To make a long story short, the sign started out as ''John Thompson, Hatmaker. Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money,'' and below the words, a drawing of a hat. Eventually, after all the different suggestions he received from his well-intentioned friends, poor Mr. Thompson’s sign got whittled down to just a single picture of a hat. (And the irony is, the signmaker then told him, “That’s too simple, John. What you ought to say is ‘John Thompson, Hatmaker. Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money,’ and below this we’ll have a drawing of a hat.”) I told this story to console Tom Jefferson by pointing out that everybody thinks he (or she) is a writer...or editor… and that all of us at one time or another suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous suggestions.
But I digress. What I wanted to blog about today was the subject of signs. As I look about me in this amazing future world of the 21st century, yet another invention has caught my eye — this thing you call the “digital billboard.” It is fascinating to see how the simple signs of the 18th century have evolved into this astounding new form of art and communication.
As I travel about in the city, numbers of digital signs are all flashing away, changing pictures about every two minutes or so, delivering a constant stream of messages advertising everything from personal injury lawyers to exotic restaurants. (Heaven help you if you should be personally injured while dining at an exotic restaurant!)
The current state of this digital phenomenon is commendable, indeed. And I venture to say, these electronic billboards probably reach far more people than even my newspapers ever did, back in Philadelphia of the 1700s.
But, as an inventor myself, I can already see some room for improvement.
Ben reinvents the digital sign
At the present time, most of these digital billboards that I have observed have one purpose in mind: to promote commercial enterprises, which is all well and good. And it is probably also true that business owners are most likely the only ones who can afford this digital wonder; other less-fortunate individuals will have to content themselves with the old-fashioned painted or papered sign boards.
Now, since it is also true that my philanthropy, my desire to do good in the world, usually guides everything I do, I believe I may have come up with an idea that might lend itself to a more positive, community-building, socially progressive exchange of information.
Here is my proposal:
- To build on the original concept of the digital sign by adding wi-fi “hot spots” to each of the sign locations. But not just an ordinary wi-fi, mind you, but rather one that is single-minded in purpose: it would only transmit and receive information that is targeted to, and ties in with, the messages of the sign. This way, if there were a hatmaker, for example, advertising on the billboard, the wi-fi could not only expand upon the billboard message, perhaps with a few spoken words, but it could also act as a messenger as well, so that it could relay a person’s interest in the hatmaker’s product back to the proprietor, so that a transaction could actually be consummated as the result of the billboard! (Plus, all those motorists stranded in traffic would be the perfect captive audiences for these messages.)
- The commercial advertisers, of course, would be the chief funders of this new wi-fi digital billboard. But here’s the other part of my plan: each digital billboard owner would also be obligated to carry a certain number of non-commercial, public service messages as well. This way, those civic-minded motorists who might be interested in doing something good for their communities could be exposed to a variety of messages from, say, the Red Cross, or the Peace Corps, or the National Science Foundation.
- And, finally, just as the commercial advertisers would have the ability to connect with potential customers through the wi-fi, the not-for-profit advertisers would also be able to do likewise. So they could conceivably succeed in obtaining much-needed volunteer help, increasing public awareness of their mission, or even soliciting donations for their annual fundraising drive. (The name I’m thinking of, for this new invention, would be the Franklin “Sign You Up.”)
So, dear reader, what do you think? I already have an idea for an inaugural billboard message: “Volunteers needed! Call B.Franklin, at (phone number).” Based on the response, I could even direct some of the messages to the particular organizations that could most benefit from a fresh influx of volunteers. (or, for that matter, have the United Way, or the Volunteer Action Center, do the same).
It’s just another way we can all do good for this world of ours.
Your humble servant,