At Large: Video Ga-Ga

At Large: Video Ga-Ga


Friends, I have seen the next revolution in communication technology. Since the dawn of humanity, our species' most important social ritual has been the communal sharing of a meal. Gradually, this ritual has broken down thanks to television and, later, the Internet. Now, the Internet will restore the sharing of food to its rightful place.

Burger King (also known over here as Hungry Jack's, home of the expensive microwaved hamburger) has entered into an agreement with a certain networking company to set up Internet connections from certain of the restaurant's American franchises. I have sworn never to name the networking company involved, since it bought the naming rights to 3Com Park, and this I do not forgive.

Apparently the owner of a Manhattan Burger King franchise set up some sort of deal a few months ago whereby customers get free Internet usage in the store whilst they munch on their Whoppers and so forth. In a way, this kind of makes sense. All companies are supposed to be Net-savvy these days, especially youth- oriented ones like junk food sellers. Pizza deliverers cottoned on early to the market for sedentary youngsters who can't cook and don't want to disconnect the phone from their modems. But a hamburger joint that doesn't deliver its products has to be more creative.

So Burger King in Manhattan has become an Internet cafŽ of sorts, with computers and keyboards specially shielded against ketchup spills. Under the deal with the aforementioned baseball stadium company, the burger joint will also be equipped with digital video cameras attached to the computers. Customers will then be able to videoconference and send video postcards of themselves while they eat.

I love the videoconferencing idea. At present, only one BK outlet is being equipped this way, so essentially customers will be able to talk to other customers in the store live on the Internet, just as if they were in the same store. Which they will be, of course, but that's beside the point - this is technology, and it's cool.

The video postcards are a bit more intriguing. Why you would want to take a fuzzy, unrecognisable photograph of yourself eating a hamburger is the second most perplexing question that occurs to me. The most perplexing question is, why would anyone want to receive such a thing? Sounds a tad icky if you ask me. Should any of you find yourselves in the Manhattan Burger King any time in the near future, I pray you will not have my e-mail address handy.

I shouldn't be surprised, really. It is, after all, America. And in America, they love fuzzy photographs of unrecognisable and unexplainable phenomena. How many blurred photos have you seen of what might be a grey round thing against a grey sky alleged to be a UFO flying over a cornfield in Arkansas? Ever notice how so many of these are taken by people called Vernon who just happen to have a camera with them when wandering through their cornfields?

And what about pictures of Bigfoot? Bigfoots (or should that be Bigfeet?) seem to wander into the viewfinders of Vernons all over the Pacific Northwest with alarming regularity, although they never stay long enough for our intrepid hillbilly shutterbugs to adjust the focus.

And every week, magazines dedicated to the fine art of famous-person spotting publish page after page of photographs that could be either Bigfoot piloting a UFO into Roswell New Mexico or Nicole Kidman's nude scene in The Blue Room photographed from a YMCA in Hoboken New Jersey. All hail the zoom lens!

Americans' appetite for blurry unrecognisable pictures is perhaps only matched by their twin appetites for junk food and frivolous technology. So to that extent the Burger King Internet strategy is a clear winner.

It is, of course, in the nature of America. Remember that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the wildly lucky map-maker who is remembered for little other than the fact that America is named after him. His niece is one of those rumoured (in certain quarters) to have been La Giaconda, the subject of the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, of course, was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, a renowned artist and creator of frivolous technology. (He invented the helicopter, you know. Bill Gates is a big fan.)The Mona Lisa must be the all-time champion unrecognisable picture. These hundreds of years after its creation, nobody knows exactly whom it's meant to be. Some people even reckon it's a self-portrait, which reveals much about Leonardo.

Speculation also abounds about the subject's "enigmatic smile". Suppressing a laugh, perhaps? Disguising a sore tooth? Thinking of England? I think the answer is clear: she's gulping down the last remains of a burger and Coke.

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