I Hear Voices

A while ago I blogged about some new technology that had been introduced on the Virgin America flightpath to Las Vegas, where flyers could attempt to ‘get lucky’ by sending other passengers suggestive messages via seat to seat chat, or perhaps drink orders to hopefully seal the deal…

At the end I joked about what might be next – perhaps video love sonnets between train passengers.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t too far off the mark…

A few months ago an ad agency working on behalf of Sky Deutschland revealed their idea of allowing windows in trains to transmit advertising messages to unsuspecting individuals who fancy a nap en route to their destination. 

Lean against them, and using something called ‘bone conduction’, the window will speak to the person in their inner ear and nobody else would hear the message.  It’s been trialled to advertise the Sky Go app.

Here’s a video put together by the ad agency to explain the idea:

If you think this sounds creepy and sinister, I would agree with you wholeheartedly.

For two reasons: I spend a lot of time on trains as I travel a lot for my job.  If I’m coming home at the end of a long week and by my own choice care to put my weary head against the window and close my eyes for a few fleeting moments, the absolute last thing I want to hear is subliminal advertising in my ear (that’s not true – the absolute last thing I want to hear is ‘We have now arrived in Edinburgh’ when my destination was supposed to be London Kings Cross…)

This use of technology is entirely intrusive; targeted at those who are probably the least inclined to listen.  I believe technology works best when it does something to make your daily life that little bit easier.   Like Twitter – one of the reasons it became so popular is that it gave people who wanted to stay up to date an expedient way to do so.

The second reason is that I’m not convinced that the people who developed the idea for the train windows really thought about it in the right context.   Like those wise words spoken by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, they spent so much time figuring out if they could do it, and not enough time figuring out if they should.

Going by not just my own opinion but those who have commented on the YouTube video and online (‘What’s next? Skynet – they’re going to destroy us!’ is one of my favourite remarks) the backlash to the idea has been immense.

Technology should always have the customer at the heart of everything.  In this example, the potential to speak to a captive audience overruled any sense of whether this was the right thing to do.