All posts filed under “Dystopia

Anti-teenager “pink lights to show up acne”

Pink lights in Mansfield. Photo from BBC

In a similar vein to the Mosquito, intentionally shallow steps (and, superficially at least–though not really–blue lighting in toilets, which Raph d’Amico dissects well here), we now have residents’ associations installing pink lighting to highlight teenagers’ acne and so drive them away from an area:

Residents of a Nottinghamshire housing estate have installed pink lights which show up teenagers’ spots in a bid to stop them gathering in the area.

Members of Layton Burroughs Residents’ Association, Mansfield say they have bought the lights in a bid to curb anti-social behaviour. The lights are said to have a calming influence, but they also highlight skin blemishes.

The National Youth Agency said it would just move the problem somewhere else. Peta Halls, development officer for the NYA, said: “Anything that aims to embarrass people out of an area is not on. “The pink lights are indiscriminate in that they will impact on all young people and older people who do not, perhaps, have perfect skin.

I had heard about this before (thanks, Ed!) but overlooked posting it on the blog – other places the pink lights have been used include Preston and Scunthorpe, to which this quote refers (note the youths=yobs equation):

Yobs are being shamed out of anti-social behaviour by bright pink lights which show up their acne.

The lights are so strong they highlight skin blemishes and have been successful in moving on youths from troublespots who view pink as being “uncool.”

Manager Dave Hey said: “With the fluorescent pink light we are trying to embarass young people out of the area. “The pink is not seen as particularly macho among young men and apparently it highlights acne and blemishes in the skin.

A North Lincolnshire Council spokesman said: “[…]”On the face of it this sounds barmy. But do young people really want to hang around in an area with a pink glow that makes any spots they have on their face stand out?”

With the Mansfield example making the news, it’s good to see that there is, at least, quite a lot of comment pointing out the idiocy of the hard-of-thinking who believe that this sort of measure will actually ‘solve the problem of young people’, whatever that might mean, as well as the deeply discriminatory nature of the plan. For example, this rather dim (if perhaps tongue-in-cheek) light in the Nottingham Evening Post has been comprehensively rebutted by a commenter:

Trying to use someone’s personal looks against them simply because they meet up with friends and have a social life…

If this is the case then I would personally love to see adults banned from meeting up in pubs, parties and generally getting drunk. I would also love to see something making fun of their elderlyness and wrinkle problems.

I don’t understand why Britain hates its young people so much. But I can see it storing up a great deal of problems for the future.

Photo from this BBC story

The Convention on Modern Liberty

Barricades, London

Britain’s supposedly on the verge of a summer of rage, and while like Mary Riddell I am of course reminded of Ballard, it’s not quite the same. I don’t think this represents the ‘middle class’ ennui of Chelsea Marina.

Instead I think we may have reached a tipping point where more people than not, are, frankly, fed up (and scared) about what’s happening, whether it’s the economic situation, the greed of the feckless, the intransigent myopia of those who were supposed to ‘oversee’ what’s going on, the use of fear to intimidate away basic freedoms, or a home secretary who treats the entire country like the naughty schoolchildren she left behind. In short: we’re basically losing our liberty very rapidly indeed. This PDF, compiled by UCL Student Human Rights Programme, provides a withering summary. As many have repeated, 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. But, as Cardinal Wolsey warned, “be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again”.

The Convention on Modern Liberty, taking place across the UK this Saturday 28th February, aims to demonstrate the dissatisfaction with what’s happening, and hopefully raise awareness of just what’s going on right under our noses. It features an interesting cross-section of speakers, and the speeches will be streamed on the site (tickets for the London session sold out very quickly).

I’m a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn’t have to live like this.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts over the last week: my laptop’s graphics card finally gave in – it had been kind-of usable at a low resolution by connecting the output to another monitor for a while, but that too has now failed. Thanks to everyone who’s e-mailed and sent things: I will get round to them as soon as I can.

On ‘Design and Behaviour’ this week: Do you own your stuff? And a strange council-run ‘Virtual World for young people’

GPS-aided repo and product-service systems

GPS tracking - image by cmpalmer

Ryan Calo of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society brought up the new phenomenon of GPS-aided car repossession and the implications for the concepts of property and privacy:

A group of car dealers in Oregon apparently attached GPS devices to cars sold to customers with poor credit so as to be able to track them down more easily in the event of repossession.

…this practice also relates to an emerging phenomenon wherein sold property remains oddly connected to the seller as though it were merely leased. Whereas once we purchased an album and did with it as we please, today we need to register (up to five) devices in order to play our songs.

…and Kingston University’s Rosie Hornbuckle linked this to the concept of product-service systems:

This puts a whole new slant on product-service-systems, a current (and popular) sustainability methodology whereby people are weaned off the concept of owning products, instead they lease them off the manufacturer who is then responsible for take-back, repair, recycling or disposal. So in that scenario it’s quite likely that a manufacturer will want to keep tabs on their equipment/material, will this bring up privacy issues or is it simply the case that if it’s done overtly (and not in the negative frame of potential repossession), the customer knows about it and agrees, it’s ok? Or will it be a long time before people can overcome the perceived encroachment on their liberty that not owning might bring?

