Saturday, May 14, 2005

No Escape Damn It!

Perhaps this started with Levi's jeans and the rectangle of leather on the outside of a pair of denims, but once labels migrated shamelessly from inside seams to the front of T-shirts and shoes and handbags, we became sandwich boards for brand names and let down our guard big time.Creepingly, corporations are getting a foot further inside our front doors and the lounge rooms of our head. Leaflets in letter boxes, spam in the email, ads on television and radio, telemarketers calling at arsenic hour when the children are screaming, the dinner is burning and the cat is choking on a fur ball.
We have security alarms, double-locking and grille doors to keep out petty criminals who might swing through once every three years to snatch wallets and jewels, but how do you prevent enterprising companies from daily home invasions? They get inside your space, interrupt your thoughts, derail your life.
Privacy is hotly contested in crowded lives where both parents patchwork childcare around jobs and family time is precious. Public space in modern cities is just as cramped. High-rise escarpments are blocking out the sky while shrinking squares of parkland in the neighbourhoods where we live become increasingly busy. Not with the gentler rhythms of recreational busy-ness, but the louder intrusion of business busy-ness.
I don't mind the wedding parties shepherded by commercial photographers searching out fountains and pastoral backdrops.

The Tai Chi classes in slow motion have a calming influence and the noisier grunts and aggressive thrusting of the self-defence students on Saturday mornings might be tearing up the grass, but so do the dogs and the sports teams -- footy in winter, cricket in summer.
What niggles me more is the fitness company that sets up shop on the grass every morning with signs advertising its group workouts beside a portable registration desk, as if parks have become outdoor offices. My annoyance at this company muscling into space already lively with walkers, joggers and personal trainers has been compounded by alarm at seeing the static billboards that have wallpapered our urban commutes grow wheels and weave their way through morning peak hour traffic.
They come in threes, towed by scooterists who twiddle their accelerators on purpose in order to peddle whatever wares are on show. Commuters inching forward in the bumper-to-bumper race to jobs, doctors' appointments, childcare drop-offs, mercy hospital dashes and early-bird parking spots have no choice but to idle while these advertisements turn right, the last of them swinging round the corner as the yellow light changes to red.
Clever indeed, given that the companies driving these scooter billboards do not pay a cent to any public or private authority.
Not to the councils, not to the state government, not to the commonwealth Roads to Recovery program. "No, we just zip along and obey all the road rules," says Amanda Campbell from the Sydney-based Scooter Ads. Cleverer still is the way the company schedules these 6 1/2-hour forays into the bitumen jungle.
Morning peak hour is preferred because motorists have woken up, presumably on the right side of grumpy, and are more receptive to having their progress thwarted by three-billboard caterpillars as they rush from home to work.
On the return journey, these minor irritations could boil over into rage.
A recent survey found that city commuters across the country spend more time in cars than playing with their children.
In Sydney, fathers are cooped up in metal cockpits for an average of eight hours and 17 minutes each week.
Companies pushing product read these figures and think, "How can I reach this captive audience as cheaply as possible?" -- and the mobile billboard beats the side of a building or a railway hoarding on every measure.
But there is evidence of consumers recoiling from the companies, marketers and brand names stealing uninvited into our personal and public domains. Earlier this month Grey Worldwide's annual survey of Australia alerted companies to rising levels of cynicism among people who resent the encroachment of business and advertising on their lives, adding to stress levels already dangerously high.
Mobile phone companies have begun beeping customers with news of cheaper deals and additional products. Focus groups conducted by two academics from Griffith University (my University btw, plug plug )revealed strong objections by participants to business infringing on their privacy in a relentless bid to drum up trade.
There is talk of locational advertising with satellite positioning technology enabling companies to alert phone users of a retail sale in the vicinity.
We navigate the new century with heightened consciousness of the scarcity of resources that our predecessors took for granted.
Water, oceans, forests, air and even roads and infrastructure should not be held to ransom by pioneers of the latest commercial brainwave.
Give me your old-fashioned burglar. At least he didn't drive a scooter.


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