Public TV/Music Choices Past and Present

Last night I had a dream, in which I was in a bus station in Montreal, Quebec that I was in once, in 1987. The feature of the station that stuck out in my mind and showed up in my dream was a bank of seats that had coin-operated televisions. A quarter purchased 15 minutes of time on a small black and white set and you could pick any of the VHF channels that broadcast in the area in question. The volume was limited, but if you had headphones, you could plug in for a “personal” experience.

Of course coin-operated TVs no longer exist. In bus and train stations and airports (and countless other places) we’re now treated to numerous TVs, often very fine flat-screens, tuned in to CNN or MSNBC and played at high volume. Instead of 15 minutes of what we want to see, our waiting time is spent seeing what someone has decided that we ought to see.

Similarly, individual tabletop jukeboxes in diners and pizza places are gone, gone, gone. These were also nice in that they were personal entertainment; they played loudly enough for your table to hear, but not really loudly enough to be heard by those around. In an era where technology would allow for such a device to have thousands of songs in place, we’re instead treated to high-volume music beamed in by satellite or shipped in on CD from corporate headquarters somewhere, usually chosen for its bland inoffensiveness. Or worse, blaring music and TVs scattered around, usually showing sports, but never with the sound turned up, so you’ve got no clue what you’re seeing on the screen.

Am I alone in thinking that the old way was better? That there’s less value in stuff that’s chosen by committee and often (by dint of volume) forced on everyone? Or am I perhaps overly nostalgic and still haunted by an overnight in the Philadelphia airport a few years ago when I couldn’t go anywhere in the gate area where I wasn’t bombarded with AirportCNN or very loud classical music or both?

What’s better is having your own walkman or MP3 player, so you can have an even more customized experience with both your own and broadcast media without having to rely on low-quality public receivers that can’t play any of the music you happen to have on you.