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On the T this morning, I was seated next to a man listening to Marcy Playground (you know, the early 9os Sex & Candy guy). After taking a quiet, reflective moment to get over the fact that Marcy Playground actually recorded multiple songs, I realized just how loud this guy’s iPod was blaring. Now, granted, I only knew he was rocking out to MP because he had his nano perched on his knee and I could read the display, but had I been a bit more familiar with the artist (artist? really? Is that going too far?), I most assuredly would have been able to name-that-tune in under 6 notes.

Now, typically, no big deal. In fact, just last evening I was crammed up next to another commuter on my ride home who I swear had installed some sort of CrazyMonsterSuperSubwoofer inside of his little 1/4″-thick bundle of audio joy. The fact that I could hear muted strains of the Black Crowes didn’t bother me too much at that point, though; I was carrying three grocery bags plus my laptop, and my wool hat was so wet I could smell it.

But this morning, on a relatively quiet early ride inbound, I didn’t want to be thinking about Marcy Playground (I mean, honestly, does anyone? ever?)… I wanted to read my paper; I wanted to halfway listen to the conductor telling me I wasn’t missing my stop; I wanted to casually eavesdrop on the Chatty Cathys yammering next to me. Seriously, whatever– I just wanted him to turn his damn iPod down.

Sitting there with my iPhone and mini green Shuffle in my purse, my iBook in my bag… I was a hater. Not of the device, but of the user behavior.

And honestly, the Mac devotee in me still withstanding, I’m not sure if the two can really be cleaved.

I began to think about how user behavior and digital signage are similarly inextricable… and whose job this is to regulate. The user? The product designer? Or does it get sucked into the regulating manners and mannerisms of the prevailing cultural state?

Now, this thought process may have stemmed from a few different places (and let’s leave out subjective factors like “Jayne is a generally disagreeable person”)…

  • I just finished reading The Perfect Thing by Steven Levy. I won’t turn this into a book review, but I will say that if you found your way to this blog, you probably want to read it; in fact– know what?– you definitely do. Levy, a personal friend of both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, does a fantastic job getting inside product design, company culture, market trends, and –most importantly– the essence of cool.
  • I’ve been wrapped into this discussion on the nature of digital signage, and what makes it effective… or creepy. So, what’s the verdict thus far? Well, the lines have certainly been drawn. While I don’t think the split is as simple as “industry = optimistic, mass audience = pessimistic,” I do think that the industry has much to prove in terms of what they’re going to do to make this medium one that viewers don’t just simply “endure,” but actually embrace and look towards for entertainment and information. I’m not saying that industry insiders (myself included) aren’t willing to take on the challenge… as I believe the responses to the post (21 lengthy, thoughtful comments to date) indicate. I will say, however, that if interactivity is the golden ticket to gaining willing eyeballs, then the relationship between digital signage and its viewers, for the most part, needs some serious therapy (or rather, umm… contemplation). As commenter (and viewer) Henry Lihn remarks, “Please, stop thinking ads, and think, “Hi.” If you master that, try for “would you like to play with me?”


So what does all this have to do with iPod volume on public transportation? Actually, lots:

  • People don’t want other people’s media shoved in their faces. Seems simple, but this is a necessary component of all one-to-many apps. The ipod is primarily a one-to-one device, even if it was originally designed for sharing headphones with one’s (willing) neighbor, but its lessons can be extended outwards. If I feel as if I’ve been accosted by Marcy Playground on my way to work, this should serve as a warning for how much “personal” (i.e. trendy, hyper-specific demo targeting) content should go up on these (very public) boards. I’m of the mind that, in an interactive setting, the more the viewer brings to the experience, the better… even if that means taking a minute or two to figure out where they stand in relation to the medium before engaging.
  • If the US is steadily becoming a more insular, self-absorbed, I-like-what-I-like-and-mass-media-can-go-F-itself culture of “Earbud Recluses” (and, for the sake of this argument, let’s say we are), isn’t it worth noting that digital signage is the best way to tap into these consumers?

It seems that the demands of the Earbud Devoted (and many of us on the periphery of this culture, as I view myself) also serve as an ideal model for an effective manifestation of interactive digital signage. To bring this back to my question about product versus user behavior, here’s my first stab at rectifying the two (and please feel free to throw in your two cents). DS should:

  1. Be customizable, with the ability to tap into the mass market and the long tail with equal ease (channeling iTunes…)
  2. Be disruptive only when I tell it to be.
  3. Be disruptive only to me, and not to my neighbor, unless I initiate the media share.
  4. Give the user the ability to control the medium (it follows that it must be simple to navigate).

Digital signage, in some instances (many of which I’m honored to be a part of), is moving in that direction.

What’s missing? For one, as the commenters on this post have mentioned repeatedly, it’s just not cool yet. We continue to shape the blinking-colorrific-seizure-makers into an interface that invites viewers in (and gives them something useful and enjoyable to do there)… and well, that’s at least a start.

I trust that the savviest among us will find a way to complete the formula.

May as well start here… what ingredients for “cool disruption” did I leave out?

[photo adapted from flickr user Pro-Zac]

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One Response to “I got a new one for ya… How Do You Make Disruption Cool?”

  1. Kirstin Says:

    Actually, MANY people think about Marcy Playground, and frequently. They’re fucking awesome! :)

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