Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mosquito Bites Again

A device called a Mosquito is now on sale, which produces a high-pitched irritating sound, audible only to young people. The idea is to make public spaces such as shopping malls uncomfortable for young people, and therefore discourage them from loitering.

After outraged protest from various interest groups, the manufacturers have now modified the device. It is now capable of producing a range of noises audible to (and therefore irritating to) all ages. The user (in other words, the shopping mall manager) can adjust the pitch according to the people he or she wants to get rid of.

Oh right. I wonder how many of these devices will be set to anything other than the "Young People" setting. Or is the sole purpose of this extra control to deflect criticism? "Oh, it's not our fault if people choose to use this device to harass young people." No, of course not, how could we have thought such a thing?

Source: Now Crime Gadget Can Annoy Us All (BBC News, 2 December 2008)

As a general point here, devices such as cars and consumer electronics, as well as office software, often have fancy controls that are hardly ever used. These controls appear to give more choice and flexibility to the user; but if these controls are never actually used then their real purpose is something else - perhaps to construct some illusion of power. "Look at me, I've got so many knobs and buttons on my dashboard I could be an airline pilot or something."

In the case of the Mosquito, however, the additional control setting could be regarded as a cynical exercise in avoiding responsibility. I'm just hoping that someone accidentally tunes the device to a setting that attracts large numbers of love-sick bats and stray dogs. Or better still rats, like a neat reversal of the Pied Piper story.

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