Amusement park hires parenting cops to confiscate smart phones/PDAs

The Unusual Suspect sez, "These days it seems that using a camera in public is all but illegal. But Alton Towers amusement park in the UK has instituted a new rule, and has instituted 'special wardens' to enforce it. If you are seen using a Palm, iPaq or other personal digital assistant or smartphone, the special wardens will take it away from you."
Any parent seen tapping on a PDA will have it confiscated by special wardens at Alton Towers.

The resort, which boasts 2.5 million visitors each year, has imposed the rule for next week’s May half-term.

If successful, it could be introduced permanently.

Russell Barnes, a director of the Staffordshire attraction, said: “It’s important for parents and kids to focus on nothing more than having the best possible time.”

Link (Thanks, Unusual Suspect!)


  1. And they will require a stamp from every ride before you are allowed to exit the park.

    And a receipt for candy floss. No day at the amusement park can be considered complete without candy floss.

    Mind, if your kid looks grumpy at the exit, you will have to do the whole thing over.

  2. Nobody better lay a finger on my PDA.

    Especially considering that A) they can be useful in emergencies, or when a family member has been misplaced, B) they can provide GPS information when you get lost, and C) they can capture memorable parts of your experience.

    Now, obviously, A and B don’t typically apply to cameras, but C does. All three points apply to many smartphones and PDAs.

    If someone touched a $500+ device of mine, without my permission … I’d be just a tad angry. Amusement park wannabe-cop-washouts wouldn’t like me when I’m angry – unfortunately, like so many security guards and unfit police officers, I would expect them to be of such a fragile ego that they would resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation.

  3. well i say good on them. and i want these special wardens everywhere, especially one to stop my mum from stopping and window shopping at *every* *single* *store* we pass :o( and a “no tea” warden. every time… “just be a minute love, i’m having a cup of tea” an hour later “just a minute love” ffs :o(

  4. Whilst ACB’s comment may be… interesting, I think there is more to this than the Unusual Suspect alludes to.

    Whilst I am a huge proponent of fighting anything that restricts our rights to blog or take photos in public or any of the other worthwhile causes that Boing Boing and Cory alert us to, this is just a silly PR gimmick.

    The official web site gives a much fuller story – and whilst I think their use of the term “PDA police” is extremely unfortunate, it is nothing like as insidious as Unusual Suspect suggests.

    “the Alton Towers Resort will be piloting a “PDA Free Zone” during May Half Term (May 25th – June 1st inclusive), to encourage parents to disconnect from the office and reconnect fully with their families. PDA police will be onsite to enforce the ban and any adult caught using a PDA whilst at the Resort will be asked to report to one of five “PDA Drop Off Zones” where they can safely leave their PDA’s for the day. If the scheme is successful, it will be introduced full time.

  5. And when isn’t having your personal property stolen part a “good time” I ask?

    In a way, this makes me happy because it reminds he that the human race truly is one big unhappy, dysfunctional family ~ no moral/ethical/intellectual superiority for any of us…

  6. Fuzzygum’s link gives a very different impression of the story. It’s pretty cool, actually. Having an amusement park full of people checking their e-mail does create a subtle ambiance. Not as bad as using your cell phone at the movies, but not entirely unanalogous.

  7. What about people like me, who use their PDAs for personal as well as business information?

  8. So they assume that any PDA-type device is 1) being used for work purposes, and 2) is disruptive to family cohesion, and 3) prevents people and their families from having fun? That sounds like a very naive, quaint set of beliefs about electronic devices.

    It is also massive intrusion into people’s personal lives, for the shallowest of reason. The only real justification for this action is that the visitors unknowingly agreed to such intrusion in an unexplained non-negotiable contract printed in tiny type on the back of their entry ticket.

    Why is this amusement park so arrogant as to assume they know what’s best for their visitors?

  9. And the moral of the story is – The Sun is not exactly a reputable source. While there is still a topic worthy of discussion, as Harshlanguage brings up, it’s not exactly the drama being described in the main post.

  10. Nothing says fun like having your personal possessions taken away from you!

    They really know how to make me happy.

