The Obscenity of Mobile Video


A funny thing happened on the way to work recently. I was sitting on a semi-crowded New York City subway train, reading my paper, when a guy sat down beside me and immediately pulled out a portable media player to watch a video.

I continued to read, but my eyes happened to catch a quick glimpse of the images dancing around on the gentleman’s six-inch video screen. For those people that complain that such miniature screens can’t capture the true essence of the content exhibited, let me tell you that the few seconds glance I took of the very graphic, pornographic movie that the gentleman was watching was as clear and precise as if it were on a 40-inch plasma TV.

I turned away embarrassed not only for myself but for him, although he continued to watch his adult content in full view of many adult and teenaged straphangers, as if he were alone in the comfort of his own home.

That made me wonder: What effect will this new take-your-TV-shows-wherever-you-go world will have on basic human etiquette? With everyone’s individual iPods, cell phones, portable video-game consoles, DVD machines, media players and laptops able to broadcast any and all images in crowded buses, trains and subways, how much are we beginning to infringe on the personal space of our fellow commuters?

It’s bad enough having to suffer through Mary Jo talking on her cellphone during a train ride for what seems like hours about her lying, cheating boyfriend or endearing the scratchy, muffled ringtone of Yung Joc’s summer rap anthem “It’s Goin’ Down” repeated ad nauseum by teenagers on an otherwise quiet bus ride. Now, we’ll have to either keep our eyes closed or buried in our books and newspapers to avoid seeing potentially objectionable content from the guy or gal sitting next to us on the train. And mobile content doesn’t have to be as risqué as Debbie Does Dallas to be objectionable for the tired and weary traveler. Against the dark backdrop of a transit bus at 7 p.m., the bright, constantly flicking six-inch PlayStation Portable screen showing an episode of Nick’s popular preschool show Dora The Explorer can be unnerving — especially if little Johnny is on the bus, screaming “Swiper Don’t Swipe” at the PSP.

Yet it seems like that scenes like these maybe be more the norm than the exception.

Right now nearly one-fourth of all video watching on portable media players is done while commuting, according to consumer research company Telephia. Overall, 31% of consumers watch content on their iPods and cell phones between the early evening commute hours of 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., more than any other part of the day, according to Telephia.

More and more people are opting to watch shows like Desperate Housewives and other content via mobile devices including cell phones — research company IDC expects about 24 million U.S. cellular subscribers and customers will be paying for some form of TV/video content and services on their mobile devices by 2010. That’s up from about 7 million this year. So, it’s inevitable that the days of resting quietly on your commute home will become more nostalgia than reality.

And it seems that more and more quality content is being offered via mobile technology. Hollywood has joined the television studios in fully embracing the brave, new portable world.

Apple Computer Inc. inked a deal last month with The Walt Disney Co. to offer Pirates of The Caribbean and other Disney movie titles for download to video iPods. And’s multi-studio arrangement allows consumers to watch X-Men: The Last Stand, The Shining and other movies on Microsoft Windows-based portable media players.

They join other existing movie services like Starz Entertainment’s Vongo service and CinemaNow, which allow consumers to download films to the PC as well as to mobile devices.

So how do you combat the onslaught of mobile video images currently invading your comfort zone during your commute?

You could change seats, say something to the offender and risk potential bodily harm. Or you could just close your eyes, click your heels three times and think of home.

Then again, you could do like I do and pull out your own video iPod and watch your favorite show. Just make sure to be courteous to the person sitting next to you and wait until you get home to watch Jenna Jameson’s latest erotic film.