Dystopia

Anti-teenager "pink lights to show up acne" by Dan

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 by Dan

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' by Dan

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 by Dan Lockton

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.
The BUZZ OFF campaign will be driven by young people who have been affected by the device and will aim to provoke debate and thought amongst parents, government, businesses, the police and others about the increasingly negative way society views and deals with children and young people.

The government has said it has no plans to ban the Mosquito.

The main point here is of course that the use of the Mosquito is in effect discriminatory architecture, designed to punish/annoy/prevent/target one particular group of people, whether or not those individuals have actually done anything wrong - as Sir Albert told the BBC:

These devices are indiscriminate and target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving.

It's the same mentality as removing benches because you don't like the sort of people who use benches (or demonstrated by other techniques in this area). Many different points of view on the subject have been expressed by commenters here over the last couple of years, from kids fed up with being assumed guilty, to members of the public fed up with kids hanging around and intimidating people.

As with blue lighting in public toilets, the Mosquito is unlikely to solve the 'problem' at hand: it will simply move it elsewhere. It's displacing the symptom rather than curing the illness, and - as has been pointed out in numerous recent news stories - it exemplifies a pervasive antipathy towards young people which is rather disturbing (I mentioned this before in reference to the "device to stop young people congregating" search query which led someone to this site.) Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti - while I don't always agree with everything she says - puts it very concisely:

What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children? Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender, rather than to our kids.

The Mosquito has no place in a country that values its children and seeks to instill them with dignity and respect.

Incidentally, the 15 kHz, 17.5 kHz and 20 kHz wave files which I put on this site a couple of years ago before coming across the Mosquito-inspired Teen Buzz ringtone still bring more search engine traffic than any other article (the mobile phone moisture-detection stickers are a close second). If you're interested in testing your hearing, the Free Mosquito Ringtones site has since done a better job with a wide range of frequencies.

Top image from Compound Security's website; Buzz Off logo from Children's Commissioner press release [Word document].

Learned down the gambling house by Dan Lockton

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? by Dan Lockton

Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veinsBlue 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.

BBC: Surveillance drones in Merseyside by Dan Lockton

From the BBC: 'Police play down spy planes idea':

"Merseyside Police's new anti-social behaviour (ASB) task force is exploring a number of technology-driven ideas.

But while the use of surveillance drones is among them, they would be a "long way off", police said. ...

"The idea of the drone is a long way off, but it is about exploring all technological possibilities to support our war on crime and anti-social behaviour."

Note that "anti-social behaviour" is mentioned separately to "crime." Why? Also, nice appropriation of the "war on xxx" phrasing.

"It plans to utilise the latest law enforcement technology, including automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), CCTV "head-cams" and metal-detecting gloves."

This country's had it.

We've got Avon & Somerset Police using helicopters with high-intensity floodlights to "blind groups of teenagers temporarily" and councils using tax-payers' money to install devices to cause deliberate auditory pain to a percentage of the population, again, whether or not they have committed a crime. Anyone would think that those in power despised their public. Perhaps they do.

Has it ever occurred to the police that tackling the causes of the problem might be a better solution than attacking the symptoms with a ridiculous battery of 'technology'?

Reversing the emphasis of a control environment by Dan Lockton

Image from Flickr user Monkeys & Kiwis Image from Monkeys & Kiwis (Flickr)

Chris Weightman let me know about how it felt to watch last Thursday's iPod Flashmob at London's Liverpool Street station: the dominant sense was of a mass of people overturning the 'prescribed' behaviour designed into an environment, and turning the area into their own canvas, overlaying individualised, externally silent experiences on the usual commuter traffic.

Probably wouldn't get away with that sort of thing at an airport any more anyway, but what will happen to this kind of informal gathering in the era of the societies of control? When everyware monitors exactly who's where and forces the barriers closed for anyone hoping to use the space for something other than that for which it was intended?

Review: Made to Break by Giles Slade by Dan Lockton

This TV wasn't made to break Last month I mentioned some fascinating details on planned obsolescence gleaned from a review of Giles Slade's Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Having now read the book for myself, here's my review, including noteworthy 'architectures of control' examples and pertinent commentary.

Slade examines the phenomenon of obsolescence in products from the early 20th century to the present day, through chapters looking, roughly chronologically, at different waves of obsolescence and the reasons behind them in a variety of fields - including the razor-blade model in consumer products, the FM radio débâcle in the US, the ever-shortening life-cycles of mobile phones, and even planned malfunction in Cold War-era US technology copied by the USSR. While the book ostensibly looks at these subjects in relation to the US, it all rings true from an international viewpoint.*

The major factors in technology-driven obsolescence, in particular electronic miniaturisation, are well covered, and there is a very good treatment of psychological obsolescence, both deliberate (as in the 1950s US motor industry, the fashion industry - and in the manipulation techniques brought to widespread attention by Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders) and unplanned but inherent to human desire (neophilia).

