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Editor’s rant: Why you can’t take pictures in a mall (and how it relates to the iPhone)posted by Joe on July 5th, 2007 - 1:30 pm | iPhone
Two weeks ago, Steve ranted to y’all about his less than ideal experience when trying to buy a slew of prepaid cell phones. We thank all the commenters who posted reasons why Steve might have found as much trouble as he did — and those who empathized with him. This week, it’s my turn to rant. The reason: none other than the iPhone. I’ve shared why others have had complaints while activating the device, but mine is not like that. In fact, I’m not an AT&T subscriber. In further fact, I do not own an iPhone. But I did have a terrible experience on the afternoon of Friday, June 29, 2007.
It all started so innocently. I had decided that since I run a cell phone website, it would be appropriate to head down to my local mall — which is freakin’ huge, by the way — and take pictures of the line as it grew from small to massive (or what I thought would be massive). I pitched the idea to my boss, and it was welcomed.
So at about 1:30 in the afternoon, I grabbed my trusty digital camera and drove down to the mall. The trouble began immediately: there wasn’t a parking spot to be found. Now, I can understand if the place is packed on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon (local blue laws prevent it from being open on Sundays). But on a Friday in mid-afternoon? That seemed a bit unusual. Could the iPhone hype really be causing all of this traffic?
After finally nabbing a spot, I headed into the mall. I’d like to say that if you want to walk through a mall and not be bothered by kiosk salespeople, strap on headphones. Otherwise, you’ll get people asking you if they can ask you a question. Nothing bothers me more than that.
Sales person: Can I ask you a question?
Joe: You just did. See ya.
But I digress. Once again, this mall is huge, so it has both an AT&T store and an Apple store. I went to the AT&T one first and saw no one — not even anyone doing regular shopping. I chatted up the sales guy for a minute, and he said that they didn’t get iPhones because they were in the same facility as an Apple store. I opined that they would probably be better off splitting the traffic. He countered with the line-cutting it would cause. One friend goes to the Apple line, the other goes to AT&T, they call each other and they both go to whichever line is shorter. I ended up agreeing with him; people can get rabid at the launch of a new gadget.
So I head up to the Apple store, and to my surprise, see only about 15 to 20 people on line. Some were in groups, some were alone. Some brought lounge chairs, some sat on the floor. Nearly all of them were strapped with headphones. Two security guards sat by, acknowledging the terrible side of human nature that can be evoked while standing in line for a long, long time.
I set up behind the crowd, as to not get any faces in my shot — if I did that, I’d have to go Photoshop the damn thing. Immediately after I clicked the photo, I saw the security guard look at me and start moving. Crapola. What did I do wrong? I started walking, pretending like I didn’t see him (having headphones on allows you to play oblivious). Unfortunately, I was swarmed by two others, with the third flanking me.
The first one to speak was rather nice, “I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t take pictures in the mall.” Can’t take pictures in the mall? Why the hell not? I tried to remain calm while I asked this question, knowing I’d get even more pissed at their inevitable answer: we don’t know. Three security guards. All know that I can’t take pictures in the mall, but none that know why? I told them that I wasn’t snapping any faces, so I wouldn’t require a waiver or anything of that sort. Still, they refused and made me delete the photo I had taken.
Aside: In hindsight, I should have just faked it. They didn’t ask questions or check my camera (though I couldn’t have known that at the time), so they would have no idea if I had deleted it, or I had just hit “next picture” — or hit “cancel” instead of “erase.”
Had this been winter, I could have made a run for it. The guards didn’t look very athletic — one was obese. I could have bolted as soon as I saw the first one make a move, and all it would have taken was a juke to shake one that was in my way. I knew exactly where my car was, and could have split before they even got my tags. Alas, I was wearing sandals. *Prepaid Reviews does not condone running from authority.
Anyway, I asked them how I could get permission to shoot. Predictably, they told me mall management, and began to walk away. I actually had to yell back at them to find out exactly where mall management was.
Another missed opportunity: I should have taken pictures of the catacombs leading to mall management. Seriously, I thought I was going to get lost and run into a Minotaur. I finally ran into someone, and he was nice enough to walk me right to the front desk — though “front” is hardly the word to describe it. The chap there was pleasant, except that he took phone calls as I explained my issue. Eh, it’s his job, I suppose.
I bet you’ll never guess what happened next. Yep: the person to whom I needed to speak was out to lunch. I actually considered not including that detail, because it seems so cliched and hackneyed. But then I thought: this is so absurd already that it only makes sense. My story would not be believable if the person was actually at their desk. “She’s in a meeting” would have sufficed in the place of “out to lunch.”
Now I have an hour to kill, and I need to make a decision: wait for this person to come back or cut my losses and head home. But, since everything to this point was so absurd, I figured it would be best to stick around and see if I could get a better story out of it.
