Do you actually want this?

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…)

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11 Responses to Do you actually want this?

  1. Lucy McGough says:

    It sounds absolutely awful. It would be like having an incredibly annoying woman walking by your side and constantly telling you “THIS SHOP HAS SHINY THINGS FOR SALE! GO IN THIS SHOP!!!”

    And imagine the info you’d get pushed walking past Ann Summers! Yuck.

    If I couldn’t opt out of such advertising, I’d ditch my mobile.

  2. gun street girl says:

    Not sure how they’d work it for those of us who pay for every call and text. I don’t mind seeing the odd ad every now and then but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for the privilege.

    Yeah….doesn’t really appeal to me all that much.

  3. Katherine says:

    The advertising that comes up in gmail and reflects the contents of one’s own e-mails is obnoxious enough and it’s hardly obtrusive. Like Lucy, I fear what might happen walking past an Ann Summers store.

    If it were set up more in a newsletter kind of way, it might not be so bad – there are, after all, things I genuinely do want to know about and that’s why I get the Foyle’s newsletter and the ROH newsletter and so on – but if it’s just determined by whatever you pass in the street, ugh. Information overload, as you say.

  4. gun street girl says:

    I actually don’t mind the gmail targeted ads, mostly because they are so easy to ignore and because sometimes the ad generator (which is just based on words in your email titles) feeds me something really off the wall and it makes me laugh.

    I can see all kinds of problems with business sending ads to cell phones walking by. Lots of cells are in the hands of minors and there are all kinds of laws here in the States about marketing certain products to children. Some people might be quite offended (enough to sue) over content sent to their phones that they find offensive (Victoria’s Secret ads or some such) or harmful (liquor stores feeding ads to alcoholics’ cell phones). They’d have to put in v chips or parental controls or give people the opportunity to opt out.

    I don’t know how you all pay for your phones in Europe but lots of people in the States have plans based on the number of calls and telemarketers are not allowed to call cell phones to solicit because it costs people money to accept the call. Same with texts. Businesses cannot randomly text cell phone numbers. So phone companies here would have to abandon their “x calls/texts per month” pricing plans in order for this work.

    People might be persuaded to do it if it means cheaper phone service and if they can control ad type or content but most people I know already have more phone/text/email than they can handle and I can’t really see all that many people getting excited about having to wade through dozens of spams every time they go to the mall.

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments, and also the votes in the poll – it looks as though most of you who are voting aren’t especially keen.

    Lucy McGough – that’s pretty much the way i would see it, although for me, the annoying person i imagine is a bloke with a nasty tie and slicked back hair… ;o)

    On the subject of the kind of content that might get ‘pushed’ by certain businesses, which all of you have mentioned – well, i imagine there would have to be restrictions. Personally i don’t think i’d find it any more objectionable if my phone was telling me about fluffy handcuffs and crotchless panties rather than books and coffee, but obviously some people would. And there would certainly be an outcry if that sort of material were being promoted to minors (even though, if what a channel four documentary once told me is accurate, most teenagers already use their phones to watch porn).

    gun street girl – Welcome to my blog (or at least the comments section of it) – at least, i think this is the first time you’ve commented. :o)

    If i understood what the article was suggesting, it wouldn’t be a question of getting texts. It would be more a question of those mobiles that can display an interactive map of the local area with information embedded in it, and then your phone would attract your attention to show you information that a company had paid to have put there. I don’t think it would be a case of people getting charged extra to receive the particular information, although obviously the information would be arriving via a data connection that they were paying for. If a user was to be charged for each specific piece of info that was sent to them then i think, in the EU at least, it would have to be a service that they opted into, and also one they could opt out of at any time.

    Katherine – you see, that very neatly highlights part of my oddness when it comes to these things. :o) I would object, even if it was in a newsletter format. I’ve never signed up to any newsletters for this reason (well, not intentionally – i haven’t always spotted the deliberately tiny ‘Check this box if you don’t want to recieve information from us from time to time’). I love the idea of information – including information about stuff i can buy – being easily available to me if i go looking for it, but i hate the idea of somebody (or something) else deciding what i might want to know. Like i say, i’m an odd person… ;o)

  6. Not keen at all… reminds me of that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is walking through a shopping centre being shouted at by adverts on the wall who recognise his eyeballs as someone else… bletch..

    Great post – glad you are back and hope all is ok.


  7. gun street girl says:

    i’ve commented before under the name merope3. just decided to change my nick.

    the way my cell plan works is i only pay if i use the phone, incoming or outgoing. texts are 20 cents each. using the data feature, which i think is what you describe above for how businesses would stream their ads, is even more expensive. i’m not even sure on my phone that i can remove them without opening them and thus getting charged for them. of course they would expire in two weeks if i left them unread…

    my time of course is invaluable. i don’t want to spend it deleting unwanted spam off my phone.

  8. It would be the most annoying thing on the planet. Have you seen Minority Report?

  9. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments, and the extra votes. It looks as though, at least amongst the people who read this blog who want to express an opinion, it’s really not a popular idea.

    Wounded Genius – i have seen minority report, but i’ll be honest, i didn’t remember that scene. Pretty much the only thing i remember about that film is thinking that a computer interface that required you to wave your arms around like a demented conductor didn’t seem like an especially great idea… ;o)

    gun street girl – ah well, in that case, welcome back to my blog. :o) I agree – it would be a colossal waste of time, and it would add insult to injury to have to pay to receive the ads.

    DeeDee Ramona – glad to find another member of the consensus. :o)

  10. Totally Detached says:

    Sounds like LITERALLY the worst thing in the world!

  11. eroswings says:

    I don’t think that would be a feature that I’d actually look for in a cell phone. If it’s just advertising, then I’ll treat it the same way I treat ads (printed and transmitted) today–I ignore the ones that don’t interest me, tune them out or change the channel or turn it off.

    Isn’t it a little dangerous to be distracted by your cell phone going off all the time as you’re walking down the street? You might walk into a pole or traffic and hurt yourself. That’s just asking a for a lawsuit.


    Happy Holidays,


    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you spend the holidays doing something that makes you feel good and happy. Stay safe and warm!

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