Philosophy of planned obsolescence

The practice of 'death-dating' - what's often called built-in obsolescence in the UK - i.e., designing products to fail after a certain time (and very much an architecture of control when used to lock the consumer into replacement cycles) is dealt with initially within a Depression-era US context (see below), but continued with an extremely interesting look at a debate on the subject carried on in the editorials and readers' letters of Design News in 1958-9, in which industrial designers and engineers argued over the ethics (and efficiency) of the practice, with the attitudes of major magazine advertisers and sponsors seemingly playing a part in shaping some attitudes. Fuelled by Vance Packard's The Waste Makers, the debate, broadened to include psychological obsolescence as well, was extended to more widely-read organs, including Brooks Stevens (pro-planned obsolescence) and Walter Dorwin Teague (anti- ) going head-to-head in The Rotarian.

(The fact that this debate occurred so publicly is especially relevant, I feel, to the subject of architectures of control - especially over-restrictive DRM and certain surveillance-linked control systems - in our own era, since so far most of those speaking out against these are not the designers and engineers tasked with implementing them in our products and environments, but science-fiction authors, free software advocates and interested observers - you can find many of them in the blogroll to the right. But where is the ethical debate in the design literature or on the major design websites? Where is the morality discussion in our technology and engineering journals? There is no high-profile Vance Packard for our time. Yet.)

Slade examines the ideas of Bernard London, a Manhattan real estate broker who published a pamphlet, Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence, in 1932, in which he proposed a government-enforced replacement programme for products, to stimulate the economy and save manufacturers (and their employees) from ruin:

"London was dismayed that "changing habits of consumption [had] destroyed property values and opportunities for emplyment [leaving] the welfare of society ... to pure chance and accident." From the perspective of an acute and successful buinessman, the Depression was a new kind of enforced thrift.

...

London wanted the government to "assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture ... when they are first created." After the allotted time expired:

"these things would be legally 'dead' and would be controlled by the duly appointed governmental agency and destroyed if there is widepsread unemployment. New products would constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete, and the wheels of industry would be kept going... people would turn in their used and obsolete goods to certain governmental agencies... The individual surrendering... would receive from the Comptroller ... a receipt... partially equivalent to money in the purchase of new goods."

This kind of ultimate command economy also has a parallel in a Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where consumers are indoctrinated into repetitive consumption for the good of the State, as Slade notes.

What I find especially interesting is how a planned system of 'obsolete' products being surrendered to governmental agencies resonates with take-back and recycling legislation in our own era. London's consumers would effectively have been 'renting' the functions their products provided, for a certain amount of time pre-determined by "[boards of] competent engineers, economists and mathematicians, specialists in their fields." (It's not clear whether selling good second-hand would be prohibited or strictly regulated under London's system - this sort of thing has been at least partially touched on in Japan though apparently for 'safety' reasons rather than to force consumption.)

This model of forced product retirement and replacement is not dissimilar to the 'function rental' model used by many manufacturers today - both high-tech (e.g. Rolls-Royce's 'Power by the Hour') and lower-tech (e.g. photocopier rental to institutions), but if coupled to designed-in death-dating (which London was not expressly suggesting), we might end up with manufacturers being better able to manage their take-back responsibilities. For example, a car company required to take its old models back at their end of life would be able to operate more efficiently if it knew exactly when certain models would be returned. BMW doesn't want to be taking back the odd stray 2006 3-series among its 2025 take-back programme, but if the cars could be sold in the first place with, say, a built-in 8-year lifetime (perhaps co-terminant with the warranty? Maybe the ECU switches itself off), this would allow precise management of returned vehicles and the recycling or disposal process. In 'Optimum Lifetime Products' I applied this idea from an environmental point of view - since certain consumer products which become less efficient with prolonged usage, such as refrigerators really do have an optimum lifetime (in energy terms) when a full life-cycle analysis is done, why not design products to cease operation - and alert the manufacturer, or even actively disassemble - automatically when their optimum lifetime (perhaps in hours of use) is reached?

