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Home > Media

No such thing as a free IBM

You spend your whole life fighting pop up ads, then this comes along...

Charlie Skelton reports.

19 December 2003

A new British company, Metronomy, is planning to give free PCs to the public. But the freedom comes with a price: for one minute out of every 20 the screens will fill with advertisements. The computers won't work unless you upload a monthly CD full of fresh and exciting advertisements.
Or (presumably) download the necessary hacking software.

This scheme reminds me of an idea that Charlie Brooker (of Zeppotron) had once. He reckoned long-haul airlines could give away their seats for free, provided passengers agreed to wear special helmets which fed advertisements into their eyes and ears for the duration of the flight. It would be a great way to travel the world on the cheap, with only a small risk that the process would induce madness.

The problem with the Metronomy idea is not that it will induce madness. The problem is that when we are at our computer, we are 'leaning forward' - we tend to be engaged proactively with the data on the screen (typing, scrolling, cutting, pasting, reading, masturbating etc.) It is not like watching TV, when we are 'leaning back' - and quite open to changes in the content that's being shot at our bored faces.

It's rare that we're quite that passive in front of a computer monitor. A TV ad break doesn't jerk us away from 'doing' anything, whereas a computer ad break would almost certainly get in the way of an email exchange, an instant message, a quick surf through Google News...

You can't help but feel that Metronomy cheif executive John Thornhill is making a false analogy when he says: "What we're doing is apply the tradition of forced advertising breaks on television and radio to the home PC." You might as well say you could apply this tradition to mobile phones:

"Hi there... yeah, I've just arrived, I'll meet you outside the.... get ready for Herbal Hair Care: satisfy your personal hair and skin-care needs with organic hair care products from Clairol. Give your hair an aromatherapy spa treatment with New Herbal Essences Fruit Fusions Shampoos and Conditioners in two exotic fruit fragrances. Each so exhilarating and refreshing, your hair will thank you....... hello?.... hello?"

Perhaps a better strategy for Metronomy would be to incorporate their advertisements within pornography. Free computer plus free porn (with advertisements embedded within the rudeness). You can choose which 'brand' of pornography you'd prefer. And you'd even look forward to the fresh batch arriving each month.

And one minute is plenty long enough.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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