Tuesday, April 07, 2015


We live in an age of great technological advancement, and I'm okay with that. Heck, I HAVE to be okay with it or I risk losing street cred and my long-standing membership in the nerd club -- and let's face it, I've paid my fair share of dues to that particular organization and I've grown quite accustomed to its lifestyle. Why stop now?

The problem is, I'm starting to reach the age where technology is advancing faster than I can keep up with it. This is somewhat worrisome. I never want to be the guy saying, "You kids today and your new-fangled whatzits with their plinking and their plonking!" If you ever hear me utter the word "contraption," you have permission to take me out back like Old Yeller.

I dig technology -- and more to the point, I trust it. That's probably naive of me, which I'll realize the first time my identity gets stolen by a 12-year-old in Botswana. But nothing irks me quite like seeing members of my own generation automatically presume that every new piece of technology hides a nefarious underbelly that's somehow out to get them.

The other day, my social media feeds starting blowing up with incendiary reaction to a news story that had just gone viral. Within minutes, a parade of friends and acquaintances were pulling out their soapboxes and exploding with vitriol as if all of their basic human rights were being violated at the same time.

Admittedly, it was a scary headline: "YOUR TELEVISION COULD BE SPYING ON YOU!" That's some fairly ominous Orwellian spook-talk, so what's it all about?

Well, here's the scoop. "Smart TVs" that directly connect to the internet are all the rage these days. If you have one, you can instantly access services like Netflix and Hulu. You can check your Facebook right there on your TV. You can share pictures and music. I love my Smart TV. It even features voice control -- if I want to change the channel, I can either reach for the remote OR I can just say, "TV! Change to channel 4!" and it will. That's some pretty sweet sci-fi age-of-tomorrow kinda stuff if you ask me.

There's just one tiny issue. It turns out that smart TV's are actually kinda dumb. Voice recognition takes some serious software, and it's more than the tiny processor inside your TV can handle. In order to decipher my voice, my TV has to send it to a braintrust somewhere out in cyberspace. That's the only way it knows whether I'm requesting a channel change or just yelling at a passing housecat. The whole process is instantaneous and makes total sense to me.

This DOES mean, however, that your smart TV is constantly monitoring and recording your voice for analysis. And if it can record your voice without you knowing, what else can it do? My TV recommends shows for me based on my viewing habits, so it must be taking notes on what I watch. Some people think this oversteps the boundaries of privacy.

Me, I couldn't care less. I don't think the Samsung Corporation is eavesdropping on my every conversation with diabolical intent. Even if they WERE, they'd be super bored. Its not as if they're going to overhear me hatching plans for world domination. At the very worst, some guy in a cubicle has the unenviable job of listening to me go, "Who's a pwetty kitty? YOU'RE a pwetty kitty!" And if they're tracking what I watch, that's fine by me. I've always wanted to be a Nielsen family and help support the shows I like. If I controlled the ratings, maybe "Parks and Rec" would still be on the air.

But speaking of "Parks and Rec," it was during that show's finale that my Smart TV overstepped its bounds. The two of us are officially having relationship issues. It can spy on me all it wants. It can listen to any conversation it wants. Heck, it could pop out a hidden camera and take candids of me on the couch if it wants to. But don't -- and I mean DON'T -- come between me and my favorite TV show, especially on its farewell episode.

It was an ad break just like any other, when on came an inocuous ad for a new Toyota Camry. I have nothing against Toyota Camrys. I even darn near bought one a year ago when I was car shopping. But a few seconds into the ad, suddenly my screen was cut in half, and on the left side of the screen appeared... a pop-up ad. On my TV.

"WANT TO SEE MORE OF THE BOLD NEW CAMRY?" it asked. Not especially.

I hate pop-up ads on the internet. In fact, I employ a pop-up blocker on my laptop just so I don't have to deal with them. But a pop-up on my TV? That's just an egregious miscarriage of technology.

Worse yet, it didn't go away. Suddenly my show was back on and I was only seeing half of it, until I managed to fumble for the remote and close the pop-up window. Not cool, Smart TV.

Later that night, it was ME hopping on my internet soapbox to figure out how to stop these ads. Eventually I learned that they stem from a built-in app called "ShopTV." I opened ShopTV to see if there was a way to opt out of receiving pop-ups, but I got distracted by the only sales pitch tackier than a pop-up taking over my TV.

Guess what ShopTV is full of? "Did you like the lamp that was sitting on the table in this week's episode of 'Scandal'? Click here to buy it!" "Did you like Aria's dress tonight on 'Pretty Little Liars'? Click here to buy it!"

I remember getting irked when there was an obvious product placement on a show, like if a character reaches for a Pepsi or a bag of Doritos. Now, it appears the entire shows are just long commercials with occasionally entertaining plots. Frankly, this sort of a future scares me a lot more than Samsung recording my voice.

I have nothing against advertising. It serves a purpose. Heck, it pays for this paper. Advertising plays a vital role in a free market society, and that role is to give me a surplus of strategically timed bathroom breaks. But if TV becomes one giant ad, why bother ever leaving the bathroom?

I guess there's only one thing left to do. I have seen the future, and that future is capitalism. I just need to figure out how to capitalize on it. If ShopTV is the future, I need to create a TV show that serves NO purpose other than selling as many tie-in products as possible. Here's my idea: a romantic sitcom starring an adorably mismatched couple who meet cute... inside the Mall of America. She runs a jewelry store, he test drives cars for a living. Will romance blossom? Who cares, no one will be able to see the screen for all the pop-ups in front of it. Sure, I might go down in history as crafting the worst TV show ever, but I'll still sleep well, especially if my bed is lined with cold hard cash.

No comments: