Morning Musings About Screens and the Human Condition

On the train, there are 2 screens. There is this one:

DART digital sign

And there is this one:

Mobile Phone Screen

I never see anyone looking at, much less paying attention to, the red, scrolling, digital one. As I look across the train right now, out of 8 sitting comfortably in their seats, waiting for a) the car to fill up or b) us to leave, 6 of them are looking at and giving their attention to the phone one. They don’t even look up aimlessly to the sky to watch the sun peak through the clouds, like I’m half doing. Just head down, sucked to that little personal screen that some people still call a phone.

We are a captive audience here on the train and no one wants to look at the scrolling digital sign. Clearly, they place no value in it, whether it be from the low-fi technology that is too rudimentary for them or the content scrolling across the screen – happy birthday’s to this celebrity or that, facts about diabetes, or this day in history, all fascinating tidbits of content interesting only to who? – or the phone screen is simply too magnetizing to give attention to anything else.

One person plays solitaire. One person reads a book. One person scrolls through their music. I can’t see the others, but I’m certain that they’re all doing something different. This is one of powerful aspects to that little personal screen – anyone can essentially do anything they want to do on it. The experience is theirs. Not a preconceived and served up one. It’s the content they want as frequently as they want it. How can any other screen measure up?


In the lobby, there are 2 screens. There is this one:

Lobby Digital Screen

And there is this one:

Mobile Phone Screen

Out of 4 people waiting for the elevator, 2 (plus me) look at the large news screen, 2 look at the mobile personal one. The ones looking at the large news screen are just filling time. It’s moving pictures and noise. We’re all half tuned in. I can just tell. And why not? I mean, it’s the same content that each one of us are a) coming from, having tuned into the news before work b) going to, being that the “news” feed on the monitors in our own company’s lobby is literally on news of some sort.

It’s too easy to just pipe boring, meaningless, depressing content across other screens, outside of personal TVs and desktop computers. More screens more places, right? They’re everywhere. Problem is, “more content” is easily overlooked.

As I ride up the elevator, no one speaks beyond, “Good mornings,” and “You doing OK’s?” It’s eyes to the personal screen, that darn magnet.


People – including me – say all the time, “people are on the move, now more than ever, so it’s important to hit them where they are, which is less in their living rooms and at a desk and more when they’re out and about, in the real world.” This is one of the profound opportunities that anyone in the digital signage business has.

I wonder if those same people – again, including me – ever think about the responsibility that comes along with that opportunity. The responsibility to not create more noise and distraction. Kinda like solitaire or music.

We’re also in a time, now more than ever, where no one seems to experience boredom or lose themselves in thought. Quiet time, in the auditory and visual sense. Is there such a thing for people now?

These screens are impacting behavior and I have to wonder if it’s healthy. Is “all on all the time” or any variation really healthy for the human condition?

5 thoughts on “Morning Musings About Screens and the Human Condition

  1. Pingback: Morning Musings About Screens and the Human Condition | Urban screens |

  2. Dave Haynes

    Very true, Mike.

    I shamelessly, endlessly recycle a simple statement a very smart content guy – Denys Lavigne of Arsenal Media – said to me once: “You have to earn your viewers.”

    Unfortunately, there are too few network operators who really take that to heart, and too many that just assume they can point their software at news and weather feeds and people will be drawn to the screens like moths to porchlights.

    It doesn’t work like that.

    Looking at digital signage screens is an option, not an obligation. People who want to survive in this business – if they sell ads – need to remember that as they develop programming.

  3. Mike Cearley Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Dave. Makes me think of the conversation you and I once had about all the noise out there. People just turn it off because it’s crap. Isn’t this partly on the agencies – they need to step up the creative content and partly on the providers – to demand good content?

  4. Sanjay Manandhar

    How about connecting the little screen with the big screens? Let the users do something on their little screen and see their (and others’) results on big screen(s)? This kind of interactivity will help you “earn your viewers.”

    And yes, the “creatives” in various agencies do need to step up to the plate (sometimes its about educating them–what is possible and what is desirable in cross-channel marketing where the USER is in the center). How to connect mobile, social, web and digital out-of-home and make it truly engaging–that takes a lot of multi-disciplinary skills which network operators or even creatives don’t always have.

  5. Mike Cearley Post author

    Sanjay – Totally agree on the cross-channel, multi-disciplinary talent/experience – we’re experiencing the same thing in our agency and we don’t even create content for out-of-home screens. Funny thing is, the fundamentals of storytelling (“creative”) have not changed, there are just more mediums. Quite an opportunity. :-)

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