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In 2017, advertisements for Daddy’s Home 2 are forcibly played while you use the toilet

Just like Orwell predicted. 

There are two things in this world that scientists once thought it was impossible to make worse. The first: going to the toilet on a train journey that cost you a day and a half’s wages, trying to relieve yourself as the train bump, bump, bumps from side to side and a man with a tin in his hand claws at the door as you frantically check to see whether the lock button is still illuminated, and the second: Daddy’s Home, the 2015 American comedy in which Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg literally (literally!) compare the size and shape of each other’s testicles.

As the patron saints of making your life worse, however, Virgin Trains has now proved scientists wrong. A new marketing campaign sees the world’s two-worst-things combined to make one-super-terrible-awful-thing that cements 2017’s status as God’s greatest mistake.

This November and December, when/if you go to the toilet on a Virgin train, the disembodied voice of Will Ferrell will read you an advertisement for his new movie Daddy’s Home 2.

Initially announced over a week ago, this new promotion only gained mainstream attention yesterday after journalist Gavia Baker-Whitelaw shared a video of the promotional stunt via her personal Twitter account. (There were some PR headlines before this, such as the imaginative “VIRGIN TRAINS TO(I)LET WILL FERRELL LOO-SE WITH ONBOARD TOILET ANNOUNCEMENTS” from mynewsdesk.com).

From inside the toilet cubicle/chamber of hell itself, Baker-Whitelaw filmed Ferrell rattling off relevant announcements (“Please don't try to flush nappies, sanitary towels, paper towels…”) after plugging his new movie (“I'm Will Ferrell, the star of the new movie Daddy’s Home 2”).

Although Baker-Whitelaw’s tweet was the first to gain attention on the site, many train-travellers have been complaining about the new promotion since it was launched. “Weekend low point: vomiting into a Virgin Trains loo during a fucking recorded toilet message by Will Ferrell for Daddy’s Home 2,” wrote one Twitter user. Another: “I have a virus so hopefully hallucinating but *think* I heard the voice of Will Ferrell in @virgintrains toilets & it’s deeply disturbing!”

But here’s the fun part about this story! Absolutely nothing! Virgin Trains are also offering a toilet seat signed by Ferrell as a competition prize. If a novelist tried to create the worst dystopia they could think of as a harrowing but necessary warning to us all, this plot point would easily be dismissed as too ridiculous. Invasive advertising while you go to the toilet on a denationalised service that you already pay extortionate prices to use? Okay, sure. A toilet seat signed by a Hollywood star who is promoting a new movie in which he cast a noted anti-semite in a key role? Preposterous! What a hammy plot.

So, is all this allowed? A spokesperson from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said they have had no complaints about the advert so far, and as such it would be difficult for them to comment. The ASA currently don't have regulations in place for irritating adverts (a massive oversight) and also don't regulate "in-store" material, which this could potentially qualify as. No one, but no one, can rescue us from these horrors. 

How do we, as a society, move on from this? Some might argue we’ll be fine after 31 December, when the voiceovers stop and your regularly scheduled toileting can resume as normal. But I don’t think so. Watching the trailer for Daddy’s Home 2 by choice, in your own time, when you know what’s coming, is upsetting enough. To have it thrust upon you in your most vulnerable state? There will be casualties. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.