30 July 2010


Prohibition relies on controlling access – stopping someone from accessing something. So far, access to alcohol and tobacco has been determined solely by age – well the age you look at least. The system isn’t exactly nuanced – a day younger than the magic age of 18 and it’s totally prohibited, a day older and you can have as much as you like. As for ‘controlled’ drugs, the spectre of addiction has made their total prohibition politically expedient for successive governments.

With growing concern over anti-social drunken behaviour and the medical effects of alcohol abuse, and millions taking drugs recreationally each weekend, the present simplistic legislative controls are deemed to have failed.

Technological developments enable much ‘finer grained’ access control at reduced cost, and a generation of young people who’ve grown up with various PINs, chips and contact-less readers are more used to electronic monitoring. In collaboration with powerful drinks and tobacco lobby groups, the government introduces the ‘Charm System’ (named after the charms from charm bracelets), initially rolled out for those who’ve just turned 16. Every young person fills out a self-assessment or visits their GP to determine levels of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco that are medically and socially acceptable. They are then issued with ‘Charms’ (small RFID/Chip&PIN cards) for each class of drug. Using these they can buy up to their agreed amounts of alcohol, tobacco, or ‘drugs’, at ‘reduced’ levels of tax, reflecting the reduced cost to society of a healthy level of consumption. It’s still possible to make purchases without using a charm, or if your allowance for that day or week is used, it’s just prohibitively expensive

Is this prohibition by stealth? The personalisation of prohibition that goes hand in hand with the personalisation of medicine? A mature legislative response to an important social problem? Or the continuing rise of nanny government?

Commission from The Future Laboratory.

‘Dear Hamish Johan Thwaites,

Congratulations on turning sixteen.
As a young person you are now entitled to licensed use of controlled substances. Her Majesty’s Government understands these can be pleasurable, however they are dangerous and used in excess they cause damage to yourself, your family, your children (should you already/choose to have them), and our society. This letter includes your license to use these substances, & some electronic ‘charms’ that enable you to purchase a pre-agreed amount of these at reduced tax rates.

Your GP consultation found these levels of alcohol, tobacco and ‘drugs’ (cocaine, THC, amphetamines) as sensible for YOU at the present time. You may arrange to have these levels reassessed in six months time. These levels have been determined for YOU specifically, taking into account your age, weight, genetic predisposition, and current lifestyle & circumstances, and cannot be applied to other people.

Each time you purchase alcohol, tobacco, or drugs in a premises or off-licence you should present the corresponding charm. It will record your purchase and will display how much of your agreed allowance you’ve bought so far that day, or week. Purchases within your agreed allowance attract lower rates of tax. Purchases beyond your agreed allowance, or made without a charm attract higher rates of tax.

Her Majesty’s Government wants you to enjoy a pleasurable and fulfilling life. The charm system has been implemented to enable you to do so, without causing damage to your health, the health of children, or our society.

We wish you all the best for your future.’

30 July 2008

(RCA brief)

From the back cover: These days the world can be a confusing place for a child! And no wonder – the remotely operated objects they encounter in their day-to-day lives can sometimes seem very lifelike. This light hearted book teaches children about the reality of remote workers, and the machines they control all around us.

Despite wildly increasing power, general Artificial Intelligence remains, as it has for decades, ’50 years away’. Robots lack common sense, and still can only perform the simplest of tasks in the uncontrolled spaces in which we live and work.

I suggest that economics and developments in remote control technology will create a new kind of migrant labour. Teleoperation will enable common sense physical jobs to be outsourced to countries with the lowest pay and lowest costs of living. Workers will live in one country while working via remote in another.

This children’s book and video explores the scenario from ‘both sides of the wire’.

(RCA industry project)

A service design project for Intel about the advent of E-Money…

Out of sight out of mind…
If we lose the physical tokens of money do we also lose our ‘feel’ for it? Handing over solid coins and elaborately decorated paper is replaced by a wave and an electronic beep – spending becomes less significant and we become more prone to impulse.

E-money = information.
In much the same way as supermarkets use loyalty cards to profile our spending with them, perhaps our e-wallets will record the details of our every purchase. And with information comes control – of others, and perhaps of ourselves.

You are what you buy.
Obesity, lung cancer from smoking, alcoholism, even depression. In a sense these illnesses are purchased. Most people know what kind of lifestyle will make them healthy and happy, but impulse gets in the way – another drink, a cigarette, that shiny new product you can’t afford. But if your wallet stops you from being able to pay for the things you know are bad for you…

E-money presents exciting opportunities for public health.

Future Sky Advertising

E-money, RFID and low power e-ink displays present new opportunities for active marketing materials. Touching your e-wallet to the leaflet displays a personalised price, and touching it again allows you to buy on impulse…

Public Fiscal Health Warning

E-money makes spending invisible, and marketing techniques become ever more refined.

“The psychological arms race between consumers and marketers has been decisively won; the majority of consumers have lost control of their spending.”

The government naively introduces ‘Fiscal Health Warnings’.

The National Fiscal Health Service Logo

The NFHS an offshoot of the UK’s National Health Service is founded. It’s remit: To treat diseases of affluence through prescribed spending.