Shooting CRTs can be a barrel of laughs

The problem of electronic waste

Returning to the book, Slade gives some astonishing statistics on electronic waste, with the major culprits being mobile phones, discarded mainly through psychological obsolescence, televisions to be discarded in the US (at least) through a federally mandated standards change, and computer equipment (PCs and monitors) discarded through progressive technological obsolescence:

"By 2002 over 130 million still-working portable phones were retired in the United States. Cell phones have now achieved the dubious distinction of having the shortest life cycle of any consumer product in the country, and their life span is still declining. In Japan, they are discarded within a year of purchase... [P]eople who already have cell phones are replacing them with newer models, people who do not have cell phones already are getting their first ones (which they too will replace within approximately eighteen months), and, at least in some parts of the world, people who have only one cell phone are getting a second or third... In 2005 about 50,000 tons of these so-called obsolete phones were 'retired' [in the US alone], and only a fraction of them were disassembled for re-use. Altogether, about 250,000 tons of discarded but still usable cell phones sit in stockpiles in America, awaiting dismantling or disposal. We are standing on the precipice of an insurmountable e-waste storage that no landfill program so far imagined will be able to solve.

...

[I]n 2004 about 315 million working PCs were retired in North America... most would go straight to the scrap heap. These still-functioning but obsolete computers represented an enormous increase over the 63 million working PCs dumped into American landfills in 2003.

...

Obsolete cathode ray tubes used in computer monitors will already be in the trash... by the time a US government mandate goes into effect in 2009 committing all of the country to High-Definition TV [thus rendering every single television set obsolete]... the looming problem is not just the oversized analog TV siting in the family room... The fact is that no-one really knows how many smaller analog TVs still lurk in basements [etc.]... For more than a decade, about 20 to 25 million TVs have been sold annually in the United States, while only 20,000 are recycled each year. So, as federal regulations mandating HDTV come into effect in 2009, an unknown but substantially larger number of analog TVs will join the hundreds of millions of computer monitors entering America's overcrowded, pre-toxic waste stream. Just this one-time disposal of 'brown goods' will, alone, more than double the hazardous waste problem in North America."

Other than building hundreds of millions of Tesla coils or Jacob's ladders, is there anything useful we could do with waste CRTs?

Planned malfunction for strategic reasons

The chapter 'Weaponizing Planned Obsolescence' discusses a CIA operation, inspired by economist Gus Weiss, to sabotage certain US-sourced strategic and weapon technology which the USSR was known to be acquiring covertly. This is a fascinating story, involving Texas Instruments designing and producing a chip-tester which would, after a few trust-building months, deliberately pass defective chips, and a Canadian software company supplying pump/valve control software intentionally modified to cause massive failure in a Siberian gas pipeline, which occurred in 1983:

"A three-kiloton blast, "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," puzzled White House staffers and NATO analysts until "Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC staffers not to worry.""

While there isn't scope here to go into more detail on these examples, it raises an interesting question: to what extent does deliberate, designed-in sabotage happen for strategic reasons in other countries and industries? When a US company supplies weapons to a foreign power, is the software or material quality a little 'different' to that supplied to US forces? When a company supplies components to its competitors, does it ever deliberately select those with poorer tolerances or less refined operating characteristics?

I've come across two software examples specifically incorporating this behaviour - first, the Underhanded C Contest, run by Scott Craver:

"Imagine you are an application developer for an OS vendor. You must write portable C code that will inexplicably taaaaaake a looooooong tiiiiime when compiled and run on a competitor's OS... The code must not look suspicious, and if ever anyone figures out what you did it best look like bad coding rather than intentional malfeasance."

There's also Microsoft's apparently deliberate attempts to make MSN function poorly when using Opera:

"Opera7 receives a style sheet which is very different from the Microsoft and Netscape browsers. Looking inside the style sheet sent to Opera7 we find this fragment:

ul { margin: -2px 0px 0px -30px; }

The culprit is in the "-30px" value set on the margin property. This value instructs Opera 7 to move list elements 30 pixels to the left of its parent. That is, Opera 7 is explicitly instructed to move content off the side of its container thus creating the impression that there is something wrong with Opera 7."

Levittown: designed-in privacy

Slade's discussion of post-war trends in US consumerism includes an interesting architecture of control example, which is not in itself about obsolescence, but demonstrates the embedding of 'politics' into the built environment.The Levittown communities built by Levitt & Sons in early post-war America were planned to offer new residents a degree of privacy unattainable in inner-city developments, and as such, features which encouraged loitering and foot traffic (porches, sidewalks) were deliberately eliminated (this is similar thinking to Robert Moses' apparently deliberate low bridges on certain parkways to prevent buses using them).