It reminds me of something Bill Thompson suggested to me once, that (paraphrasing) the idea that we ‘own’ the technology we use might well turn out to be a short phase in overall human history. That could perhaps be ‘good’ in contexts where sharing/renting/pooling things allows much greater efficiency and brings benefits for users. Nevertheless, as the repossession example (and DRM, etc, in general) show, the tendency in practice is often to use these methods to exert increasing dominance over users, erode assumed rights, and extract more value from people who no longer have control of the things they use.

See the whole thread so far (and join in!)

Above image of GPS trails (unrelated to the story, but a cool picture) from cmpalmer’s Flickr

The Mosquito, and plans for an odd ‘walk-in virtual world’

McDonald's Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Rosie discussed the Mosquito (above image: an example outside a McDonald’s opposite Windsor Castle*) and asked “could we use our design skills and knowledge to influence these sorts of behaviours with a less aggressive and longer-term approach?” while Adrian Short summed up the issue pretty well:

There are a lot of problems in principle and in practice with these devices, but the core problem for me is that they tend to be directed at users rather than uses (i.e. people by identity, not behaviour) and are entirely arbitrary. The street outside a shop is public space and the shop owners have no more right than anyone else to dictate who goes there.

In as much as these things work (which is highly disputed), they are never going to encourage a meaningful debate about norms of behaviour among users of a space. This approach is not so much negotiation as warfare.

Sutton’s Rosehill steps (which Adrian let me know about originally) were also discussed and Adrian brought us the story of something very odd: a ‘virtual world to teach good behaviour to young people’:

Half a mile away, the same council is proposing to spend at least £4 million on a facility that will include a high-tech virtual street environment, a “street simulator” if you like, to teach safety and good behaviour to some of the same young people.

“Part movie-set, part theme park, the learning complex will be the first of its kind in the UK and will also house an indoor street with shop fronts, pavements and a road. The idea is to give young people the confidence to make the best of their lives and have a positive impact on their peers and their local community.”

I don’t really know what to make of that. I actually woke up this morning thinking about it assuming that it was a dream I’d been having, then realised where I’d read about it. It sounds like a mish-mash of Scaramanga’s Fun House from The Man With The Golden Gun and the Ludovico Centre** from A Clockwork Orange.

Scaramanga's FunhouseLudovico Centre

See the whole thread here.

*This particular McDonald’s, with the Mosquito going every evening and clearly audible to me and my girlfriend (both mid-20s) also features a vicious array of anti-sit spikes (below) which rather negate the ‘welcoming’ efforts made with the flowerbed.

**I actually gave a talk about my research to Environmentally Sensitive Design students in this building a couple of weeks ago: it’s Brunel’s main Lecture Centre.

McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire
McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Mosquito controversy goes high-profile

Mosquito - image from Compound Security

The Mosquito anti-teenager sound device, which we’ve covered on this site a few times, was yesterday heavily criticised by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, launching the BUZZ OFF campaign in conjunction with Liberty and the National Youth Agency: Buzz Off logo

Makers and users of ultra-sonic dispersal devices are being told to “Buzz Off” today by campaigners who say the device, which emits a high-pitched sound that targets under 25 year olds, is not a fair or reasonable solution for tackling anti-social behaviour. The campaign… is calling for the end to the use of ultra-sonic dispersal device. There are estimated to be 3,500 used across the country.
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Learned down the gambling house

Fruit machine reelsMichael Shanks’ Ten Things class at Stanford – which looks like a brilliant application of anthropological and archaeological thinking to design and technology – generated a very interesting project by William Choi and Antoine Sindhu analysing the architectures of control (psychological and physical) designed into both slot machines, and casinos themselves.

Slot machines

From ‘The psychology of the slot machine‘:

[S]lot machines keep players engrossed through a psychological phenomenon known as operant conditioning. What psychologists call the “primary conditioning mechanism” is the inclusion of relatively small payouts in slot machine gameplay. These small payouts provide positive reinforcement to the player … the positive reinforcement provided by the small payouts causes people to continue repeating the behavior. The frequency of payouts is precisely fine-tuned and optimized–a payout rate that is any higher than absolutely necessary cuts down on the casino’s profits.

Slot machines do not stop with a single primary conditioning mechanism. Secondary mechanisms augment the excitement and incentive to continue playing. The most important of these is the inclusion of a system in the machine that yields a high frequency of “near misses,” or situations in which the player believes they have almost won. For example, the slot machine often displays two out of the three jackpot bars, a tremendously stimulating event which has greatly reinforced the player’s behavior at no cost to the casino.

