Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You can't tag a teen

Now I'm all for a bit of geo-tagging. Stuff that not only has its place in the world, but let's you know precisely what that place is, seems pretty cool.

The geo-tagged photos on Flickr and the geo-tagged twitterings on Twitter - accessible to developers through open APIs - have given rise to the brilliantly pointless Flickrvision and Twittervision, which present a Web 2.0 version of watching the world go by.

Geo-tagging is also new-best-friends with mobile. The latest smartphones, and everything (calls, SMS, other data) that comes out of them, is, or can be, geo-tagged. (Strictly speaking, this isn't a new thing - complicated calculations based on triangulation or something have long enabled the location of mobile users, but the addition of GPS functionality makes it all much simpler and more accurate).

It seems that not a week goes by without some self-styled marketing industry prophet (not me, honest) forecasting mass demand for location-based mobile services. Apparently, uber-consumers - the sort who regularly suffer a price / existential crisis in the chilled dairy aisle at Milton Keynes Tesco Extra - will soon be demanding geo-specific recommendations and price comparisons, so that they can walk half a mile across town to save 4p on a Yakult multipack.

All well and good.

But the purveyors of geo-tagging technology and geo-tagged goods have a tendancy to get a little over-zealous in their apparent pursuit of a 100% geo-tagged panacea. (Imagine a world where hide-and-seek ceases to require traditional seeking skills).

Can't forsee a geo-armageddon? Then read this.

Seriously, what teenager is going to agree to leave the house wearing a $300 geo-tagged coat? I've written previously about how kids' neurobiology can be altered by their early experience of digital media, but it will take one hell of a video game to indoctrinate them into the cult of parental surveillance.

I can only assume that some entrepreneurial type observed the willingness of Diginative teens to accept parent-bought mobile phones and the obligation to call home every 2 hours in exchange for increased liberty and a pocket full of gadget, and concluded that geo-tagged clothing would be likewise welcomed by Western youth. Unfortunately this reasoning fails to consider the possibility that said kids are only happy to accept said offer because it represents de facto permission to do whatever the hell they want, whilst keeping to a strict lying schedule.

Escaping the parental radar is a fundamental part of growing-up. Excessive attempts to monitor and control teen behaviour promote what scientist call reactance, otherwise known as doing-the-opposite-of-what-you're-told-to.

So those parents who purchase geo-tagged coats can expect their kids to refuse to wear the coat; to leave it at a friend's house whilst they roam the streets; to hack the GPS system; to do anything other than give big-mother the opportunity to watch over their every move.

I guess it comes down to this: successful applications of any technology - those which find mass adoption - tend to augment natural human behaviour and pervasive lifestyle choices, not battle against them. This is especially the case with teens, as evidenced by a recent global study of digital youth, commissioned by MTV.

Rant over.

I'll get my (non-geo-tagged) coat.

1 comment:

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