The book itself

Made to Break is a very engaging look at the threads that tie together 'progress' in technology and society in a number of fields of 20th century history. It's clearly written with a great deal of research, and extensive referencing and endnotes, and the sheer variety of subjects covered, from fashion design to slide rules, makes it easy to read a chapter at a time without too much inter-chapter dependence. In some cases, there is probably too much detail about related issues not directly affecting the central obsolescence discussion (for example, I feel the chapter on the Cold War deviates a bit too much) but these tangential and background areas are also extremely interesting. Some illustrations - even if only graphs showing trends in e-waste creation - would also probably help attract more casual readers and spread the concern about our obsolescence habits to a wider public. (But then, a lack of illustrations never harmed The Hidden Persuaders' influence; perhaps I'm speaking as a designer rather than a typical reader).

All in all, highly recommended.

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(*It would be interesting, however, to compare the consumerism-driven rapid planned obsolescence of post-war fins-'n'-chrome America with the rationing-driven austerity of post-war Britain: did British companies in this era build their products (often for export only) to last, or were they hampered by material shortages? To what extent did the 'make-do-and-mend' culture of everyday 1940s-50s Britain affect the way that products were developed and marketed? And - from a strategic point of view - did the large post-war nationalised industries in, say, France (and Britain) take a similar attitude towards deliberate obsolescence to encourage consumer spending as many companies did in the Depression-era US? Are there cases where built-in obsolescence by one arm of nationalised industry adversely affected another arm?)

'Anti-Homeless' benches in Tokyo by Dan Lockton

Photo by Yumiko Hayakawa Images from Yumiko Hayakawa

Yumiko Hayakawa has a very thoughtful and well-illustrated article at OhMyNews on the story behind the variety of 'anti-homeless' benches and architectural features (including public art) in Tokyo's parks and public areas - by making it difficult or impossible to lie down. (We've looked briefly before at benches with central armrests before, along with anti-sit devices and of course anti-skateboarding measures - 'disciplinary architecture')

Many of the features, such as the benches shown above and below, are also designed to discourage everyone from spending too long on them, even when sitting normally, by deliberately making them uncomfortable:

"The bench in the photo below may appear to be of modern design, but because of its tubular construction one risks sliding off if not careful.

One should be especially careful if drunk at the time! Made of stainless steel, the benches are hot in summer and cold in winter. The Toshima-ward parks office, which oversees Ikebukuro West Park, home to this bench, describes the bench as "designed to keep with the modern image of the area while at the same time not allowing homeless people to loiter."

Suggestions that the benches were dangerously slippery and also uncomfortable met with the advice that "people should take the utmost care when sitting on them" and that these benches were only something to lean on or sit on for a few minutes.

That is, they want us to regard the bench as "somewhere you can sit if you have to." It makes you wonder who would actually want to sit on such a bench."

Photo by Yumiko Hayakawa

There are examples of bus stop 'perches' and uncomfortable café seating to discourage loitering from many areas of the world, but it does seem as though Tokyo's authorities perhaps see inconveniencing all members of the public as merely collateral damage in a 'war' against the homeless, which itself is more than simply contentious. Nevertheless, people adapt and find their own ways around discipline. Hayakawa interviewed some homeless people about the benches:

"Most common were the "defeatists," who gave up on the grounds that the benches were so uncomfortable that it was easier to just lay down a newspaper and sit on the ground. Next most common were the "optimists," who argued that while they found it a hassle to be unable to sit on benches for a long period of time, it did mean that other park users had to put up with seeing homeless people less. Finally, there were the "innovators," who would lie folding their bodies into a V-shape around the central bench divider, or placing bags on either sides of the divider at the same height, or even placing a camping stove underneath the stainless steel tubular bench above to cook and at the same time warm the bench!"

"Do artefacts have politics?" Langdon Winner asked in 1986; the answer is, of course, yes.

Review: We Know What You Want by Martin Howard by Dan Lockton

A couple of weeks ago, Martin Howard sent me details of his blog, How They Change Your Mind and book, We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind, published last year by Disinformation. You can review the blog for yourselves - it has some fascinating details on product placement, paid news segments, astroturfing and other attempts to manipulate public opinion for political and commercial reasons, including "10 disturbing trends in subliminal persuasion" - but I've been reading the book, and there are some interesting 'architectures of control' examples:

Supermarket layouts

We've seen before some of the tricks used by stores to encourage customers to spend longer in certain aisles and direct them to certain products, but Howard's book goes into more detail on this, including a couple of telling quotes:

"About 80 percent of consumer choices are made in store and 60 percent of those are impulse purchases."
Herb Meyers, CEO Gerstman + Meyers, NY

"We want you to get lost."
Tim Magill, designer, Mall of America

Planograms, the designed layout and positioning of products within stores for optimum sales, are discussed, with the observation that (more expensive) breakfast cereals, toys and sweets are often placed at children's eye level specifically to make the most of 'pester power'; aromas designed to induce "appropriate moods" are often used, along with muzak with its tempo deliberately set to encourage or discourage customers' prolonged browsing. There's also a mention of stores deliberately rearranging their layouts to force customers to walk around more trying to find their intended purchases, thus being exposed to more product lines:

"Some stores actually switch the layout every six months to intentionally confuse shoppers."