My first order of business was to hit the Verizon kiosk and see how they were doing. They said that they would actually be open until the mall closed that night, though they normally stayed open later than their official 8 p.m. closing time. I asked what kinds of phones were their main sales of the day, thinking that some fancy LG V-Cast-enabled phone would be the answer. Surprisingly, they said that they had activated five or six BlackBerries. I wondered aloud whether that was in response to the iPhone, or the news of Research In Motion’s reported earnings. They did not know.
Next, I headed back the Apple Store so I could talk to the people on line. By this time, there were nearly 70 (!!) people in line, so my initial idea of taking pictures of the line expanding had been ruined. But I could still get a shot of when the line wrapped around itself. I knew this would be the money shot. Anyway, I started asking the people in the front of the line what time they had gotten there, which model they would buy, and if they were existing AT&T customers.
Aside: I totally expected the security guard to give me crap at this point. I don’t know why he would, or how he could justify it, but that’s what I thought. Thankfully, there was no incident.
The first five people in line all planned to get the 8 GB model. The reason they all gave: it’s $100 extra for double the space. They thought it uneconomical to get the 4 GB version. Good for them. The first guy had been there since the mall opened that morning (about 8 a.m.), and the fifth guy had gotten there at about 8:30. Now that’s passion. The first two were AT&T subscribers. The next two were switching. The fifth guy on line was not only switching, but was trying to pawn off his phone and plan to passers by. Until, of course, the security guard told him there was no soliciting.
Now to the end of the line. We were at, by my estimation, 75 or 80 on line after I had talked to the first five. My first question to the last guy was: Do you think you’ll end up getting one? His response: “Of course I will.” This was kind of surprising, considering I had wanted to taunt the final people in line by telling them that they weren’t going to get one.
His justification: “They probably shipped over 100 to this store. All the guys who got here really early are idiots.” Fair enough. I asked him what he would do if he didn’t get one. “Come back Monday,” he said. “If they sell out that quickly, they’ll get more in soon enough.”
I decided that I really liked this guy. Not coincidentally, I decided at that point that I didn’t like the guys at the front of the line. Except, of course, for the guy who tried to sell his phone and contract. Gotta empathize with someone else who was being oppressed by the security guards and mall policy.
A couple of other people toward the end of the line were concerned that they would not get one. One guy was kicking himself for taking a half-day off work instead of the entire day. I relayed what the guy at the end had said, and they were kinda sorta relieved. They weren’t as sure as he was, though, that they had enough units to satisfy everyone.
My time of reckoning was upon me, though. I wandered through the catacombs again, praying that I had remembered the way, and that I wouldn’t set off a booby trap that would enclose me and then crush me like a garbage disposal. I reached the director of marketing for the mall, who was notified of my request when she returned from lunch. It sounded like she had been spending the past 10 minutes rehearsing her answer:
“No, I’m sorry, we cannot let you take pictures in the mall.”
I explained that I was an editor for a cell phone website, and that all we wanted were shots of the line. She asked if I had planned to have the storefront in the picture. I told her yes, that I would like to have the Apple logo in the picture, but if that was the difference between taking pictures and not taking pictures, I could live without it. I guess this caught her a bit off guard, because she stumbled over words for a second.
“Using storefronts constitutes copyright infringement. That is why you cannot shoot photos in the mall.”
Frustrated, but still remaining calm, I explained fair use laws to her, and that certainly a storefront logo fell under those laws. They’re so damn ambiguous that I didn’t think she could disagree. But she did. Something about there being precedent, and that they are under strict instruction to not allow people to take pictures or video in the mall. A broken record she was becoming.
Aside: She was probably feeding me bull. Having been a video production student back in high school, I’m sure it was a few hooligans with a camera that ruined it for everyone.
I once again stated my case, saying I needed it for an assignment, and that I would not get the store logo or any faces in the shot. She told me no. I asked her if there was anything I could do to complete my assignment. She said no again. I once again regretted not wearing sneakers.
I informed her that I would never shop at her mall again, and she almost laughed. I suppose all those other shoppers will make up for my lost business.
So for all that, I got nothing. I thanked the guy at the front desk for letting me know that I would have been answered with a stern “no,” no matter who I talked to. He didn’t understand my sarcasm. Before leaving, one last glance at the line was required. At least 100 people — and they had rope set up to accommodate 100 more.
All of this could have been capture on camera, and you would have gotten a short, picture-laden post. But the mall forced me to rant. I wish I had a big name company to blame, like Steve did with Wal Mart. I’m just stuck with a crappy mall. I guess my convoluted point is if people band together and stop shopping at places with ridiculous policies, those policies will cease to exist.
My further point: people care about shopping too much to ever band together over something like this.