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Nina In New York: Never Look At An Irrelevant Billboard Again

Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Sleep Sheets)

Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Sleep Sheets)

NYC Breakfast

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
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By Nina Pajak

This seems like a big week for strange and potentially unwanted technology. At least, for me it is. Perhaps my antennae are just tuned into this channel right now. But on the heels of the revelation about Ava, the hologram airport terminal staffer, comes a new idea: digital roadside billboards programmed to change displays depending on who is driving by.

You might ask: how is this technologically possible? I have no idea. But OnStar seems to feel they can conjure the necessary voodoo to make this idea a reality.

Of course, they hasten to add, no personal information would be used that isn’t expressly granted by voluntary participants who opt-in. You know, just like all those other places on the Internet that ask you to opt-in and grant permission to access your who the hell knows, because the terms you’re expected to read are too long and dense and most of us are too dumb or busy to even know the true reach of their probe once you click the “yeah okay whatever” button.

So one day, OnStar asks you if you don’t mind sharing some information, you say sure, yadda yadda yadda thirty cars behind you on I95 suddenly see a billboard ad for adult diapers. Or a male enhancement drug. Or a foot fungus remover. Or an online dating site for people who really, really love their cats.

Do you ever pay attention to the little text ads that pop up alongside your Gmail account? It makes you stop and think about what sort of unbelievably personal drivel you and your friends must be writing. I get an inordinate number of ads for various pet stain cleaning supplies and waxing salons in New York. My Facebook profile attracts plugs for clothing, books, and anything and everything having to do with dogs. There’s nothing like seeing your interests whittled down into a few unimpressive keywords.

On the other hand, from an advertiser’s perspective, I can see the enormous appeal of being able to micro-target your audience without wasting a single dollar of your spend. As it is, outdoor ads can be costly, and the payoff is dubious. And consumers, how boring is it to drive past a billboard that doesn’t interest you at all? So boring! Life is too short, right? It’s like, I don’t need to buy a new truck! Why don’t you show me something I care about, like puppies? This will be good for everyone.

So perhaps we can even expand on this concept. Like, forget billboards communicating with cars. Let’s let them communicate with our phones so that posters at bus stops and in subways and on trains can change, too, depending on who is nearest. Or better yet, let’s figure out a way for them to read our minds! I can just imagine the first report of a marriage ending because one of the people accidentally triggered an ad for AshleyMadison.com. Or everyone looking around suspiciously and surreptitiously moving apart when a subway ad for bed bug removal services pops up.

The potential here is incredible.

Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina In New York Archives:

Apartment Hunting Horror Stories

Make That A Quadruple Espresso

Mealbreakers I Have Known

Would You Give Up Sex To Keep Your iPhone?

You Can Find Me At The Dog Run

Fair-er Way