The book also refers readers to a detailed examination of supermarket tactics produced by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group in Ontario, The Supermarket Tour [PDF] which I'll be reading and reporting on in due course. It looks to have an in-depth analysis of psychological and physical design techniques for manipulating customers' behaviour.

Monopolistic behaviour

Howard looks at the exploitation of 'customers' caught up in mass-crowds or enclosed systems, such as people visiting concerts or sports where they cannot easily leave the stadium or arena or have time, space or quiet to think for themselves, and are thus especially susceptible to subliminal (or not-so-subliminal) advertising and manipulation of their behaviour, even down to being forced into paying through the nose for food or drink thanks to a monopoly ('stadium pouring rights'):

"One stadium even hindered fans from drinking [free] water by designing their stadium without water fountains. A citizens' protest pressured the management into having them installed."

Patents

The 'remote nervous system manipulation' patents of Hendricus Loos (which I previously mentioned here and here, having first come across them back in 2001) are explained together with a whole range of other patents detailing methods of controlling individuals' behaviour, from the more sinister, e.g. remotely altering brain waves (PDF link, Robert G Malech, 1976) to the merely irritating (methods for hijacking users' browsers and remotely changing the function of commands - Brian Shuster, 2002/5) and even a Samsung patent (1995) which involves using a TV's built-in on-screen display to show adverts for a few seconds when the user tries to switch the TV off.

A number of these patents are worth further investigation, and I will attempt to do so at some point.

The book itself

We Know What You Want is a quick, concise, informative read with major use of magazine/instructional-style graphics to draw issues out of the text. It was apparently written to act as a more visual companion volume to Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion, which I haven't (yet) read, so I can't comment on how well that relationship works. But it's an interesting survey of some of the techniques used to persuade and manipulate in retailing, media, online and in social situations. It's easy to dip into at random, and the wide-ranging diversity of practices and techniques covered (from cults to music marketing, Dale Carnegie to MLM) somehow reminds me of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, even if the design and format of this book (with its orange-and-black colour scheme and extensive clipart) is completely different.

I'll end on a stand-out quote from the book, originally applied to PR but appropriate to the whole field of manipulating behaviour:

"It is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it."
Edward Bernays

'Secret alarm becomes dance track' by Dan Lockton

The Mosquito sound has been mixed (sort of) into a dance track:

"...the sound is being used in a dance track, Buzzin', with secret melodies only young ears can hear.

...

Simon Morris from Compound Security said: "Following the success of the ringtone, a lot of people were asking us to do a bit more, so we got together with the producers Melodi and they came up with a full-length track.

"It has two harmonies - one that everyone can hear and one that only young people can hear.

"But it works well together or separate," he added."

There's a clip linked from the BBC story, or here directly (WMV format). Can't say the "secret melodies" are especially exciting (and yes, I can hear it!) but I suppose it's a clever idea. There could be some interesting steganographic possibilities, and indeed it could be used for 'cheating in tests' as Jason Thomas puts it here.

This is the same Simon Morris who's quoted in an earlier BBC story as saying that teenagers (in general) don't have a right "to congregate for no specific purpose", so it's interesting to see him getting involved with young peoples' music. Nevertheless, I can see the dilemma that Compound Security are in: they've created something designed to be unpleasant for teenagers, but are also capitalising on its potential appeal to teenagers. It's clever, if rather inconsistent branding practice.

Countercontrol: blind pilots by Dan Lockton

Eye In a recent post, I discussed a Spiked article by Josie Appleton which included the following quote:

“Police in Weston-super-Mare have been shining bright halogen lights from helicopters on to youths gathered in parks and other public places. The light temporarily blinds them, and is intended to ‘move them on’, in the words of one Weston police officer.”

A friend, reading this, simply uttered a single word: "Mirror".

What'd happen then? Is the risk of a blinded pilot and a crashed helicopter really worth it?

