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COLUMN

This Space For Rent

Andrew C. Thomas

Our society is blessed with the power of debate, the notion that people are allowed to disagree. This is not some mere token blessing, however; it represents the freedom of thought, a crucial yet often overlooked right of the people of this country.

It should be no mystery, then, that attempts to control thought are always present in our daily lives. Political and social thought processes are always vulnerable to attack; economic thought is even more difficult to defend against in this day and age.

Just over a week ago, 800 million people across the world sat down in front of their televisions to be bombarded by advertising. Budweiser led the way with their campaign, saturating the public with images including an upside-down clown apparently drinking beer through the wrong end. Michael Jordan sold underwear on a grand scale, when in previous years he had sold shoes with a cartoon rabbit. Somewhere within this aerial bombardment, to the amazement of many, was a football game. After so much time, I continually find it interesting to see how many people are being drawn to this so-called “World Championship Event” for its typically mediocre sports value or for continued indoctrination.

Even around us, we see a continued leasing of the world’s space for commercial information. Times Square has been a shrine to the likes of King Midas for decades. New York taxi cab companies want to start adding television screens to their vehicles, probably not for the entertainment of their passengers but for additional advertising revenue. Even some cabs have advertising placed on their roofs, for the enjoyment of passers-by. Though the news briefs and sports scores are very useful, the consumer has effectively lost control over how he receives this information.

Call me paranoid, but the new projector system in Building 3 frightens me equally. Its function is to inform the MIT community of upcoming events. While it is certainly being put up with the best of intentions, it completely removes the element of choice from the MIT consumer. I can do without seeing the large blue screen as I walk down the Infinite, or its reflection in the Lobby 7 windows, as can many in the community.

Has the entire world of though been co-opted by forcefully applied economics? One can only wonder. Too much attention is paid to those media that rely on instant gratification. The internet is infested with pop-up advertisements, now replete with sound and video for increased annoyance value, making legitimate surfing more and more difficult. A technology heralded as the beginning of free information has incessant advertising as its price.

Far be it for me to assume what people want, but we still have access to a wonderful source of information -- direct human interaction. I find it sad that conversation used to be an art. Certainly, though, a good heated debate can be vigorous, stimulating, and still get more than two people involved. Got a pertinent issue, or a keen observation, or even a complaint about the quality of food at your favorite restaurant? Drop it. Make an impassioned case. Then, wait for the next person to add their point of view.

They said what about the Red Sox, you think to yourself? Hold back your urge to smack the Philistine in the mouth. Calmly explain to them that, despite their troubles in past seasons, Pedro, Nomar and Shea will make this one the season to remember. Make positive points whenever possible. Resist the urge to call David Wells a redneck; simply explain that his days of quality pitching are behind him. Informed, elegant debate is that easy. Maybe in the end, you’ll realize that maybe this issue has more than two sides, and that your collective attention should be paid to the Angels or the Athletics. Ignore the fact that baseball’s intellectual property is owned by Coors Light and Mastercard, and you have a bona fide discussion. You might have actually learned something.

Don’t hold back. Keep talking about it all. Get someone’s attention and let them know what you think, then wait for their feedback. It’s a time-honored technique. And it works beyond sports -- like here, on this page, twice a week.

Just take care with who you tell what you know. I hear some of those Yankees fans carry brass knuckles.