Tag Archives: commitment

„People should have a choice” works both ways

Initiatives to counter unhealthy and destructive habits (smoking, gambling, junk food consumption) by taxing or restricting the addictive goods and services are often opposed with the argument that people should have a choice. One counterargument is that removing temptations from one’s future self is also a choice that people should have. For example, banning oneself from casinos. Similar registries could be instituted to ban oneself from buying alcohol or tobacco – the sales already require checking ID, so all that is needed is to compare the person’s identity against a database. For example, using a machine-readable ID which causes the machine to display “Do not sell” for people who have put themselves on the relevant list. Countries with universal machine-readable identification documents can use their existing systems for this. Examples are the European Union national identity cards.

Other ways to remove temptations from one’s way are restrictions on advertising, eliminating vending machines from a building, liquor stores near schools, alcohol and tobacco from the more visible areas of grocery shops. Just like people should have a choice to block spam emails, calls, web browser ads, they should have a choice to ban street advertising (of addictive goods or anything else) in their residential or work areas. Removing a public ad restricts some people’s right to see it, but empirically most people do not want to see more marketing in public spaces or elsewhere. Symmetrically, displaying a public ad restricts people’s right to avoid seeing it, so the question is how many people’s rights are restricted by banning vs allowing advertising.

The problem of annoying public advertisements may be resolved by smart glasses like Google Glass if these can detect advertisements appearing in the field of view and block these or replace with other images before the user sees these, similarly to how adblock software in browsers works.

Wasteful academic travel

Academics fly around the world to meet coauthors, go to conferences or present seminars. These things could easily be done by videoconferencing, saving money, travel time, environment and productivity lost to jetlag. An objection I have heard is that video calls are not the same thing. What other senses besides sight and hearing do people use to communicate with their colleagues? A handshake maybe. Then build a robotic arm that gives haptic feedback to imitate any person’s hand and that can be used to shake hands at a distance.
If a wall-sized screen disguised at the edges is put in a seminar room and the audience walks in together, it would be a challenge to distinguish a real speaker at the front of the room from a speaker shown on the big screen. Eye tracking software can adjust the screen image as the viewer changes position to give the impression of 3D. Or the audience can wear virtual reality glasses like Oculus Rift.
Other than habit, commitment may be a reason for physical travel. If a person has travelled to give a seminar, the audience would feel embarrassed for not attending. This would be felt less if the presentation is via video and could be recorded. Then the option to watch it later would give people the excuse to constantly postpone watching. If an academic travels to a conference, there are fewer distractions than at home or at work, so a greater chance of actually going to the presentations.
The proliferation of laptops, smartphones and tablets is undermining this commitment – one can attend a talk and not pay attention, checking email or surfing the web instead. Google Glasses would have an even stronger effect: the eyes can be pointed towards the speaker while actually watching and listening something else.