Or perhaps it's the state, and by extension Avon & Somerset Police (in this case), who are the real blind pilots, attempting to 'guide' society in this way? If not blind, they're certainly short-sighted.

Designed to control rather than enable by Dan Lockton

As Cory Doctorow says, "Your home and life are increasingly full of devices that seek to control, rather than enable you." That, succinctly, is what this website's about: design as something to restrict and control the user, rather than empower and enable. Products that enable you to do less. Products that force you to interact with them in a way which (often) serves someone else's interest rather than your own.

Locking users in by making it difficult to leave by Dan Lockton

eBay's 'My Account' section has no 'Delete account' facility Privacy International has a report, 'Dumb Design or Dirty Tricks?' on the practice of a number of popular websites - most notably eBay and Amazon - of lacking an easy or obvious way for a user to delete his or her account:

"Amazon provided the most blatant example of companies that refuse to provide account delete facilities... creating an account is relatively simple... However nowhere on the site can a customer actually delete an account. A trawl through all the 'useful information' statements ('customer charter', 'privacy notice' and 'privacy policy', 'security guarantee' and even 'sign out from our site') reveals nothing about closing your account, deleting your personal details, or terminating your relationship with Amazon. Even the site's search function is useless for this: you can only search for products for purchase, not for information on how to manage your account. In fact, a search for 'delete account' even points to advertisements from 'sponsors' on how to open bank accounts."

It is, of course, in no way 'dumb design', as the omission and obfuscation is entirely intentional: it is cunning design, frustrating a user's attempts at exerting control by making it hard to leave. Just look at the efforts another high-profile name goes to for customer retention. It's another feature deletion example, similar in spirit to, say, disabling the fast-forward button on PVRs.

(It's unclear exactly what the immediate benefit is to Amazon or eBay to retain customers who want to leave and presumably are not going to be spending any more, except that a bigger customer base allows higher advertising rates, and also, as noted by PI: "The size of an online company’s customer base is a key element of its market value. Maintaining growth of that customer base is therefore a core indicator of their financial worth"; I suppose there is also the likelihood that customers may return at some point, and having an extant account removes one 'hassle' barrier to entry.)

PI believes that the absence of an easy account closure mechanism:

"breach[es] key elements of the Data Protection Act. No customer could reasonably be expected to invest the considerable time and effort required to investigate these sites, nor in our view should any responsible company create such obstacles. ... As a consequence of this research, Privacy International has lodged a complaint with the UK Information Commissioner, requesting a formal investigation. This will be a test complaint, and has been directed at eBay.co.uk, which claims a user base of over ten million UK consumers."

These are interesting examples of systems being designed to restrict users' behaviour for commercial reasons, in an - on the face of it - extremely blatant way. There is some difference between a system which requires continuous payment, such as AOL, being designed to be difficult to cancel, and the eBay/Amazon examples, since the user is not locked in to paying a fee every month. But the effect for the locker-in is the same: more customers retained. There are plenty of parallels in designed-in lock-ins from other industries, from cigarettes and ink cartridges to deliberate software incompatability - even in Web 2.0 - and vendor lock-in generally.

Uninnovate - engineering products to do less by Dan Lockton

Uninnovate.com
Image from uninnovate.com
I've just come across a very interesting new blog, uninnovate.com, which focuses on the phenomenon of "engineering expensive features into a product for which there is no market demand in order to make the product do less." The first few posts tackle 'Three legends of uninnovation' (the iPod's copy restrictions, Sony's mp3-less Walkman, and Verizon's rent-seeking on Bluetooth features), Microsoft's priorities (patching DRM flaws vs. security flaws that actually damage users), Amazon's absurd new Unbox 'service' and 'Trusted' computing for mobile phones. The perspective is refreshingly clear: no customer woke up wanting these 'features', yet companies direct vast efforts towards developing them.

In a sense the 'uninnovation' concept is a similar idea to a large proportion of the architectures of control in products I've been examining on this site over the last year, especially DRM and DRM-related lock-ins, though with a slightly different emphasis: I've chosen to look at it all from a 'control' point of view (features are being designed in - or out - with the express intention of manipulating and restricting users' behaviour, usually for commercial ends, but also political or social).