  11. When a group of us to go Disneyland and other large festivals, we hook up with text messages (meet us at Haunted Mansion at 11), smartphones, iPhones or whatever we happen to have. And hey — if I just paid $50 to hang out in your amusement park, and it amuses me to check my email, IT’S MY DAMN BUSINESS!!

  12. Okay, so what about people who’s only phone is a PDA, and they want a phone in the park in case their kids get lost so they can call them? This is by far the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

  13. “Having the best possible time”?

    Like – not going there at all?


    That is just so retarded. I am definitely going to be having the best of all possible times this summer – and none of it will be spent there.


  14. C’mon people, read Fuzzy’s link. They aren’t ‘banning’ anything. They certainly aren’t forcibly taking anything from anyone – they have no legal right to do so. All they are doing is suggesting that you disconnect from the office if you are having a fun day out with the kids and to enable you to do so without a nagging buzzing coming from your pocket/bag they are offering somewhere to safely store said device for the day. Its a gimmick. It’s a bit of fun. It’s a reminder that your job should not rule your life. And Beryllium, dude, you need to breathe and relax a little!

  15. So, if someone has to be accesible for important
    communication from work, and they also would like
    to take their children to an amusement park, they’re

    Sometimes I have to work on weekends, and I’m much
    happier being able to do it from home, thanks to
    technology, than having to physically go the office.

  16. Believe it or not, some people find that being in a crowd of techno-addicts creates an atmosphere inhospitable to the sort of frivolity usually associated with amusement parks. Some people also believe that children may benefit from occasionally receiving the undivided attention of one or more parents. Given that the UK now hosts roving packs of feral children and adolescents, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.

  17. @ Mitch:

    Indeed. As someone whose job entails a lot of travel and insane work hours, I would be at a serious disadvantage without my Blackberry. It allows me to be outside and do things I enjoy without having to worry about some emergency cropping up.

    Last week, when someone asked if anyone had a charger at a dinner, I pulled one out of my jacket pocket (and one of my friends remarked that I seriously needed a “disconnect” – she maybe right). But the point is, it lets me do things I enjoy (such as being out at dinner with friends). Sure, work may occasionally interrupt, but the way I see it, dinner with interruptions is better than no dinner at all.

  18. Sure, work may occasionally interrupt, but the way I see it, dinner with interruptions is better than no dinner at all.

    Better for you, but how do your friends feel about it? I refuse to go to dinner with my friends unless they turn their cell phones off. I accept that lunchtime is usually work-time and that people with kids might need to be on call for the babysitter. Otherwise, don’t hang out with me if you’re not going to make me your priority for those two hours a week. You know what? None of them have stopped going out to dinner with me. And they have a better time now.

  19. Maybe next they can start confiscating cameras from all the dads that see the entire trip through a viewfinder. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shot thousands of photos at Disney World, but I’ve also intentionally passed on an awful lot of photo opportunities in order to go participate with my family. Give the camera a rest, dads. The kids will remember you playing with them long after your digital photo rots away buried on Flickr.

  20. I take my smart phone with me so I can check on all of you, dear readers.

    Antinous, I agree that people who are taking unnecessary calls are a vexation. But what if having it means the difference between being able to go to the park with your kids, and having to stay home?

    Just the other day I took several business calls in quick succession while tying up my raspberry plants in the back yard. My choice wasn’t between “taking calls while gardening” and “not taking calls while gardening”; it was between taking the calls in the garden, via smart phone and headset, and sitting indoors, drumming my fingers, while I waited for those calls to come in.

    It’s the nature of some jobs that you’re on call a lot of the time. Banning smart phones and PDAs won’t change that. What it will do is ban the people who have that kind of job.

  21. Life’s about decisions and priorities. If someone chooses a life where they’re always on call, that’s their decision. When they do it in public, it affects everyone else. Your plants will probably forgive you. Your kids – who knows.

  22. is there not one professional dominatrix out there reading this? The psychology is the same; some highly motivated, over achieving types NEED external permission from “authority” to let go at all.

