I can’t find it now to link to, I’m afraid, but I was reading an ‘Oh, brave new world’ style article on techy matters somewhere, and it raised this as a plausible scenario likely to develop in the next couple of years. I was slightly surprised to realise, as I read, that the author of the article thought it would be a really positive development that would be welcomed by everyone.
Basically, as you’re walking around, your mobile would be sent details about businesses in the immediate area that had paid to be registered, and your phone would then ‘push’ whatever information the business wanted at you. So if you were walking past HMV, your phone might attract your attention in order to tell you that HMV currently have a three-for-two offer on DVDs, for example. Or, if you were walking past a Starbucks your phone might make you look at it in order to see a message asking you if you fancied a coffee.
I’ll be honest, this idea strikes me as being horrendous. Partly horrendous just in terms of sheer information overload – if you’re walking down the average high-street your phone is going to be continuously clamouring at you. But it’s also the fact that the information is going to be ‘pushed’. It’s one thing to have the information available. The ability to be able to search for, say, the nearest pub that serves food when you’re in an unfamiliar town is one of the things I think would be most useful about a modern phone (I say think would be because I’ve never had a phone capable of anything more than calls and texts). I also don’t object hugely to the idea of there being advertising involved, so that if I search for a bookshop, Smith’s might pay to tell me about a special offer in the hopes that I’ll visit them rather than Waterstone’s. No, what I really object to is that the phone – and, by extension, the shops I’m walking past – will all but force me to look at the information they want me to.
It strikes me that, if it comes to fruition, this would be like a real-world version of the ‘targeted’ adverts you already get on the web, where advertisers get to talk to people who are most likely to be interested in what they have to say. I can understand why they might see this as a very efficient use of their advertising budgets. I can also see why businesses are very excited by the prospect of being able to communicate with someone when they’re directly outside, and so are less likely to forget about the contents of the advert than if they read it in the paper on the bus in. And I can see why – given it’s increasingly the norm for people to skip or ignore adverts wherever they come across them – advertisers are very keen on the idea of adverts that you pretty much can’t ignore. What I’m struggling to understand is why mobile users would welcome the development. If I’m honest I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would think it’s a good idea.
Still, it occurs to me that I seem to be something of an oddity when it comes to technology, and so it would perhaps be a mistake to generalise from my own feelings. For example, I like the technology I own to be passive – I like it to do what I want, when I want – but the majority of people seem very comfortable with their technology being more active, and making decisions on their behalf, and bringing things to their attention. Then, too, I seem to be more susceptible to feelings of information overload than other people. I think that’s partly because I don’t really have the ability to consign things to the background without thinking about them, and find it very hard to dismiss things that are clamouring for my attention. Finally, there’s the fact that, while I really like living in the internet age (and there are few things that make me happier than that there’s a smallish black box in the corner of my living room that I can turn on and it will give me access to pretty much anything I could ever want or need), I don’t particularly like the always-connected world. I stopped carrying my mobile with me everywhere I went about 5 years ago and I can honestly say I’ve never minded being out of touch with the world for a few minutes or hours or days. I’m well aware, though, that what I found to be a relief would be a genuinely unpleasant – even upsetting – experience for some people.
So that’s why – in excitingly interactive mode – I’ve decided to throw this over to you in the form of my second-ever poll. What do you reckon about companies using your phone to tell you where you might like to go, and what you might like to buy? Is it a useful way of finding out about things you might not otherwise know about? An unwarranted intrusion of The Man into your personal space? Or something you’re not really bothered about either way? Vote now…
(…if you want to, that is. I wouldn’t want you to feel that I was pushing anything on you…)