Designing Around the Human That Can’t Put Their Phone Down

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@nworeport

This is probably one of the most fascinating and infuriating designs I’ve seen in a long time. People have become so ingrained in their phones – even whilst walking across a busy street – that a Dutch town has started putting in pedestrian stop lights. No, it is not the same as the universal red blinking hand and white person walking signaling we see everywhere (like the photo above). It is even more obnoxious than that.

Several cities across Europe have started to adopt in-the-ground lighting that coincide with the traffic lights above. Here are some visuals:

So, why are we starting to do this? Well, turns out, people – might I add those who are not the brightest light bulbs in the box – have started walking across intersections while looking down at their phones. Like I said…not the brightest.

Designers being the cool people that they are, have now solved for this problem by putting lights below. Now, lazy people who don’t want to look up from their devices, can walk safely across the road without even having to try. How amazing! Let’s stop teaching our kids we have to look both ways before crossing the street. Brilliant.

As you can tell, I’m not super happy about this. This is a great example of ingenious design, and yet, people are balking. Several boards for these cities have said this is merely “rewarding bad behavior.” And I’d have to agree. I listened to a podcast the other night that had discussed the benefits and possible downfalls of artificial intelligence in the future. One of the researchers had said people often fear the one on one experience individuals will have with robots. But what he is concerned about, is the interactions people will have with other people once they’ve interacted with AI.

For example, he mentioned children talking to Siri/Alexa/Google in an authoritative tone without using pleasantries. “Siri, play me this song.” “Alexa, remind me to do this tomorrow.” “Google, tell me what ____ is.” All without one please or thank you. Children are (hopefully) taught at a young age to use pleasantries because it’s the right way to treat people. It’s polite. What starts to happen when children get what they want from AI by being rude? Will they start to be rude to other kids on the playground, bossing them around and hoping for obedient results? “Suzy, give me the ball.” Kids are ruthless enough as it is.

To be fair, I had never thought about this so poignantly. We see robots revolt in action movies after mistreatment and humans kill off robots after they’ve gotten too powerful. All of that is fairly black and white, and physical too. Easy to digest and predict. But what I’ve failed to see fleshed out, is this nuanced ripping of our social fabric like this scientist theorizes.

Now, I’m not suggesting this pedestrian lighting initiative is tearing apart the way of life. But I am suggesting people should look up from their damn phones because that’s gonna rip apart social fabric real quick. It’s already begun.

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