  23. Alton Towers has not thought this through. What if it’s a child is using the PDA? What if adults attending the park have no children? Think, McFly!

  24. True, Antinous, a person could choose a job
    without much responsibility, where they are not
    very important to the operation of the company.
    If they choose otherwise, shame on them for using
    technology to have a little flexibility in where
    they work. Let them be tethered to a land line
    in some dismal office somewhere, where the sight
    of them using a blackberry or a pda won’t offend anyone.

  25. A person could choose a life where their kids, friends, loved ones are less important to them then the operation of the company. Let them be tethered to others who need them, where being out of touch with the office for a few hours won’t offend anyone. (Or the bottom line).

  26. I’m not a huge fan of amusement parks generally, but this one would certainly get my KMA.

  27. It seems to me that people would like to create a space where modern gadgets are absent. If it is successful, that is if a majority of people like this, then they’ll keep it. I’m sure it went something like:

    “Hmmm people are telling us how annoying it is having all those PDAs, they can be so rude. Let’s do a test run and see if people really want what they are telling us they want.”

    I’m not seeing the sinister side to this.

  28. Well, the other link casts a different light on it. As a suggestion, it’s fine, nothing unusual, but why the absolutes? ‘Everyone has to ditch their cell phone or no one has any fun’. Oh, please. If I heard that anywhere but at the cinema or in a place where cellphone silence is actually necessary, I would think twice about attending. If any of my friends ever tried to enforce a rule like that, they’d quickly discover no one gives a damn about their little protest.

    And why do people talk like anyone can choose any job and tailor it to their preference, and still always make a decent living for themselves and their family? What magical rainbow world do you people live in?

  29. What magical rainbow world do you people live in?

    It’s called California. And I’m sorry to hear that you have so little respect for your friends’ wishes.

  30. I own a business. I need to be reachable 24/7. If you won’t be my friend because of that, then you weren’t really my friend in the first place.

  31. From what I can tell from the two (short) articles I’ve read about this, no one is forced to give up their phone or PDA. They are kindly directed from the phone-free area of the park to a phone-friendly area of the park.

    I feel sorry for those who keep saying that they are too valuable or indispensable not to be in touch 24/7. But then again, that is their choice. It’s a bigger deal for parents, than for friends. I was a kid a long time ago, so I can’t really say how I’d have felt if my time with one of my parents was constantly interrupted by business calls, texts, emails, whatever. But I do know that there is a limit to how much time I’d be willing to spend with with a friend, depending on how constantly connected they were.

    What’s the point of hanging out with someone if they’d rather be “not there”, but communicating to someone far away? I’d get just as much out of sitting at home and watching TV.

    So, Anharmyenone , I probably wouldn’t be your friend in the first place.

  32. “Given that the UK now hosts roving packs of feral children and adolescents”

    Put down the Daily Mail and step away…

    Seriously, WTF? Have you been here? It’s nice. Almost no-one gets shot (except Brazilians, natch), and the only packs of kids round here (not the most salubrious part of town), do nothing worse than chuck water-balloons on hot days, I am at a loss to locate these ‘feral’ kids.

    I would like to refer you to Bill Hick’s ‘Hooligans vs Crips’ piece, which illustrates the point nicely.

  33. Gilbert @38..

    I’m with you, it is nice here, I read the headlines (Daily Mail/Express) and it confirms that really the National Newpapers (in fact most of the press) are only reflecting on the worse of what London has to offer.

    The kids near me (SW England) are mostly happy, cheeky and sometimes mischievious, nothing worse than I got up to in the 70’s or my dad in the 60′.

    As far as the story, It’s from the Sun?…You were expecting what? A balanced article? Tits on Page 3 tho!

  34. “And I’m sorry to hear that you have so little respect for your friends’ wishes.”

    Because you telling your friends ‘I won’t have dinner with you unless you turn off your phone’ is very respectful of their needs and wishes.

    I respect my friends’ wishes when they aren’t ridiculous. Sometimes I respect them even when they are ridiculous, but then only if they don’t cause me discomfort or problems. If one of my friends had your attitude, I’d offer him the choice to suffer my turned on cell phone, or leave.

