Weak protocol hacking

Rory Sutherland:

… a restaurant in France were going to put up a notice saying ‘Mobile phones not allowed’. But it’s kind of a Michelin-starred place and it’s a bit weird bossing your customers around. It tends to create reactants, where people immediately think of a reason why this rule doesn’t apply to them. You know, oh it’s important my children can get hold of me, or something like that.

Now 99.9% of people would have put up that notice. This restaurant didn’t. They found a spot where the notice was ostensibly targeted at people leaving the restaurant, but was completely visible to everybody walking in. What the notice said was ‘Please remember to turn your cell phone back on when you leave. Thank you’.

What they did is they created an implicit social norm which their au naturel, sophisticated customers would not dream of violating by, for instance, making loud calls about the NASDAQ in the middle of a Michelin-starred meal. It basically made people feel, ‘I’d better turn my phone off because that’s what everybody else is doing, and it would look a bit naff not to do so’.

From: It’s time to embrace the mess

That’s an interesting design pattern to become more aware of. I feel like you see it come up a lot in a variety of messages and conversations. Like before a movie if someone says “please remember to silence your cell phones” instead of “please silence you cell phones” that’s a variant of the same pattern where they’re placing responsibility on guests to remember something instead of implying they’re unaware of a rule. (Though it’s still more abrupt vs. the message in the restaurant to directly instruct people to do something.)

The indirect messaging also makes me think of indirect communication as part of Southern culture in the US, but I feel like my experiences with it have been more subtle than some of the generalizations I read about online.

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This reminds me of the quiet and ongoing replacement of “no signs” with “yes signs” I’ve seen on roadways. Maybe the idea that we don’t like being told what to do is slightly wrong, in the sense that we prefer that over being told what not to do. Even though any command on what to do almost always eliminates some other available path.


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