My Turn: Please Remove The Boob Tube

Last week I stepped into a typically crowded post office, but there was no idle chatter in line, no commenting on the latest stamp issued or even joking about the length of our wait. Instead, every last person was staring up at a brand-new plasma TV as it spit out the latest stock-market quotes, breaking news and celebrity sightings. As I gazed around, I felt as though I were entirely alone. And I hated it.

Don't get me wrong: I like TV. Hanging out with Jack Bauer and Jon Stewart often beats spending time with almost anyone who isn't related to me. But I am sick of stumbling across a television set every time I go out to run an errand. Whose groundbreaking customer-service idea was this?

I've seen TVs at the supermarket, the bank, even at Nordstrom. It seems that almost every business I enter now boasts a screen bent on captivating me with its fascinating content so I'll never have to suffer an entertainment-free moment. God forbid I might have to talk to the person next to me, or maybe even—dare I?—spend a minute or two daydreaming. (Sure, you can talk or even daydream when the TV's going, but it's an uphill battle that I resent having to fight.)

My time is precious, and I choose carefully how to spend it. The choices I feel good about rarely involve staring at a screen that someone else just flipped on. I looked around at my post-office pals and was dismayed to see very few of them actively resisting. It's as if they were letting their brains be drained without protest, trapped in some freakishly self-referential episode of "The Twilight Zone."

I know what you're thinking: "Oh boy, another arrogant, NPR-listening cultural elitist whose family is too good for TV." Hardly. My kids are full-to-bursting on their diet of "SpongeBob," "Hannah Montana" and "The Wonder Pets." My husband's idea of great relaxation is a few hours wrapped inside any Dick Wolf show. And I believe I've made my own affinities pretty clear (can we talk "24"?). TV itself is not the issue here. The issue is, why have TVs cropped up in so many public places? Are they there to pacify hyperactive kids? To keep bothersome customers from chatting up the clerks or annoying other shoppers with efforts at conversation? I'm afraid their real purpose is to separate us all by yet another degree, a shiny plasma wedge meant to divide and further isolate us inside our individual techno-bubbles.

Here's a news flash: just because we have the technology—and a 24/7 font of information—does not mean we have to infuse it into every last molecule of available time.

I don't want to become like those people in my post office. Frankly, I expect more of myself. I wish society did, too. What happened to the lost art of waiting without being entertained? It almost always yields a secret gift to those willing to extend it the thinnest strands of patience.

Are we afraid we'll miss something life-changing if we aren't tuned in every moment of every day? Truly, what could possibly happen in the time it takes to run inside and mail a package? Are we, as a culture, really such empty vessels that we need to be constantly filled with ersatz stimulation that evaporates almost as soon as it hits our senses?

I choose to believe that we are capable of more: more patience, more restraint, more self-respect. So here's what I would say to the merchants who have erected these sacred screens in the hallowed name of customer service: even if you were running the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" (and I don't toss out that example lightly), I would still resent the implication that I am a nuisance to be quieted. I am your customer and I need you to respect me, not baby-sit me.

Television, like any other form of entertainment, is something I want to choose for myself. Don't force-feed it to me. And don't assume that I can't wait in a line for five minutes without having a screen light up in front of me. I am capable of thinking and talking and actually waiting patiently to buy my groceries absent the gracious company of Regis and Kelly.

Serving your customers means giving them something they need. I don't need a TV in my face when I enter your place of business; I need your attention and your assistance. I'm assuming you need my money. I think this will work if we can just keep those objectives in mind.

So … deal or no deal?