Tuesday, February 17, 2015

CORE RESPONSE: The Atmosphere of Waiting

Have you ever waited for an appointment at Planned Parenthood? Or taken an LA city bus across town? They’re really interesting public spaces in which television plays a large role in the atmosphere of waiting. They’re both spaces that have the concerns of their generally low-income audience in mind, but deal with this audience in very different ways based on general wait time and emotional state, thus creating different atmospheres of waiting.  

Unlike waiting rooms described by Anna McCarthy in “Television While You Wait,” the programing on televisions at Planned Parenthood does not “serve as an outreach tool, targeting particular populations.” (203) In fact, it is quite the opposite. Due to the high stress of many of the patients awaiting procedures as extreme as abortions, Planned Parenthood’s programing is primarily concerned with creating an atmosphere of calm. Instead of short, informational segments, it’s longer form narratives such as TV movies - but still broken up by quieter, less jarring commercials. Perhaps they know better than to aggressively advertise to women in moments of distress who are not currently very receptive to their message. 

In this high-stress environment, the television is a tool of distraction and crowd control. The longer narrative forms make the wait less apparent and palpable. The programs in these waiting rooms are also generally of a lighter nature - think romantic comedies and Disney films. These programs help combat the anxiety of what awaits the patient on the other side of the waiting room door. 

Compare this programming now to what one would find riding a city bus across Los Angeles. This programing is much closer to what McCarthy describes as designed for public spaces. It’s a lot of trivia, short informational segments about Los Angeles, and light-hearted, happy, and relaxed commercials. Like McCathy says, these programs require “minimal cognitive and emotional investments,” and thus are “easily integrated into the comings and goings of public space.” (212) 

Since those riding the bus generally have shorter wait times and come and go more often than patients at Planned Parenthood, the programing reflects that by being shorter and less emotionally engaging. Also, it can be more commodity-focused, since there is generally little emotional turmoil associated with riding the bus, compared to waiting for a doctor. 

I would say that both approaches are successful, though different because they take into account the mood of those waiting and cater a desired atmosphere that diminishes the emotional toll of waiting. Both are effectively integrated into the rhythms of the space. 

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