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Break's Over, Let's Talk Morphing Environments
7.8.2001 by JP

Ok, the break is over, I’m back but this time things are going to be different, no more Mr. Pretend Journalist Man, no more wussing out and not printing funny stuff and no more missing self-imposed deadlines. Here’s the deal, this is no longer an interview column, it’s “JP’s funtime happy column of joy” though the name will remain BLAG because I’m too lazy to change all that HTML. Actually this column will still focus mainly on technology and web-related stuff because that’s the kind of stuff I’m into but it’s going to lose the stupid formal attitude it’s had in a few columns and adopt a more chillin’, friendly tone because that’s how I am in real life. The column may also get a messy room, try to breath fire and begin to idolize weird things like silver Volvo station wagons but don’t fret, it’s perfectly natural. My column will still feature some interviews but maybe once or twice a month, every week is just too demanding and as a result the quality sufferers so from now on this column will adopt a much more free-form type feel and I hope you like it. Without further ado then, my thoughts on morphing environments:

Yesterday I got to thinking, which is what one does when one is doing dishes alone for 8 hours, especially when the one in question is me. So anyway, I was thinking and what I was thinking about was my future because if I wash dishes every again after this summer it’ll be too soon. So I’m thinking about my future and my future involves going to George Brown College in Toronto next year to study restaurant management because someday (within the next 5 years hopefully) I’d like to open a restaurant. So I’m thinking about restaurant concepts when I realise without too much thought that restaurants have a severely broken feedback loop in that there are very few ways for the restaurant owner to know if people like what’s being dished out, what the music is like, the lighting, the atmosphere, their waiter, the hair in their soup or the head it’s attached to. Certainly there are some feedback mechanisms in place such as direct customer feedback to the waiters and management, also tips are a feedback mechanism for the waiters but beyond those there’s nothing to influence the overall atmosphere of the place, the price of the food, the actual menu itself or even the temperature of the restaurant itself. So like I said, I was thinking and what I thought up was a concept called “Morphing Environments”. Now before you jump all over me I’m sure someone’s thought this through and come up with a different name and a concept that might actually work but hey, there aren’t all that many research materials in the dish-pit, just this computer.

Morphing Environments as I see them are this:

What if a restaurant or bar or public gathering place of any type had a perfect or near-perfect feedback loop? What would happen is that in a quasi-democratic way the environment would change to accommodate the people within it. Now, what environmental variables can be changed on the fly? Music and lighting seem the obvious choices here so let’s tackle those. For music I propose a computer with a massive hard-drive full of mp3s sorted by genre, on each table there would be yes/no buttons as well as a dial for volume, the volume of the music could be controlled by the average of the dial positions on each table, certain areas could be quieter than others as each speaker would be controlled separately. The type of music played would basically be voted on by people in the restaurant with the yes/no buttons while the song in question was playing, if they liked it, we play more of that type, if not, play something random and see how the responses correlate with the other genres and go from there. All other votes could be placed on a big screen or something and voted on as they appeared, to give people incentive to vote they’d get a 10% discount on their meal or perhaps points towards free food should they respond to a certain percentage of questions put forth.

“Should be get more couches?”
“Should we fire Larry?”
“Should we offer cheap wings on Tuesdays or Fridays?”

Other variables such as food price, quantity etc… could be monitored via computerized stats on how long people take to eat, how much food’s left on their plates, what’s ordered most often etc… Basically this would turn out to be the geekiest restaurant ever but I can live with that. The places would obviously also have massive websites where you could check the environmental variables before heading down for the night. This sort of place would build a great community because the regulars would be the ones who’d help shape the place.

Here’s the beauty though, if you were to successfully develop a formula for a restaurant employing some really good feedback mechanisms to “morph” the environment as the customers see fit you could plunk one down pretty much anywhere and it would change to meet the needs of it’s environment, some might change to resemble a McDonald’s while others might become funky jazz clubs.

The biggest problem a place like this would encounter would be the huge amounts of time, energy and money spent to collect and analyse the wads of data collected. Hopefully that would be paid for by the scads of people who would be lined up outside on opening day to witness the future of the restaurant biz, publicity courtesy of Wired Magazine and the like, naturally.

Tell me what you think of this crazy idea, go to the forum now!

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