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iPhone + RedLaser + Where's George = Cultural Enlightenment?

I came across RedLaser last week, an iPhone app that uses the camera to scan barcodes, then looks up related information on the net. I got excited because it reminded me of an idea I logged in big arse in '05: Something like Where's George for tracking the life of objects. It would work by showing you the origin of the thing (say your favorite tennis shoe), the town (in China) it was made in, who made it, the shipping history, and where it might end up (landfill or recycling). My thinking is that, by learning the path, impact, and energy use that goes into almost everything around us, we might question our lifestyle and buying choices. The connection: RedLaser is the front end!

The system would be a wikipedia-style open and collaborative effort, part Sherlock Holmes, part anonymous whistle-blower (insider documentation/pics).

I'm curious: What do you think? What incentive schemes might work in these cases?

(Image representing Buy Nothing Day via the fun Computer History page.)

Reader Comments (5)

Matt, you'd be interested in Bruce Sterling's idea of the "spime": http://boingboing.net/images/blobjects.htm

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Rice

Thanks a bunch, Adam! I love new words and phrases :-) From the link:

The next stage is an object that does not exist yet. It needs a noun, so that we can think about it. We can call it a "Spime," which is a neologism for an imaginary object that is still speculative. A Spime also has a kind of person who makes it and uses it, and that kind of person is somebody called a "Wrangler." At the moment, you are end-using Gizmos. My thesis here, my prophesy to you, is that, pretty soon, you will be wrangling Spimes.

P.S. Your http://www.goodreads.com/ link is broken: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/sudama

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

My first reaction: neat idea!

My second: this might backfire, and influence people to feel self-righteous and later act MORE irresponsibly:

"Through a series of experiments, Mazar and Zhong drew the following distinction between two kinds of exposure to green: When it’s a matter of pure priming (i.e., we are reminded of eco products through words or images), our norms of social responsibility get activated and we become more likely to act ethically afterwards. But if we take the next step and actually purchase the green product (thereby aligning our actions with our moral self-image), we give ourselves the go-ahead to then slack off a little and engage in subsequent dishonest behavior." -- [ Predictably Irrational blog | http://www.predictablyirrational.com/?p=675 ]

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGavin Andresen

Hey, Gavin! Really interesting point. A commenter on that post suggested whether praying first thing in the morning causes sinful behavior the rest of the day... I'll have to try it.

In this case, would it depend on whether the person bought the thing or not? Say they decided to skip the Nike and go with, I don't know, the US-made recycled tire shoe. That would be the same, ok. But what if they were to forgo purchasing completely?

Thanks for the comment.

P.S. How are things down under?

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell
[from Edward Jung selfreliantguy@gmail.com http://tinyurl.com/2dotfa4]

I've downloaded a familiar iphone app http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/for-sure-hiccup-cure/id386592949?mt=8#/ like this before. Sadly it did not work :( or it wasn't working the way it should.
October 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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