I'd like to take a moment to editorialize on the topic of democratic use of public spaces.
NPR did a piece a while back on mobile phones empowering people to talk to others whenever they want and maintaining family connections at a distance. But I think there's something even more empowering going on.
There's lots of people competing for "eyeballs" these days. Magazines, highway billboards, signs on busses, ambient advertising, viral marketing... It's difficult to do anything without getting bombarded by ads for something. Sometimes this is what you want - but rarely. The rest of the time we would just like to tune it out.
One particularly obnoxious example of this is movie theater advertising. You pay money to see a movie. Then, when you are a captive audience (arriving when the movie is supposed to start) they show you 15 minutes of advertising. Now of course we could revolt and go somewhere else, but everyone else is doing the same thing. Either you stop seeing new movies or you watch advertising to put (even more) money in the pockets of the theater owners. They even have the gall to put ads up advertising extolling the benefits of theater advertising to those having to sit through the experience. There is no shame amongst theater owners.
Besides unwanted ads, there are other aspects of the world you might not want waste precious moments of your life thinking about as well; like ambient noise from busses or planes going by you, or that screaming baby a few seats down on the train.
This is where mobile devices excel. When the theater ads come on I plug in the iPod and crank up a game on the mobile phone and suddenly I've created a more friendly environment and reduced my desire to throw my soft drink at the screen. Steve Mann took the somewhat extreme tactic of wearing a head mounted display and filtering out advertising
in his visual field. I think mobile devices are becoming the way we choose how we want to perceive and interact with the world. It takes the power away from the owner of the property or exploiter of public space and gives it to the individual to choose.
So the question is - how far can we take this? How extreme can we make personal empowerment? And what would the social consequences be?