NFHS Prescription

A patient and their consultant agree on a variety of restrictions and prescriptions. The patients’ e-wallet is programmed to deny transactions for pre-agreed items, or to set aside money for specific things. So in a rational moment you decide what you’re able to do in the future…

The NFHS has helped combat physical diseases of affluence [e.g. obesity], addictions [e.g. smoking], and significantly has aided the fight against depression.

Energy Futures examines potential forms of everyday energy consumption in the future. Learning from the field of future studies, the project is based in an examination of contemporary social trends and forecasts of possible energy futures. Drawing this into the realm of design, the project revisits the physical manifestations of behaviors and beliefs around everyday electricity consumption. The central concern has been to explore – and design for – a transition between the familiar now and the extreme future. In the form of provocative designs, presented as a (super)fictive reality, Energy Futures asks us to rethink – and, perhaps, to debate and change – our relation to energy consumption.

From the introduction to the project documentation by Dr. Ramia Mazé.

Energy Futures was done with Aude Messager and Basar Onal while we were interns at the Design Research Unit led by Dr Ramia Maze, at the Interactive Institute, Stockholm. It is part of Switch!, a design research program at the Interactive Institute sponsored by the Swedish Energy Agency.

We use electricity as and when we need it, without regard for any other factors. This convenience allows us to minimise the influence of natural conditions, like the time of day or night or the weather, on our routine. This unquestioned convenience also requires energy generators to maintain the capacity to cope with large peaks in demand. Smart grids and appliances have been developed to automatically help smooth these peaks, and some building climate control systems adjust themselves according to weather forecasts transmitted over the internet. But it’s interesting to speculate on adjusting their behaviour. If solar and wind generation do become substantial sources of energy (as is the hope), perhaps people wouldn’t mind altering their plans accordingly – especially once given enough information to do so.

The energy forecast suggests a future where ‘flick of the switch convenience’ is still around, but isn’t the overriding value. Variation to the pace of life caused by changes in the environment have been integrated into modern life.

We speculated about a future tradition emerging around energy use, an annual day which acknowledged the complexity inherent in peoples’ attempts to save energy, in order to fractionally reduce emissions they can’t see, while living in a consumer society.

Our traditional day would be held at the end of the summer. The idea would be to not use any electrical power, with friends and family getting together to cook an evening meal outside. All the electrical objects in your home would be wrapped up in white paper and paper tape. This means they can’t easily be used, but also gives these everyday items an abstract shape. The blankness of these transformed objects invites a consideration of their ‘place’. In addition, the wrapping-up reflects the unwrapping of gifts at Christmas. We imagined that some products might perhaps remain wrapped and unused for the three months to Christmas, and so becoming a reminder to not buy further unnecessary products.

The smoke produced by the whole neighbourhood cooking outside would combine into a haze, added to by ‘smoke decorations’. This makes the atmosphere ‘visible’. We see that our actions en-masse can effect the atmosphere – in this case producing a pretty red sunset (given the right conditions), and metaphorically bringing the emissions usually produced elsewhere in the generation of power, to the areas where that power is actually used.

“The objects are ‘socket bombs’. Socket bombing involves purposefully causing a short circuit in a buildings’ electrical mains. This trips the circuit breakers and so cuts the power to all the electrical sockets on that circuit.

The activists use cheap timer switches – by wiring a loop of cable between the Live and Earth pins of the plug, a short circuit is caused when the timer switches to ‘On’. Plugging these devices in to sockets in the public areas of buildings, the pirates can cause the main circuit breakers in the building to trip at a pre-set time, cutting power to many of the other electrical outlets in the building. Similar devices are used to cut the power to lights, and when a number of such devices are synchronised the power within an entire building can be cut.

The activists claim benign intent, and while no injuries have been caused thus far, it can cost money and create chaos when, for instance the power to the checkouts at a supermarket is cut.

The power remains cut until the device has been located and unplugged. The activists use this to create further inconvenience by plugging the devices in to sockets in out of the way areas like behind desks, seats, or display stands. ”

The concept of Energy Security is as much an issue as global warming in some political discourses around energy. This implies that energy use could become a highly charged political issue. The politicisation of energy fed in to our ‘creation’ of the Socket Bombers, imagined as an activist group of the near future.

With this scenario we wanted to draw attention to the physical interconnectedness of the electrical distribution network, and our strangely unguarded access to it in many public buildings.

More important though are the motivations of the socket bombers. Do they target institutions who use energy ‘wastefully’, or those that buy their electricity from sources to which they object? A shopping centre whose supplier is investing in coal fired power stations? Government buildings after the passing of an unpopular energy bill? And what of the response from the institutions – locks on all electrical outlets?

“At last! Energy Independence and Great Looks from just one mildly invasive procedure!

These days we do more, but what we do has changed – instead of grinding corn we crunch numbers! And while no-one told our bodies, there’s a supermarket round every corner… so there’s just no need to store the excess energy from our food and drink as unsightly fat.

The ‘Umbilicus’ device updates our bodies for our 21st century environment. It contains friendly bacteria, engineered to metabolise fats and lipids into electrical energy – power for the devices we rely on for our work and play. So you can eat, drink and be merry, safe in the knowledge your body is putting those calories to work.

Umbilicus – total energy freedom.”

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