Uninnovate looks to be a great blog to watch - not sure who's behind it, but the analysis is spot-on and the examples lucidly explained.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation by Dan Lockton

Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems - Hendricus Loos
An image from Hendricus Loos's 2001 US patent, 'Remote Magnetic Manipulation of Nervous Systems'

In my review of Adam Greenfield's Everyware a couple of months ago, I mentioned - briefly - the work of Hendricus Loos, whose series of patents cover subjects including "Manipulation of nervous systems by electric fields", "Subliminal acoustic manipulation of nervous systems", "Magnetic excitation of sensory resonances" and "Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems". A theme emerges, of which this post by Tom Coates at Plasticbag.org reminded me:

"There was one speaker at FOO this year that would literally have blown my brain away if he'd happened to have had his equipment with him. Ed Boyden talked about transcranial magnetic stimulation - basically how to use focused magnetic fields to stimulate sections of the brain and hence change behaviour. He talked about how you could use this kind of stimulation to improve mood and fight depression, to induce visual phenomena or reduce schizophrenic symptoms, hallucinations and dreams, speed up language processing, improve attention, break habits and improve creativity.

...

He ended by telling the story of one prominent thinker in this field who developed a wand that she could touch against a part of your head and stop you being able to talk. Apparently she used to roam around the laboratories doing this to people. She also apparently had her head shaved and tattooed with all the various areas of the brain and what direct stimulation to them (with a wand) could do to her. She has, apparently, since grown her hair. I'd love to meet her."

Now, the direct, therapeutic usage of small-range systems such as these is very different to the discipline-at-a-distance proposed in a number of Loos's patents (where an 'offender' can be incapacitated, using, e.g. a magnetic field), but both are architectures of control: systems designed to modify, restrict and control people's behaviour.

And, I would venture to suggest, a more widespread adoption of magnetic stimulation for therapeutic uses - perhaps, in time, designed into a safe, attractive consumer product for DIY relaxation/stimulation/hallucination - is likely to lead to further experimentation and exploration of 'control' applications for law enforcement, crowd 'management', and other disciplinary uses. I think we - designers, engineers, tech people, architects, social activists, anyone who values freedom - should be concerned, but the impressive initiative of the Open-rTMS Project will at least ensure that we're able to understand the technology.

Some links: miscellaneous, pertinent to architectures of control by Dan Lockton

Ulises Mejias on 'Confinement, Education and the Control Society' - fascinating commentary on Deleuze's societies of control and how the instant communication and 'life-long learning' potential (and, I guess, everyware) of the internet age may facilitate control and repression:

"This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an 'empowering' media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses —more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline."


Slashdot on 'A working economy without DRM?' - same debate as ever, but some very insightful comments


Slashdot on 'Explaining DRM to a less-experienced PC user' - I particularly like SmallFurryCreature's 'Sugar cube' analogy


'The Promise of a Post-Copyright World' by Karl Fogel - extremely clear analysis of the history of copyright and, especially, the way it has been presented to the public over the centuries


(Via BoingBoing) The Entertrainer - a heart monitor-linked TV controller: your TV stays on with the volume at a usable level only while you keep exercising at the required rate. Similar concept to Gillian Swan's Square-Eyes

Planned addiction as a method of control: a parasitic lock-in business model by Dan Lockton

Lighting up The news that tobacco companies have increased the levels of nicotine in their brands over the last few years - especially those popular with certain groups - made me think further about architectures of control:

"The amount of nicotine in most cigarettes rose an average of almost 10 percent from 1998 to 2004, with brands most popular with young people and minorities registering the biggest increases and highest nicotine content... the higher levels theoretically could make new smokers more easily addicted and make it harder for established smokers to quit. ...

Boxes of Doral lights, a low-tar brand made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., had the biggest increase in yield, 36 percent... The nicotine in Marlboro products, preferred by two-thirds of high school smokers, increased 12 percent. Kool lights increased 30 percent. Two-thirds of African American smokers use menthol brands.

...

"The reports are stunning," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "What's critical is the consistency of the increase, which leads to the conclusion that it has to have been conscious and deliberate.""

The classification 'architectures of control' ought rightly to include cigarettes alongside any other product designed to be addictive or to reinforce patterns of users' behaviour. In this sense, any psychoactive drug intended to control/alter users' behaviour must be considered part of the same phenomenon, certainly when it is created or administered with that specific intention. And of course, these are not just designed to be unpleasant, but designed to injure and endanger life (not until revenue's been extracted, of course).

It may seem extreme or inappropriate to link, say, the razor-blade business model with drug addiction (just as it perhaps seemed extreme to put biscuit packaging alongside Henry Porter's 'Blair Laid Bare'), but there are definite parallels. A product is designed with a feature which intentionally locks customers into that product, through making it difficult to switch (for cost reasons, by ingraining habits, or by actual chemical or mental addiction). In the cases of, say, printer cartridges or razor blades, the original products (the printer or razor) require frequent refills/replacement parts. In the case of cigarette addiction, the initial use of the product (the cigarettes) modifies the behaviour of the host (the smoker) so that continued purchases of the products are required.

