Anna McCarthy’s chapter, “Television While You Wait,” discusses the ever increasing placement and role of televisions in spaces that are designed for a person to wait in. Through the chapter, McCarthy looks at a number of waiting areas that have been marked by the presence of a television, including those located in doctors’ offices, airports and airplanes, restaurants, and even gyms to a certain extent. When considering the role of television in hospital waiting areas while specifically looking at the example of Accent Health Network, “a package of health-related programming” (203), McCarthy locates the existence of the television and its content as functioning in a distinct way. The network, while used under the guise of passing the patient’s time in a seemingly productive way (read: through tailored information and advertisements that lead to increased consumerism), actually works in an opposing way. Instead of lulling its viewers into a state of passive consignment, the content’s cyclical and repetitive patterns often call out to the viewers the amount of time he or she has spent waiting, which McCarthy claims reveals a “crisis in modernity” (210). She elaborates, “The long wait thus calls attention to the potential for disrupting flows of supply and demand and exposes the structural fault lines of economic exchange, welfare, and leisure” (210). That is, because the television in these waiting rooms often serves the function of reminding the patient/viewer of the time he has spent waiting--which is actually the opposite of its intended effect--the patient/viewer is then led to recall not only the power structures of waiting (who has to wait and watch versus those who don’t), but also that with the wait comes the understanding of a break in access to information, goods, and services.
Now, turning to a waiting area that McCarthy did not touch on (which was probably due to the fact of the 2001 release of Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space, the book this chapter was in, was before the rise of television in these spaces): the corporate elevator. Having lived and worked in New York for a number of years, the ubiquity of the television-laden elevator in midtown Manhattan (and above) in corporate-owned buildings was something that always intrigued me. What sets this space apart from the rooms that McCarthy writes about is the relatively short waiting time one spends in an elevator. Even going up to the top of the Empire State Building, you only spend at most a couple minutes in the elevator (while wait times can be over an hour in non-elevator spaces); and still that’s one of the tallest buildings in New York, so it’s safe to assume that wait times only decrease in other elevators.
So in an elevator space as opposed to the hospital waiting spaces, the person in the watching television is the one who is privileged. After all, these spaces are meant for the upper middle class (read: white) population who work in a corporatized environment. Here, like with the hospital waiting rooms that McCarthy writes about, the inclusion of the television is meant to make the watcher feel productive--not one second wasted on waiting on an elevator ride. While the content on these televisions change (from my recent visit at the Google New York offices, I noticed that all of the elevators had Google-based content), from my experiences most elevator televisions display information-based content, whether that be in the form of brief news quips from CNN or Bloomberg, trivia questions, or trending topics of the day. Whether or not the television in the elevator causes the same “crisis in modernity” that the hospital television so often does has to do with the reception of the viewer. Does the elevator television watcher experience television in the same way that the hospital viewer does? While this is much too short a blog post to do the research needed for such a complex question, my feeling is that the two types of viewership must be different, and that a large part of that has to do with the privileging of the viewers of the different type of waiting room televisions.