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What if you could know everything about your citizens?

The idea that you can know very precisely what consumers or citizens desire, is every business person and urban developers dream. And getting the products and services you truly want, doesn’t sound that bad either. Imagine, that we would already measure every citizens move, desire and outcome. How would that shape our cities?
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Written by: Monte Königs

A comedy theater in Barcelona can give us a small glimpse of what that could look like. That comedy theater is called Teatreneu. There, the entrance is totally free. When you sit down for the show, you’ll see a tablet on selfie mode installed on the seat in front of you. Yes, you will be looking at your own face in selfie mode the whole show. What a treat!

Now imagine sitting there and the first comedian comes on stage. She immediately makes you laugh, out loud. The software on the tablet tracks your facial expressions and the meter on the tablet starts running: one laugh will cost you exactly 30 eurocents. They call it: pay per laugh.

Sounds like a good business strategy, right? Well, this theater is quite friendly because the maximum amount to pay is 80 laughs (=24 euros). So after your eightieth laugh, you can finally laugh for free. Their slogan is ‘The only comedy theater where you only pay for what you consume.’

Pay per laugh is a perfect example of what we like to call the you know me-principle. The rising expectation of the consumer, visitor or citizen that organisations have the data, sensors and software to know exactly what they want and how and when they want it. The newest development is not only tracking past behaviour and preferences but also identities, personality traits and real time emotions.

Creating a wide range of possibilities: cars that wake you up when you fall asleep while driving, online retailers that can accurately predict what you will buy next and start the shipping before you even put out your order or streets that can recognise a citizen that is too lonely.

The you know me-principle is very exciting. At the same time, we all also immediately recognise the social and ethical challenges when it comes to privacy, personal freedom, social equality and inclusiveness and the general idea of being tracked. The technology has abilities that far exceed any national or international law and it is very questionable if current law can even cover these issues.

What makes matters even more pressing is that the you know me-principle can be very lucrative. Pay per laugh attracted 35% more spectators and the average price of the tickets (compared to traditional tickets) increased by 6 euros. Teatreneu seems to have implemented pay per laugh only temporarily as a direct and political statement in reaction to the Spanish government raising the tax for theatrical shows form 8% to 21%, resulting in 30% less visitors in that year.

It would have been fascinating to study how pay per laugh has effected the quality of the comedy, the experience of the audience and the mental state of the comedians on stage. What effects are we creating by following the you know me-principle?

Now is the time to decide how we want principles like you know me and the technology behind it to shape our future cities. And more importantly: what mindset, skills and structures do we need, to actually be in control of how these effects shape our urban life?

We will talk more about that at Evolve Arena 2019

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