This is not difficult to do, once you know how. Of course, it’s not terribly useful, since a) most people don’t read the display on a printer unless an error occurs, or b) you’re only likely to see it once you’ve already sent something to print.
Is this kind of very, very weak persuasion – actually worthwhile? From a user’s point of view, it’s less intrusive than, say, a dialogue box that asks “Are you sure you want to print that? Think of the environment” every time you try to print something (which would become deeply irritating for many users), but when applied thoughtfully, as (in a different area of paper consumption) in Pete Kazanjy’s These Come From Trees initiative, or even in various e-mail footers* (below), there may actually be some worthwhile influence on user behaviour. It’s not ‘micropersuasion’ in Steve Rubel’s sense, exactly, but there is some commonality.
I’m thinking that addressing the choices users make when they decide to print (or not print) a document or email could be an interesting specific example to investigate as part of my research, once I get to the stage of user trials. How effective are the different strategies in actually reducing paper/energy/toner/fuser/ink consumption and waste generation? Would better use of ‘Printer-friendly’ style sheets for webpages save a lot of unnecessary reprints due to cut-off words and broken layouts? Should, say, two pages per sheet become the default when a dicument goes above a certain number of pages? Should users be warned if widows (not so much orphans) are going to increase the number of sheets needed, or should the leading be automatically adjusted (by default) to prevent this? What happens if we make it easier to avoid printing banner ads and other junk? What happens if we make the paper tray smaller so the user is reminded of just how much paper he/she is getting through? What happens if we include a display showing the cost (financially) of the toner/ink, paper and electricity so far each day, or for each user? What happens if we ration paper for each user and allow him or her to ‘trade’ with other users? What happens if we give users a ‘reward’ for reaching targets of reducing printer usage, month-on-month? And so on. (The HP MOPy Fish – cited in B J Fogg’s Persuasive Technology – is an example of the opposite intention: a system designed to encourage users to print more, by rewarding them.)
Printing is an interesting area, since it allows the possibility of testing out both software and hardware tactics for causing behaviour change, which I’m keen to do.
Karel Donk has some intriguing thoughts on ‘maximising the upside’ of life, by reducing dependence on other people, status and possessions, so that there is less to lose:
So one of the important things in life is to be as independent as possible and rely on very few things. After all, when it comes down to it, the only thing you can really and always depend on in life is yourself. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want a lot of things in life. Want and have as much as you like, but require as little as possible. This is the simple rule you can use to guide you in making decisions about what you want to depend on in life.
Interestingly, he also hits on the ‘architectures of control’ issue, briefly:
Today’s world, and indeed for a very very long time now, is structured in such a way where people are directed, if not forced, to become dependent. Dependent on the system, or dependent on others. When you do enough research, you will find that this is all by design. I won’t go into details in this post, but certainly will in the future. For now it’s enough to note that this is by design. The reason why things are set up in this way is of course to be able to control people and limit their freedoms. When people depend on you, you can manipulate them into behaving the way you want. Because they depend on you, they have little choice but to go along with anything you say because they fear losing what they get from you. By definition if someone depends on someone else, or something else, that person has something to lose.
I’m looking forward to reading Karel’s future thoughts on this. Creating dependence, or at least creating a need/desire/requirement to consume more, is a fair characterisation of many architectures of control we’ve looked at on this site, from printer cartridge sneakiness to outright chemical addiction; whether a simple razor-blade model (you need to buy more of this, because it’s the only thing that fits) or something more sinister, Karel is right: the common thread is dependence.
To a large extent, I think this is why education is so important. If we understand the systems around us, technical, political and cultural, we are able to make (better) decisions for ourselves. If, however, we ‘leave it up to others who understand all that stuff’, we become dependent on them.
My Epson Stylus Photo R1800’s been running low on ink in a couple of cartridges for a few days now. I’ve been putting off ordering them until this weekend. Now I find that when the printer believes a cartridge has reached 0%, it won’t print anything at all, even if it doesn’t need that colour. Users (i.e. me) are forced into buying new cartridges at a time when they don’t actually need them in a pathetic exercise of Epson’s control. Workflow is interrupted, plans out of the window.
So now, in order to print something important which needs to be done this afternoon, I am going to have to get on a train and go into a local town, wasting a couple of hours of my life and resulting in entirely unnecessary energy usage and carbon emissions. That’s relatively easy for me: I live next to a railway station. But in areas of the world where it isn’t convenient or possible, how can such thoughtless design be tolerated? Printers a few years ago allowed you to keep printing until the cartridges were actually empty. You knew when to stop because you could see.
Hey Epson: if you push your customers around, they’ll walk away. Forever. It’s as simple as that. People’s time is precious. Convenience is important. There’s no way I’ll ever buy another Epson product or recommend them to anyone else. And I’m a techy guy: occasionally, people do ask my opinion on products. (Of course I’m going to buy cheap refill cartridges; ultimately I may have to get a continuous ink supply system)
Yeah, it’s a rant; it’s also a pathetic piece of design embodying absolute contempt for the customer.
(Sadly the SSC Service Utility mentioned a few months ago doesn’t seem to allow the ink levels to this particular printer to be re-set, though it’s undoubtedly of great use on other models.)
The news that tobacco companies have increased the levels of nicotine in their brands over the last few years – especially those popular with certain groups – made me think further about architectures of control:
“The amount of nicotine in most cigarettes rose an average of almost 10 percent from 1998 to 2004, with brands most popular with young people and minorities registering the biggest increases and highest nicotine content… the higher levels theoretically could make new smokers more easily addicted and make it harder for established smokers to quit.
At Freedom to Tinker, Ed Felten has posted a summary of a talk he gave at the Usenix Security Symposium, called “DRM Wars: The Next Generation”. The two installments so far (Part 1, Part 2) trace a possible trend in the (stated) intentions of DRM’s proponents, from it being largely promoted as a tool to help enforce copyright law (and defeat ‘illegal pirates’) to the current stirrings of DRM’s being explicitly acknowledged as a tool to facilitate discrimination and lock-in – and the apparent ‘benefits of this’:
“First, they argue that DRM enables price discrimination – business models that charge different customers different prices for a product – and that price discrimination benefits society, at least sometimes. Second, they argue that DRM helps platform developers lock in their customers, as Apple has done with its iPod/iTunes products, and that lock-in increases the incentive to develop platforms.
Via MAKE, an article from Electrical Design News looking at lithium battery authentication chips in products such as phones and laptops, designed to prevent users fitting ‘non-genuine’ batteries.
Now, the immediate response of most of us is probably “razor blade model!” or even “stifling democratic innovation!” (as Hal Varian or Eric von Hippel might put it), and indeed that was probably my own instinctive reaction.
It’s not clear, though, that this is a standard architectures-of-control-enforced-razor-blade-model of the kind we’ve seen with printer cartridges. Read More