Turned On but Tuned Out: the omnipresence of media screens


Lets face it, no matter where you go today, there will be no escaping television. TV’s are now at shops, pubs and waiting rooms. Screens are placed strategically throughout our university campus, and at our local train stations. It is not uncommon to see restaurants who have television screens dotting the room.  Woolworths has screens dangling from above, advertising to their customers. Even the emergency rooms and public toilets have joined in on the media mayhem. Screens are everywhere, but are we really watching them? Glaringly colourful and often obnoxiously loud, even if the TV’s aren’t being watched they remain on. Why? Why are we so desperate for background noise?

Nothing is more annoying than serious television viewers at the gym. Leaving the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, advertising corporate partners, displaying latest promotions and offers I can understand.  However TV, as in television shows with actual episodes and content, by its very nature is addictive and distracting and I believe misplaced in a public gym environment.

As a fitness center employee, day in and day out I watch as members plonk themselves on the equipment in front of a TV, plug in their headphones, put on their favorite show and walk at a 2.5 pace. After a half hour, they have not even broken a sweat and their cardio session is complete. They feel content because, according to present-day guidelines, they just added years to their life, warded off obesity and heart disease all while enjoying the latest episode of Masterchef. Their real intent is to pay attention to the show on TV and walk. To pay attention to the show, they need to walk at a reasonable pace that will not cause them focus on maintaining balance, endurance, and effort. The very things needed to generate power output to expend the most calories in the least amount of time, thus losing fat! I am not saying this is the majority of gym-goers, but it is what I witness and it is annoying – why do televisions need to exist in this public space? It makes a lot more sense for people to bring their own portable music device, where they have the freedom and choice to listen to what they want, how they want, without the need to crane their necks up to the communal televisions. Have ordinary Australians developed an attention deficit that disallows a 30 minute workout without consuming television?

To be fair, from a gym’s point of view it is arguable that TV screens keep us occupied and inside the center for longer periods of time, therefore as logic would have it,  members are exercising for longer stretches of time. But that is not the reality. There are times when you watch people wander in, jump on a bike, watch a rerun of Friends, followed by a rerun of King of Queens, followed by a rerun of How I Met Your Mother, and they don’t even break a sweat! Technically, they may have just exercised for an impressive 90 minutes, but during that time, they didn’t raise their heart rate at all.  When in the middle of cardio hour you should be a hot mess. You should be breathing hard, sweating hard, and just one incline level away from flying off my treadmill. And if you’re not, after 3 episodes of your favourite sitcom then you’re not working hard enough, and you should hand over your treadmill to someone who will – this is about mediating public space after all.

Having the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, I can understand. Having screens placed around the gym advertising corporate partners, I can understand. Having screens around the gym with latest promotions and offers, I can understand. Screens allowing people to get into the zone and actually work out, which is what they are there for simple make sense. However TV by its very nature is addictive and distracting. Using television as a technology to watch episodes of actual content is misplaced in a gym environment.








4 thoughts on “Turned On but Tuned Out: the omnipresence of media screens

  1. Haha loved your post. I bet you have a long list of other annoying gym habits that could use their own blog entry! I agree with what you’re saying about our constant need for background noise, or something to distract us from our day-to-day activities… And I do believe this will only get worse as time goes on. Eventually gyms won’t need tv screens because everyone will come ready to work out and watch tv on Google Glass.

  2. Gyms are one of the biggest culprits for the overuse of media screens. In the latest gyms they can been seen on every piece of equipment. Running on the treadmill is hard at the best of times. Running on the treadmill with the TV on is damn near impossible for me. I am distracted, not concentrating on my running style and positioning on the platform. Next minute, I am kicked off the back or tripping over my own feet clutching at the hand rails for dear life. As a personal trainer in a previous life, I agree with your statement about television programs being a negative influence on people training habits and motivation levels. Being occupied is one thing. Being completely distracted and forgetting the main reason you are at the gym and pay over $50 a month of that service is another. At the other end of this argument is the use of the virtual reality group classes a number of gyms are starting to introduce. No longer do you need to part ways with hundreds of dollars a month to personal trainers when you can access a virtual trainer at your gym for your step class or spin class, at the click of a button (http://www.fitnessonrequest.com/). Same motivation same class and style. Same experience? I am on my way to the gym to find out. 🙂

    • Pretty funny feedback from an ex-PT Luke! You raise a good point about virtual classes which I personally think are great, but honestly didn’t even think about it as a media screen when doing the post. Such a good way of using technology, especially in a 24/7 facility, which allows you to maximise your activities not minimise them like the treadmill TV’s!

  3. Pingback: Is anyone paying attention? | Media&Place

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