Don't Fall For Fear Propaganda

(August 27, 2021)

I was recently traveling from a busy US airport. If you've been to a larger American airport in recent years, you may have noticed, near the security line, a bunch of booths from this company called Clear. They essentially allow you to exchange your personal information, including a biometric scan of your iris, in exchange for quicker processing through TSA security. (and they also take a monthly subscription fee, billed annually, so you pay even for months you're not traveling in)

When I got to the airport, I was a little annoyed because the line through the security check looked really long. I had lots of spare time arriving at the airport, so I wasn't worried about missing my flight, but standing in an airport line is never fun.

What annoyed me more, however, were Clear employees shouting as loud as they could, for everyone in the security line to hear, that "you're going to miss your flight!", "you're going to have to wait through this entire security line!", unless you enroll with Clear (which is quick, easy, and only requires you to give away a scan of your personally identifiable biometric data to some new, overfunded tech company).

I was initially annoyed by this just because I'm not sympathetic to either marketing or privacy violating technologies. But I got really mad when I realized that

  1. the line was actually moving really fast;
  2. the spacer tape appeared to deliberately be set up in a way that made the line visually appear as long as possible.
What I mean by the second point is that there was an entire row of unutilized space that the line could have been directed to, but that row was the one furthest away from the spot you enter the security line from. This made it seem like there was an entire additional long bend to the line. Was this collusion between Clear and airport staff? I don't know. But Clear definitely capitalized on this illusion.

Like I said, the line was moving quickly, there were many TSA lines open processing a lot of people at a time. The Clear employees, standing by the line for hours at a time, would have known this, but of course they're going to use the scary looking queue as a fear tactics marketing opportunity. I got through the line in about 30 minutes, which is a perfectly reasonable amount of safety margin time any air traveler will include in their schedule.

Moral of the story

When you're being marketed something on the basis of fear (or on any basis, really, but especially when your emotional instincts might be exploited), take the time to really consider whether the bogeyman you're supposed to fear actually exists and is that scary. I'm sure you'll find other situations where similar logic applies.

If you have any questions or comments about this post or site in general, feel free to email me.