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28 or more cameras

On the Henry Hudson Bridge to New York are very stern signs warning, “No Photography”. This is undoubtedly for our own security, as bad guys might take photos to case the bridge. Unfortunately for the security folks, the bridge is surrounded by literally hundreds of apartments, each one of which has a window from which highly detailed telephoto pictures could easily be taken.

The sign to the left is almost 5 feet tall and greets visitors in the lobby of a very expensive office building on the East Side of Manhattan. Not sure where they got the number 28, or why they need to be precise, except that they are clearly trying to tell me a story. The cheesy ALL CAPS lettering ads to the urgency. This is the same story that buildings in New York use when the guy at the front desk asks to see your driver’s license before allowing you to be admitted. How does having a driver’s license change anything? It doesn’t, of course. The act of stopping to show it does.

The implications of lying about security and telling stories to make us feel better is expensive indeed. We’re spending billions in cash (and untold billions in lost time and productivity) pretending to do something, when all we’re really doing is changing the way people feel. At the same time, we ignore the low-profile but high-value acts of, say, inspecting air cargo.

Obviously, we’re not going to eliminate the need to tell stories. What we ought to do, though, is figure out more effective (low-cost and high-impact) ways to tell better stories. El Al (Israel’s airline) for example, dispenses with obvious uses of technology and instead grills passengers at random. It’s not clear to me that the conversations are the answer–it’s the way the conversations make the other passengers feel that matters.