The article compares the positive reinforcement effect in humans to that shown by B F Skinner‘s classic experiments with rats, where pressing a lever caused pellets to be dispensed, and where the mechanism was very quickly learned. Skinner’s work on behaviour shaping [PDF link] is of great relevance to my forthcoming PhD research, since it’s effectively about ‘teaching’ (or ‘guiding’) the subject (which could be a rat, pigeon or end-user) towards a different set of behaviour, rather than actual coercion. This continuum between persuasion and outright control will, I suspect, be an important part of the research, although as a number of readers have pointed out in the comments here over the last couple of years, persuasion can be as much about control (in a psychological sense) as code or physical product or environmental architecture are in the world outside our minds.

Casino design

We’ve looked briefly before at casino layouts and tricks, inspired by a piece on Signal vs Noise, but Choi and Sindhu’s ‘Analysis of casino design‘ goes into fascinating detail:

Casinos are generally designed so that patrons must walk through or at least around the periphery of several slot machine blocks to move around the casino, to maximize the customers’ exposure to the exciting sights and sounds of the slot machines, and especially of others winning on the machines … Casino planners know that slot players love to see and hear other people winning on nearby machines, because players hold it as evidence that money can be made on the machines. Thus casinos are designed to have the loosest machines in prominent areas deep within the gambling floor. Areas such as the ends of long rows or near walkways or elevated sections are generally where loose machines are placed. As people walk through the gambling floor, the sights and sounds of people playing on these more liberal machines draw other customers deeper into the slot machine block, where the machines are tighter.

In general, table players do not like the noise of slot machines because they find it distracting … At the same time, however, spouses or partners of table players will often wile away time playing at a nearby slot machine. Thus casinos are planned such that there are slot machines lining walkways around tables. However, these slots are always tight. This cuts down on the noise and distraction to table players, and makes sense because the majority of players on these machines are playing spontaneously, with little expectation of winning. This demonstrates to what degree casino layouts are optimized–in this case, to the point that a complex system is implemented simply to clean up loose change from spontaneous players.

In most Las Vegas casinos, there is a noticeable lack of natural light and of clocks. The gambling floor is always located away from the main entrance out onto the street to minimize the gamblers’ exposure to the outside world … those who are simply walking around the casino are more inclined to start using a machine, because their perceptions of time are manipulated by the design of the casino.

Other features of the casino, including the music, carpeting, and even the air conditioning system, are manipulated to the casino’s advantage. Studies have shown that carpeting is often purposefully jarring to the eyes, which draws customers’ gaze upwards toward the machines on the gambling floor. Music is usually mild and soothing, and plays on a continuous loop rather than individual songs, contributing to a trance-like feeling of warmth and comfort in the gamblers.

Choi and Sindhu go on to discuss the use of coercive atmospherics (Douglas Rushkoff‘s term) – things such as extra oxygen or pheromones pumped into the air – tactics which clearly have been tried – and in retail environments as well as casinos. Although Hunter pointed out in a comment on the SvN post that extra oxygen is not / no longer widely used by the major casinos, the Commercaire website is no longer online (Wayback copy here – switch off images if you want to be able to read it!), and Commercaire’s manufacturers claim to have withdrawn their ‘controversial’ product, if the results claimed [PDF link] – 42% increase in casino revenues – are real, then one might suspect the company has simply changed the way it markets the product (as the ‘Spitting Image’ blog suggests here).

A vein attempt?

Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins
Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins

Blue lighting is sometimes used in public toilets (restrooms) to make it more difficult for drug users to inject themselves (veins are harder to see). The above implementation is in Edinburgh, next to the Tron Kirk.

It was more difficult to see my veins through my skin, but there was normal-coloured lighting in the street outside, and one would assume that the users would thus just go outside instead, though the risk of detection is greater. (An additional result of the blue lighting is that, on going outside after spending more than a few seconds in the toilets, the daytime world appears much brighter and more optimistic, even on an overcast day: could retail designers or others make use of this effect? Do they already?)

So the blue lighting ‘works’, but is it really a good idea to increase the risk that an injection will be done wrongly – maybe multiple times? This is perhaps a similar argument to that surrounding delibrately reducing visibility at junctions: the architecture of control makes it more dangerous for the few users (and those their actions affect) who ignore or bypass the control. This seems to be an architecture of control with the potential to endanger life, although the actual stated intention behind it probably includes ‘saving lives’.

Without knowing more about addiction, however, I can’t say whether making it difficult for people to inject will really help stop them doing it; it would seem more likely that (as in the linked Argus story), the aim of the blue lighting is to move the ‘problem’ somewhere else rather than actually ‘solve’ it – as with the anti-homeless benches, in fact.

Another example in this kind of area is the use of smoke alarms specifically to prevent people smoking in toilets, e.g. on aeroplanes (the noise, and embarrassment, is a sufficient deterrent). There’s even been the suggestion of using the Mosquito high-pitched alarm coupled to a smoke detector to ‘prevent’ children smoking in school toilets (I’d expect that quite a few would deliberately try to set them off; I know I would have as a kid). A friend mentioned the practice of siting smoking shelters a long way from office buildings so that smokers are discouraged from going so often; this backfired for the company concerned, as smokers just took increasingly long breaks to make it ‘worth their while’ to walk the extra distance.