Why so many screws?

Published 10:34 am Friday, June 12, 2015

You don’t need to check a screen to know how much time we’re spending with them. Besides, surveys keep reminding us: total screen time for adult Americans is now just under 10 hours per day — roughly half in front of what we still call a “television,” the rest spent with computers and mobile devices.

But what caught my eye here in the Phoenix metro area, particularly in vibrant, newly designed commercial venues, is the omnipresence of screens that seem to defy categorization. They’re not personal computers or TV sets per se. Rather, they are a strange hybrid of interior design and pop art.

In Scottsdale’s nightclub district the dominant elements are walls of video screens, pulsing frenetically with images of fashion and graphic design. From a single spot on Saddlebag Trail — a street that could not possibly be more conflicted in name and character — you can see seven establishments, each with a half-dozen or more giant screens, lighting up the night like a fierce electrical storm.

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Some screens are the size of Ping-Pong tables. They apparently provide a stimulating recreational environment for those who already spend nearly 10 hours a day with other screens in their lives.

At the Hilton near Sky Harbor Airport, a recent renovation has conjured up a plethora of screens. Seats in the lobby are now separated by six-foot high partitions and each resulting pod has its own video screen, flickering 24/7 without audio on a channel that can’t be switched by guests. It’s video wallpaper.

The remodeled Rennick’s Restaurant has a dining counter placed against a wall of individual screens, with images as close to a patron’s face as his plate of spaghetti.

Ten miles north at the Half Moon sports bar, the massive array of high-definition screens is no surprise, but since our last visit three have been implanted in each restroom. The private dining room now has a screen mounted just a few inches off the ground with a nonstop feed of logs burning in a faux fireplace — creating total video immersion.

Next stop, the landmark Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore hotel, where the gorgeous patio adjoining the dramatic back lawn has inexplicably been defaced by three huge wall-mounted screens. The incongruity is even more jarring than a video fireplace on a 104-degree summer day.

So what’s going on here?

It’s one thing to note our growing addiction to social media and connectivity via screens of all shapes and sizes, it’s another to ponder the increasing presence in public places of screens that seem to serve as little more than video security blankets.

It’s as if someone had an addiction to sweets and, in addition to overeating, enjoyed sitting among photos of ice cream and candy. The images themselves aren’t fattening, but the environment is hardly healthy.

Video tools can, in some applications, bring us closer. But what I encountered here seemed to have the unintended consequence of screening people away from each other — and the world.


Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.