Tear Down the Televisions!

I can’t remember if this thought struck me while in the checkout line at the supermarket or while I was filling my car at the gas station. Maybe it was while I was in a New York City taxi. It’s hard to remember because I was watching television in all three situations. The thought was this: what may have once have seemed like a unique, home-based form of entertainment has now become so ubiquitous that that it is more noteworthy when there isn’t a TV in front of you than when there is.

Televisions now dog us everywhere we go, on our phones, at the airport, and even — if you have young kids — in the back of your moving car. But amidst this onslaught, the one thing we haven’t noticed is what this has done to the public spaces of our everyday lives.

I was recently at the Oak Room in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Now this is among the grander and more elegant public rooms in this small city. It is a perfectly proportioned room for cocktails, conversation, and even a piano. On one side, the lights of Copley Square beckon through the upper level windows, while on the other sits a grand old bar with a beautifully crafted countertop and custom upholstered stools.

But along with that beautifully carved oak back bar are not one, but two jarring flat-screen TVs. When I asked about them, I was told that the bar was to be refurbished soon, and that it would look better than ever — but the flat screens were going the stay.

This is a disaster.

Surely I have enough access to ESPN’s Sports Center during my day, no? Must I be subjected to the continuous deluge of stock information on FOX Business, even when I seek a brief respite from the day in this elegant space? Instead of taking in this architectural gem, I am forced (yes, forced, as my eyeballs are involuntarily drawn to the flickering high definition images on the screens), to ignore my companion and watch a muted news anchor move his mouth. It’s insanity.

So here is my plea. To the owner/manager of The Oak Room, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Tear down these screens. Patrons in Boston have so many opportunities to get a drink and watch the game. Can’t we leave a couple of grand spaces in the city free of this overpowering visual nonsense? The Oak Room already offers book-matched marble panels set in luxuriously carved oak frames, all lit by table lamps and elegant chandeliers hanging from vaulted ceilings. There’s plenty to see.

Now, lest one think this is a general rant against the explosion of visual information, I offer a much more interesting counter-example. Firebrand Saints, the new restaurant/ bar in Kendall Square uses the ‘need for a TV as social comfort behind the bar’ as an opportunity for invention. This bar links five flat-screen TVs in a continuous horizontal band. But only the left-most screen is showing “the game” without manipulation or distortion. The rest of the screens use both the video signal, and the real-time captioning text, as the basis for varying degrees of elaboration.

On the night I was there, a hockey game showed on the left screen, while the images of the game grew ever more pixelated as one’s gaze slid from left to right. So that by the time one got to the right-most LCD panel, there were only about 96 giant pixels on the entire screen. It was Bruins versus Rangers as abstract art. See? Fun for everyone!