The Medium IS NOT the Message

A recent New York Times editorial ‘rails’ (pun intended) about the new digital signage installed by the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) at New York’s Penn Station.  In Misery Goes Digital (NYT August 3, 2013)  Lawrence Downes writes that the important content of the signs, departure track information, is visually overwhelmed by the advertising content:

At rush hour, people cluster around them, squinting. These people are the workers who keep the region’s economy going, who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but to the L.I.R.R., they are merely captive eyeballs to be delivered to the customers it really cares about — MasterCard, Guinness Black Lager, “The Lion King,” a brand of flavored bottled water and a Mexican budget airline called Interjet.


LIRR Penn Station Track Signage
LIRR Penn Station Track Signage

The screens may  be too small to carry both the needed commuter information, as well as the advertising designed to garner the LIRR up to 1 million dollars per year.   Writing for Newsday, Alfonso Castillo writes:

On some of the larger screens, which stand about 7 feet high, three-quarters of the space will be taken up by ads. The LIRR displays both schedule and track information, and service updates on its share of the sign.

Although many riders welcomed the displays, some advocates raised concerns about whether the information displayed on the state-of-the-art devices will be easier to read than on some of the antiquated monitors they are replacing.

The article went on to quote Ira Greenberg, the LIRR Commuter Council representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board: “Once you provide the information, you have to provide it so people can see it,”

Ira’s got it right.  There is a distinct difference between offering a free service that is advertising supported i.e. most of the internet, and diminishing the experience of paying customers with even more advertising.  Making harried commuters work a little bit harder to get home does not do justice to the public good that our transportation network should aspire to.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

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