automatically return my focus to the program I was watching, the program is not the same as it was. The show is duller in comparison to the new and shiny show that was being advertised at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes I even forget what I was watching, and can’t remember until I see a promo for the current show during the airing of the promo-ed show.
And then a commercial comes on and I forget about both shows, and focus only on buying something.
N.B. This is a digitally remastered version of an earlier post on the same topic. MK