I almost didn’t post this because I don’t want it to be interpreted as anti-government in any way. I also didn’t want it to turn into us versus them opinions on whether and when using electronic devices in public is appropriate, etc. I have my views on this, you have yours, they might be the same or different, but that’s not where I’m going here. This is just something that occurred to me when a few events came together in my mind this morning. Well, “came together” sounds too passive, because in a way it was shoved into me.
I was walking home from the coffee shop this morning on a residential street that, for downtown Chicago, is unusually quiet on cold Sunday mornings. Suddenly, a woman bolts out of a building’s revolving door, doesn’t look in either direction, and runs into me. She just looked at me and continued on. No apology. Also, no iPod in her hand or stuck in her ears. No cell phone conversion or texting going on. No electronic device at all was in use anywhere in this collision.
I could have chalked it up to her playing the probabilities of nobody else being on the sidewalk since it was a quiet Sunday morning. But here’s where things started linking up in my mind. This very same thing happened to me while I was walking home Friday on a very busy LaSalle Street. Someone came out of a revolving door and without looking to either side walked right into me. Again, neither one of us were using any kind of electronic device.
You probably know where I’m going. Two collisions in three days between people not using any kind of electronic devices. I thought this wasn’t possible unless somebody is distracted by their electronic device, right? We read that sidewalks have become slaughterhouses of destruction and mayhem caused by pedestrians texting while walking. You’ll fall into an uncovered manhole if you talk on your cell phone while walking. If you listen to your iPod while walking, you won’t hear the pack of velociraptors preparing to attack you from behind.
So for safety’s sake, don’t use electronic devices while walking in public. That or something similar seems to be the message. But then I made another link to something I read on Friday morning. Harper Reed (Blog|Twitter) sent out a tweet that “Cop on el is intimidating people for having their electronic devices out.” Harper is a self-described “transit nerd” so I didn’t take this lightly, and I wondered if he would follow up with a more precise description of what was going on. After a while I forgot about it, until this morning when I started putting together these thoughts on electronic devices and pedestrian safety. People on mass transit are not pedestrians. They are just sitting there breathing. But suddenly, they aren’t supposed to use electronic devices?
What if this whole topic is not about safety?
What if safety is just an excuse?
And if this is the case, what’s the real reason “the powers that be” want me to believe my tiny iPod Nano is lying in wait, studying my every move, lulling me into a state of consciousness that will send me on a final pedestrian experience of carnage and horror?
Control over citizens, is that the goal? So what, nothing new with that. Instead, we could lift off the tinfoil hat, put aside the paranoia, and ponder a bit more. Now what interesting ideas can we come up with?
How about advertising and marketing?
Those of you who work in tech, how many of you know or know of someone who has gotten a job at a retailer where their work involves facial recognition technology? How far away are we from the life-sized talking advertisements in Minority Report that call out our names to try to sell us beer and clothes? We won’t hear them if we are listening to an iPod with sound-isolation earphones, and we’ll ignore them if we are talking or texting on the cell phone.
So if you are playing along so far, you might think this is just a problem for businesses and other advertising entities. Why would city governments care? Because they need money, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are going to turn increasingly towards advertising opportunities for revenue. If so, the goal will be to get the most money possible out of each opportunity. This means the advertising medium has to be noticed, otherwise it won’t be worth as much. Talking billboards surrounded by a crowd listening to iPods aren’t going to bring in as much advertising revenue to a city government as talking billboards surrounded by a crowd that can’t block out the advertising message.
Since this is meant to be a technology blog, I’m not going to leave things here. Otherwise, this post might come across as a complaint or warning about politics or oppressive societies and such. Instead, let me suggest that a scheme to create a captive audience for advertising sounds risky and probably isn’t long-term viable. For better or worse, people find ways to circumvent restrictions. However, advertising and marketing techniques are going to evolve. Feeding those techniques will be a huge volume of information in data warehouses. Today this information is barely tapped. However, there is a strong drive to begin unleashing it in a flood.
The smart money and smart technology (and opportunity to get rich if you figure it out) will be in devising advertising and marketing methods that will be effective even while surrounded by crowd of iPod listening, cell phone talking, texting pedestrians. And if you think about it, maybe those devices aren’t to blame after all for the lack of attention.