"About time, too," said the checkout operator as she scanned my copy of the NZ Herald one morning recently. (Yes really. I bought an actual newspaper and had it scanned by an actual supermarket worker as if the 21st-century hasn't even arrived.)
She was referring to the front page headline TV channels turn down shouting commercials in which it was reported that "[t]elevision bosses have finally heeded decades of complaints and changed the rules on sound compression - a technique that makes many TV advertisements sound louder than the programmes."
Whatever the technical name for it, and regardless of whether it's an illusion or reality, viewers have been aware of this phenomenon for years. One minute you're blobbing on the sofa enjoying your favourite programme at just the right volume and the next minute an advertisement comes on and you're jumping out of your skin, unable to even hear yourself think over the shouting coming from your television.
What I find most interesting in this scenario is not the discount retailers' urge to yell at us like we're imbeciles rather than potential customers but rather the response of many viewers. Instead of reaching for the mute button on the remote control, it seems a whole lot of people complained to the networks about it - which strikes me as being akin to a prisoner complaining about prison food to a prison officer. The phrase "tell someone who cares" springs to mind.
So these people may have had a victory but it was a long time coming. I chose to instantly fix the problem for myself by automatically silencing the advertisements as soon as they begin. I don't think I've heard the soundtrack of a television commercial since 1997. I'd love to know why some people chose the long, drawn out route of official complaint rather than an immediate do-it-yourself fix.
And if the mute button solution didn't appeal then they could always have - gasp, shock, horror - simply not watched television. Problem solved. Yet I suspect that having the problem solved isn't actually the point for some people. There may well be a subset of complainers who just want the thrill of the process, the excitement of questioning the powers that be - and the chance to savour that sense of righteous indignation. And maybe some of them are lonely and complain because of the human interaction it involves.
I'm not claiming to be perfect on the television front. I may have sorted the problem of the loud commercials swiftly and easily but there's a new concern that I haven't yet addressed. On 1st December next year switchover from analogue to digital transmission happens in Auckland and we still haven't upgraded to digital models. Evidently our old television, which is spacious enough to be converted into comfortable accommodation for hamsters, will no longer work. Worse still, our second television sits in a little pull-out cubby-hole in the kitchen - and, in this age of super-sized televisions, I've got no idea where I'll find one that measures a mere 41cm across.
Did you complain about the volume of advertisements or do you engage in a little DIY with the remote control? Are you all sorted for a digital television ahead of the switchover?