Pay by the laugh, seriously

It's_enough_to_make_a_horse_laugh,_1896A Barcelona comedy club is experimenting with technology that allows it to charge patrons per laugh.

Each laugh is charged at 0.3 euros, with a hilarity cap of 24 euros for the night. The club’s overall takings have gone up, which either means they’ve got some funny people performing or they’ve got the pricing just right. The system is apparently now being copied in other theaters.

It’s interesting to contemplate whether this could work with more serious shows. Could the Sydney Theatre Company start to refund on ticket prices based on every time you yawn during a performance?

But seriously, what’s interesting about this is that we’re just beginning to see technology create new ways of charging for things. Until now technology has been used to incrementally improve the way payments are made: Waving my credit card is easier that swiping and signing, electronic tolls beat stopping and getting a little bit of paper, and so on. All smoothing the wheels of commerce, but nothing fundamentally different from what went before. Here in Sydney the best example of this is the new Opal card system which remains fundamentally hobbled by its religious adherence to an awkward and outmoded interchange system.

But the advent of cheaper more powerful technology and in particular wireless connected to the cloud makes for new possibilities. Charging by the laugh is one example. Microsoft has a patent detailing how its Kinect could count the number of people in your living room watching a movie and charge appropriately. Car-sharing scheme’s are basically pay-per-use cars. The rise on co-shared business spaces are pay-per-use offices. What about a pay-per-wash home washing machine?

The technology is here today to start revolutionising the way we pay for things. What has still to catch up is the politics and social implications of using that technology. There was talk earlier this year of using GPS to track all cars on the road and charge for each kilometer driven; not hard with today’s technology, but the government was quick to state that no government would ever support such a proposal. That’s got to be a political ‘ever’, because we’re clearly at the edge of some significant changes to the way we do things.

While this sort of thing spreading is going to be interesting to watch, I’m not at all sure I want to be rationing my laughs for the evening, or contemplating that laughing at a show is a sign of being well-off. I can’t see pay-per-laugh really catching on, but more generalised pay-per-something certainly seems to be where we are going and I can’t help but think that we’re all going to wake up one day  and realise that there’s been a fundamental shift the in the way we do things that we really didn’t see coming or contemplate the full implications of.

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