Why Is This Man Smiling?

How many times has this happened to you? You're in a movie theater or church, and cell phones keep ringing. The girl in seat 36C is surreptitiously talking on her cell phone as the flight takes off. Or, worst of all, you notice that the creepy guy in the men's locker room is holding a digital camera.

Well, those things have happened to me plenty of times. So I was intrigued when Ars Technica reported that Microsoft has recently applied for a patent entitled, Mobile Device Manners Propagation and Compliance. "The claimed invention is a technology that would disable certain features on electronic devices like cell phones, digital cameras and DVRs, or disable the device entirely. The patent application cites some fairly obtuse examples such as "particular zones to limit the speed and/or acceleration of vehicles, to require the use of lights, to verify an indication of insurance coverage and/or current registration, or the like."

There are some interesting questions here. Are "Digital Manners" a good thing or a bad thing? In today's world of electronic rudeness, are manners even possible? And are you willing to risk the possibility of Orwellian intrusion?

After thinking about it for awhile (ie. five seconds) I have decided that I vehemently oppose this application. I hope the patent examiner is reading this - please - find some prior art and reject this thing. Yes, I don't like cell phones in movie theaters, nor do I like the girl in 36C, and I certainly don't like creepy guys. But I also don't like technology that, without my permission, defeats functionality that I paid for. I also don't like a technology that disrupts the ER's call to my cardiologist's phone while he's in church.

The fact is that it's a lost cause. Digital Manners won't bring civility to our world because that particular genie left the bottle long ago. Instead, it will only bring lawsuits (for example, your babysitter is frantically calling you and her call is blocked because you are in a hospital's "quiet zone"). Finally, I really don't like the totalitarianism that such technology would certainly engender. Police departments that can disable video cameras whenever they make an arrest, or speed traps that automatically slow down my vehicle. Frankly, all this seems very retro. Like an idea from some 1950's film clip about how technology will make the future world a perfect place. Been there, done that. Doesn't work. Scary.

The photo, BTW, is of Eric Arthur Blair.-Ken C. Pohlmann

Ars Technica