In fact, is this not a parasitic lock-in business model? How different is a product which deliberately causes addiction to, say, a piece of malware which takes over a user's computer and installs unwanted software, or advertising pop-ups, or, say, phones home regularly and has the potential to hold the user's data to ransom?

From the point of view of educating the wider public (including designers), the cigarette/drug addiction comparison is a good way of immediately highlighting the issue of 'product rights management' as an architecture of control.*

(Washington Post link via A Blog Around the Clock and BoingBoing)

*Wish I'd thought of it at last Sunday's Copyfighters' event!

Spiked: When did 'hanging around' become a social problem? by Dan Lockton

A playground somewhere near the Barbican, London. Note the sinister 'D37IL' nameplate on the engine Josie Appleton, at the always-interesting Spiked, takes a look at the increasing systemic hostility towards 'young people in public places' in the UK: 'When did 'hanging around' become a social problem?'

As well as the Mosquito, much covered on this site (all posts; try out high frequency sounds for yourself), the article mentions the use of certain music publicly broadcast for the same 'dispersal' purpose:

"The Local Government Association (LGA) has compiled a list of naff songs for councils to play in trouble spots in order to keep youths at bay – including Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ and St Winifred’s School Choir’s ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. Apparently the Home Office is monitoring the scheme carefully. This policy has been copied from Sydney, where it is known as the ‘Manilow Method’ (after the king of naff, Barry Manilow), and has precursors in what we might call the ‘Mozart Method’, which was first deployed in Canadian train stations and from 2004 onwards was adopted by British shops (such as Co-op) and train stations (such as Tyne and Wear Metro)."

(I do hope each public broadcast of the music is correctly licensed in accordance with PPL terms and conditions, if only because I don't want my council tax going to fund a legal battle with PPL. Remember, playing music in public is exactly equivalent to nicking it from a shop, and, after all, that's the sort of thing that those awful young people do, isn't it?

I also wonder why there is a difference between a council playing loud music in public, and a member of the public choosing to do so. If kids took along a stereo and played loud music in a shopping centre or any other public place, they'd get arrested or at the very least get moved on.

What would the legal situation be if kids were playing exactly the same music as was also being pumped out of the council-approved/operated speakers, at the same time? It can hardly be described as a public nuisance if it's no different to what's happening anyway.

What if kids started playing the same music as was on the speakers, but out-of-synch so that it sounded awful to every passer-by? Maybe shift the pitch a little (couple of semitones down?) so the two tracks overlayed cause a nice 'drive-away-all-the-customers' effect? What would happen then? What if kids build a little RF device which pulses repeatedly with sufficient power to superimpose a nice buzz on the council's speaker output?)

Anyway, Ms Appleton goes on to note a new tactic perhaps even more extreme than the Mosquito, and a sure candidate for my 'designed to injure' category (perhaps not actually endangering life, but close):

"Police in Weston-super-Mare have been shining bright halogen lights from helicopters on to youths gathered in parks and other public places. The light temporarily blinds them, and is intended to ‘move them on’, in the words of one Weston police officer."

Wow! Roll on the lawsuits. (Nice to know that the local air ambulance relies on charitable donations to stay in the air, while the police apparently have plenty of helicopters available)

The article quotes what increasingly appears to be the official attitude:

"...this isn’t just about teenagers committing crimes: it’s also about them just being there. Before he was diverted into dealing with terror alerts, home secretary John Reid was calling on councils to tackle the national problem of ‘teenagers hanging around street corners’. Apparently unsupervised young people are in themselves a social problem."

As we know from examining the Mosquito, this same opinion isn't restricted to Dr Reid. It was the Mosquito manufacturer Compound Security's marketing director, Simon Morris, who apparently told the BBC that:

“People have a right to assemble with others in a peaceful way... We do not consider that this right includes the right of teenagers to congregate for no specific purpose.

So there you have it. As Brendan O'Neill puts it in a New Statesman piece referenced in the Spiked article:

"...Fear and loathing... is driving policy on young people. We seem scared of our own youth, imagining that "hoodies" and "chavs" are dragging society down. We're so scared, in fact, that we use impersonal methods to police them: we use scanners to monitor their behaviour, we blind them from a distance, and now employ machines to screech at them in the hope they will just go away. With no idea of what to say to them - how to inspire or socialise them - we seek to disperse, disperse, disperse. It will only heighten their sense of being outsiders."