Resting places

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Carrying something always comes with a cost – whether a physical piece of luggage or the “emotional” kind. There are constant competitors for attention and weight, and this is particularly true (but often forgotten) in a context such as a train station, where passengers are both weighed down with luggage, children, etc., and must have either physical or digital documents readily available for verification – meaning a hand must be “pre-free” for removing and unlocking one’s phone or producing physical tickets.

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In an environment where such constraints and stresses shape behaviors, the points nearest moments of transition – just before and after people enter the building, or as people board or disembark transportation – next time notice the flat surfaces around those points. Unless the cleaning staff is particularly thorough (or just have a knack for timing), you’ll likely see an unwanted beverage container or two (and if your context’s laws allows, traces of cigarettes on the ground).

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What makes this interesting to me is how devices such as this train platform-based mobile device charger are starting to ignore this fairly well-recognized human tendency to abandon temporary-use items around a journey’s transition points in favor of trying to deliver value. In this case, a shelf has been cut out of the otherwise-smooth face of this mobile device charging station to accommodate devices being placed there whilst charging. Of course, how safe one feels being separated from their device in a high-stress (see above) environment full of unfamiliar people is something that varies by individual, culture, and context. It is difficult to make something both welcoming to wait next to and place one’s device upon while simultaneously making such a thing incompatible with having unwanted beverage containers and other waste left on it, particularly of the owners of the charging devices are expected to wait next to them.

Of course, we know that everything comes at a cost, and this isn’t meant to make light of the forces of both “security” and “service” pushing against the placement of more waste receptacles in a given space. The burden of security requires at least peripheral awareness from passengers and employees of the train station so that this “container” doesn’t turn into a way of concealing a weapon. For service, in the end there is always a cost associated with the installation of another touchpoint, in this case the attention required to In this case, proving similar to Chongqing, China the trade-off is difficult to clearly quantify or articulate. How much “better” does another trashcan make this train platform, and does it justify the minuscule increase in the terminal’s shop rents, or train ticket prices, or something else to install a trashcan and have it be maintained by the terminal’s cleaning staff?

For the present day, channel your inner bias and ask yourself what sorts of containers you would expect to be found in a place (and who you would imagine abandoning them there), and what implications such an abandonment would have for the brand to which they belong. While in this case the espresso cups are unbranded, what if they were from a familiar convenience store or purveyor of fast food?

For the future-looking pieces of this puzzle, consider how behaviors will change when the cost and ubiquity of low-power, location-sensing chips has reached a point when they are by default embedded into every fast-food container you purchase. I’m as skeptical of technology-centric panaceas as anyone, but surely an instantly assessed financial penalty for not placing your piece of trash into the proper receptacle will radically realign behaviors around littering, right? Realistically, I’m guessing passive, environmentally-powered wireless charging will come along and make this charger obsolete before that particular feature of a mildly dystopian future comes to pass. Perhaps I’m framing the problem incorrectly, and the best approach would be to make containers (and other “waste”) inherently more valuable such that one would not want to throw it away in the first place – more “carrot” than “stick”.

 

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