Underwhelmed by Information Overload

Watching the news lately has given me a case of information overload, which is pretty amazing considering they're hardly giving us any solid facts. It's not their fault there's almost no hard news coming out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon, or Dick "Didn't he used to be Vice President?" Cheney's secret hideaway. That's why so much of what they're running is fluff. You know, stories like how to tell Sweet 'N Low from anthrax (anthrax makes your tea taste bitter), which gas masks the Paris designers are showing for winter (Gianni Versace's Halt Couture collection), and how Ben Lading, a car key polisher in Little Pines, SC, has been getting bombarded by crank telephone calls, though strangely most of them are asking if his refrigerator is running.

No, the information overload is because my TV screen is cluttered with, well, everything. CNN Headline News, which used to be pretty straightforward, recently subdivided the screen into fourteen squares, rectangles, crawls, headlines, stock tickers, and a secret compartment or two if you know where to look. I can hear the newscaster; see what he or she is talking about in a window so small I need a magnifying glass to tell whether the dot's a person, place, or thing; look at a weather map of the U.S. complete with storm fronts, temperature readings, and squiggles that must mean something to somebody; check out sports scores ranging from football to Fiji-rule jai alai; follow the stock market; read news messages scrolling across the bottom; and keep tabs on what number has been called at the bakery down the block. The truth is, the last one is the only thing I'm really interested in. I hate standing in line.

Apparently they patterned this new look after the computer desktop, where you can have a lot of different windows open at once. What they forgot is that on the computer you can click one window and let it take up the whole screen. You can also move it, resize it, and close it. I never thought I'd see the day when I wished there was a little "X" in the upper right hand corner of my TV screen.

Luckily they haven't taken the computer metaphor to its logical conclusion. Yet. But don't be surprised if they add one more window and your TV locks up, displaying a bright blue screen with an incomprehensible message that tells you to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del. Of course that won't work so you'll have to turn the TV off and start it up again. Get used to it. At the rate they're putting computer chips in everything and wanting to hook them up to the Internet it won't be long until we have to reboot our microwave oven, Dustbuster, and shower massage at least twice a day.

In their quest to give us continual news about something which doesn't have fresh news constantly, they've resorted to repetition. While they read the same news stories about every 10 minutes, they've condensed the rate of the crawl on the bottom of the screen. It repeats about every 30 seconds.

"AMERICA ON ALERT...Bush to school children: Bombs fall down, go boom...Gary, Indiana only city in nation without anthrax scare...Don't you just love Ashleigh Banfield's new hair color?...Mail order talcum powder company files for bankruptcy...Nothing else happened in the world...Hah! Hah! Just kidding...No we're not...Bush to school children: Bombs fall down, go boom... Experts say Kabul can be pronounced 16 ways, we came up with a 17th...SF Giants won the National League pennant...Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were still awake...Dow fall down, go boom...Afghan refugees receive airlifted food, mistakenly wash with Captain Crunch...In case you didn't catch it the last 1,498 times it scrolled by this hour, Bush to school children: Bombs fall down, go boom..."
Originally these constant crawls were confined to MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN Headline News. Then Fox News got into it, as did the local newscasts. This means they're going to have to come up with new ways to set themselves apart from the competition, which means it won't be long before we see pop-ups on the news.

Pop-ups are those message bubbles which show up on the screen with a "bloop!" and elucidate you with vaguely interesting, totally useless information. They were born on VH1's Pop-Up Video. Then they showed up on Nick at Night where they blooped their way through The Brady Bunch. And now they're appearing in a derivative form on Blind Date, though you wouldn't know this because you don't watch it (wink! wink!).

Don't be surprised if the next time George Bush holds a press conference a pop-up bloops: "People used to think he was a wimp." Then one will say: "His father held the same job and had his own war." Yet another will declare: "Still mispronounces words but now everyone thinks it's adorable."

When they air the next taped statement from Osama bin Laden we'll be treated to pop-ups saying: "Turban dry-cleaning bill is 27 Afghanis a week", "Has lived in 45 caves in the last 21 days", and "Craves attention because he's one of 51 children."

It will be a welcome relief from that redundant crawl at the bottom of the screen. And more entertaining than watching "Pink Lady and Jeff Week" on the Weakest Link. Now if there was only an "X" in the upper right hand corner of the stock ticker and weather windows...

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

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