Rapidly approaching the 10th anniversary of the UK smoking ban, there seem to be a plethora of blog posts about it. This one, at Facts Do Matter, even includes a list of links to other ones at the end.
I noticed that I wasn’t on the list, and wondered why I wasn’t. And then I realised that I probably wasn’t on the list for the very simple reason that I hadn’t written one. In a way, that’s probably because I’m always writing about smoking bans. But also, right now, I’m trying to get the online Smoky Drinky Bar off the ground. And the Smoky Drinky Bar is a way round the smoking ban: instead of meeting up in real bars, smokers can meet up in virtual bars, and drink and smoke and chat to their hearts’ content.
I think there’s a huge potential market for such bars, made up of hundreds of millions of smokers excluded from real bars – because there are smoking bans almost everywhere in the world now. And the Smoky Drinky Bar is an early prototype of such bars.
When the Smoky Drinky Bar has a few people in it, it works very well. It is very much like a real bar. There’s an ebb and flow of conversation. And smokers have a ready topic of conversation in the form of the smoking bans that have driven them there.
The trouble is that, at the moment, the bar is mostly empty. And that’s partly because very few people know about it. And anyone who looks in is likely to look in, and then leave when they find nobody in it. And if they look in and find no-one in it enough times, they’re likely to stop coming back after a while.
My first idea for how to get round this problem was for me to do a sort of Happy Hour where I’d always be in the bar at 7 pm UK time (the sort of time of day I used to meet people in real bars). So I’ve been doing that for the past week, and have sometimes ended up staying in the bar all evening. The idea is to get a few people in the UK (and Europe) aware that they can at least talk to me when they walk into the Smoky Drinky Bar shortly after 7 pm.
But if I can do that at 7 pm UK time, I can’t do it for the rest of the 24 hours in the day, so the Smoky Drinky Bar is only really buzzing for about 3 hours in every 24 hours. So now Emily in Massachusetts has started doing a 7 pm EST Happy Hour. And Americans should be able to find the Smoky Drinky Bar buzzing a bit at a time more convenient to them.
The idea is to have points in time – islands – when humanity is present, and have customers navigate towards those points.
But I’m beginning to wonder whether a better idea would be for me to just enter the bar whenever I’m on my computer, and just carry on doing whatever I was doing or going to do. And some little bars actually work that way. You walk in and there’s nobody there, but if you cough or ring the little bell on the bar, someone will come scurrying out from a back room. Some shops are like that too.
So I think I may adopt a similar practice. For example I’m currently adapting my orbital simulation model to work out how many smokers are available in all the world’s time zones, and when they’re likely to want to visit bars like the Smoky Drinky Bar. So today I’ll enter the bar at some point in time, and then carry on writing the code on another computer. Anyone who walks into the bar will have to cough, or call out “Frank, are you there, you bastard?” With luck I’ll hear, and come scurrying out from my back room. In fact, I may have the webcam pointing at me while I’m writing the code.
It would require multi-tasking. I might even carry on writing the code, while chatting.
A couple of nights back, Twenty Rothmans was doing some ironing in the Smoky Drinky Bar until he decided that ironing wasn’t something you should do in a pub. But why not do the ironing as you chat? Or programme computers? Or cook and eat food? Do all these separate activities have to be given their own assigned time slots? Can’t some of them be done simultaneously?
So my suggestion to visitors to the Smoky Drinky Bar is to enter it, and then carry on doing what they were doing, which might be cooking, eating, reading a book, watching TV, while keeping one eye on the Smoky Drinky Bar, only exiting it when you’re no longer available to chat, because you’re going to sleep, or going out, or doing something that requires your full attention.
The Smoky Drinky Bar is highly experimental. Maybe it’ll evolve in all sorts of ways. Maybe some people will meet up in it for short periods. Maybe some people will sit quietly in it all day, saying nothing. Who knows?
I’ll be back on the bar at 7 pm UK time tonight. But this time I may try multi-tasking, and carry on programming my computer as I talk. I hope nobody will think I’m being rude.