Published on bearblog

You block ads in your browser, why not in your city?

Ads are annoying, right? Getting right in your face and shouting for your attention when all you want to do is something else - when you get an unskippable ad before a video to watch; when you’re reading an article and an ad pops up over the writing; when somebody you had trusted endorses something that you and they both know is bunk. This badvertising is a scourge on modern society and a manifestation of all that’s wrong about suveillance capitalism.

That’s not to say that adverts are evil, or that they have no place. But they must be in their place. When you’re reading in the hypothetical yellow pages, that’s advertising. Or when you’re walking down the high street, looking in shop windows; advertising again. Or a specialist magazine; instagram channel or even so called content marketing. They’re all adverts, but they are in their place. Both the advertiser and the viewer get value out of the interaction - enough that you seek them out yourself.

Now, in some ways technology is the great equaliser of our time: the same tech that allows ever more complicated and pervasive badvertising also allows ever more complete and simple de-badvertising. The good citizen of the net makes technology work for them: they install uBlock Origin and SponsorBlock to protect their web browser, and then set up a Pi-hole to reduce badvertising outside of the confines of the open web. The better citizen sets these same protections up for their family, and supports and contributes to the development of better tools. And they pay for services when to do so is not just to feed the beast.

Now, while this equilibrium persists on the net, in real life the badvertisers have been taking advantage of just as many technological improvemements: internet control and management; high intensity LED illumination; pervasive video, animation, and sound; smartphone and facial tracking and many more advantages alike. Our cities are being turned into a dystopian nightmare - as shopping moves online: MORE ADVERTS to sell you on existing shops; when there’s a funding crunch in local government: MORE ADVERTS to bring in the revenue; when that isn’t enough: MORE ADVERTS just for the sake of it. And with all this new technology, these ads aren’t just some posters or billboards, but rather aggressive and intrustive screens that sap the real life from the city; replacing it with an artifical reminder of the corporate landscape you live in.

Blocking ads may work online, but unless you spend your life in VR goggles, one cannot apply technical solutions alone. But don’t tell yourself that you can’t block adverts in real life - just think about how the ads got there. The good citizen in real life fights the planning applications for new adverts; they tell their local politicians about the damage badverts cause; they fund campaign groups to tell others the same. Make a conscious decision to avoid adverts, and enjoy your life more. Do the science that explains to advertisers exactly why these badverts don’t help them sell. Technologists too: use the benefits of modern technology to multiply your effort, shut down the adverts sooner.

Above all else, don’t take advertising as a given. It’s your choice, and you can help choose no for your city.

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