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The Pequod
Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Teletext Extra (or Teletext Less)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Environmental sensitivity is increasingly being deployed as a tool for commercial promotion.

Today, Tesco announce their intention to start adding "carbon labels" to 70 000 of its own-brand products, allowing shoppers to compare carbon costs across similar products, much as they currently do with salt content or price. This is, of course, a commendable plan, although it is one that will work only if low-carbon alternatives (which often means locally grown) are available. Given the regular absence of their Local Choice milk from the shelves in our area, this may not work well in practice; sticking a label on a packet is a little like adding a sticking plaster to the massive carbon wound that is the current food chain system. And it is, of course, a label that shouts as much about Tesco as a family friendly brand as it does about a real committment to the environment. Given Tesco's recent profits hit 2.8 billion, there is always more that can be done at root. Nevertheless, they must get marks for trying.

But if I am somewhat cynical about Tesco's commercial motivations whilst pleased about the plan in environmental principle, I am left utterly angered by the recent service that has stealithly crept up the wires overnight to find its way into my television. I'm talking about Teletext Extra, "a new service for Freeview, combining a sophisticated Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and a new improved Teletext service." New it may be, but improved?

Rather than enhancing the usability of the Freeview TV guide, the updated system is hard to navigate, slow and - on our small screen - virtually unreadable. Its sole purpose seems to be commercial: the bottom third of the screen is now taken over by advertisements for Sky, Virgin and - that's right - sex channels. Worst of all, though, is that the service intended to sell goods has completely failed to realise that environmental sensitivity will inform commercial success.

Every time you turn the digital box on, the new service shouts that it MUST BE ALLOWED TO DOWNLOAD THE NEW GUIDE (or, if you really, really don't want to, you can press menu to exit, and wait for about 30 seconds before the black curtain to television-watching is raised). I am in trouble, it seems, because I turn the box off at the plug once I've finished watching. This was never a problem for the old software on the Freeview box, which happily remembered its previous settings. Teletext Extra, though, tells me in no uncertain terms that I MUST LEAVE THE BOX ON STANDBY OVERNIGHT. DO NOT TURN OFF AT THE WALL.

What utter and absolute ignorance of all the current logic within the electronics industry, which seems - slowly but incessantly - to be switching on to the fact that consumers want (and the planet needs) electronic devices that turn off when not needed, and draw radically reduced power when running. Though a complete ban on standby options may be impractical, the government's 2006 Energy Review is set to pressurise makers from above to be sensible about this (and their 2007 Consultation on the Promotion of Energy End-Use Efficiency recommends that all public procurement of electrical devices draw upon a list of the most energy efficient systems, including those which minimise or eliminate power on standby).

So how, given this climate of public opinion and government consultation, was it determined that the Freeview service - which will be the most popular way to receive television following the 2012 switch off - should now run autocratically on such an energy inefficient piece of software? Whilst the first fault must lie with the makers, the government and OFCOM also should have been monitoring and influencing the development of a service that is nationally widespread.

I am not the only one to have complained to Teletext Extra about this. Others have deluged the service with complaints about software glitches. Happily, though, whether you are concerned about the environmental implications of millions of boxes being left on overnight, or simply do not like the poorly designed system, there is a solution, and it is possible to go back to the old, functional guide.

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Posted by Alistair at 12:37 pm


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