  35. Screw amusement parks. Go for a walk in the woods with your family. Take a bike ride along the nearest rail trail. Go to the beach and fly kites. If you just go outside and have fun, assuming there is some natural space left somewhere near you, no one is going to monitor your electronic gadget use. No one is going to require your fingerprints. Yet.

  36. so you can spend 2 hours to cue board to death, for each ride unless you purchase a cue jumper quick pass on top of your already extortionate ticket cost so you can jump the cues and delay the rides for the ppl that can’t afford quick passes!

    Alton Towers is a complete rip off ppl don’t even bother.

    this is just a way to make ppl more bored to sell quick passes.

    quick pass wtf.

  37. antinous@24: Life’s about decisions and priorities.

    but not about you making decisions for me or setting priorities for me.

    If someone chooses a life where they’re always on call, that’s their decision.

    Strawman and slippery slope. You don’t have to always be on a PDA for these morons to give you grief for it. But your argument implies that if we dont’ stop even a single one-minute email check that people will always be on the PDA.

    When they do it in public, it affects everyone else.

    That’s a faulty premise and circular reasoning. It isn’t agreed that it affects everyone, so it’s a faulty premise. But it’s also the conclusion of your argument as well as the premise, so it’s circular.

    You’d have to prove that me using a PDA to check the weather would significantly affect your enjoyment of the park before you can use it as a premise for another chain of reasoning.

    Your plants will probably forgive you. Your kids – who knows.

    appeal to emotion. think of the children. Forgiveness. This isn’t leaving an infant in a car seat with the windows rolled up in the summertime.

    Actually, one of the lessons that children need to learn at some point is that they can’t have mommy’s and daddy’s attention all the time.

  38. I imagine something like this being looped on their PA system: “The fine people at Alton Towers want to thank you for for your cooperation. Remember, we are here to keep you safe and are grateful for your compliance. After all, isn’t your safety is worth a little of your time and freedom?”

    How does modern law fit into this? Can entering the grounds of an amusement park (or another private or public area) be a nonverbal agreement to have your personal property taken from you? Why does safety equate to the high school (‘secondary school’ to others) concept of authority taking things away from you in the off-chance you might use it improperly?

  39. Put down the Daily Mail and step away…

    Thanks. I read the BBC online every day. And what I read is that a couple dozen children and adolescents have been murdered so far this year, by other children and adolescents. What I read is that adults have been kicked and beaten to death by roving gangs of fourteen year olds. What I read is that the UK has one of the developed world’s largest populations of disaffected, anti-social teenagers. Has it occurred to you that, just like most Americans try to pretend that we’re not in Iraq, most Britons might be trying to pretend that you’re not overrun with murderous youth gangs?

  40. And then the amusement park sells them online for an extra profit on your miserable day in the sun eating junk food with a headache caused by screaming kids.

  41. Antinous @46: But we’ve always had a large population of disaffected teenagers. How do you think we won the Battle of Waterloo?

    As to whether we’re over-run with them; I’m not afraid to step outside my door for fear of wild gangs of youths. It’s the educated louts in charge of the economy and business I’m more scared of. True, I live in one of the more genteel towns (though at the less genteel end) but even so, not everywhere in Britain is Toxteth or Bradford.

    I think you’re suffering from a bit of selection bias, Antinous. Not even the BBC news is free from that, alas. What are the relevant statistics for the nation you live in?

  42. What are the relevant statistics for the nation you live in?

    US statistics are pretty easy to find as long as you don’t mind pie charts and pdf files. Basically, minors (under 18) account for about 15% of violent crimes in the US.

    Statistics for the UK are unavailable because the government won’t even release basic stats for under-16s. So all I can offer are sound bytes from the Times Online.

    Figures produced by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) last week show that cases of violence by young people, ranging from common assault to murder, are up 39% over three years. Some 56,000 violent incidents involving teenagers were recorded in 2006-2007, up from 40,000 in 2003-2004.

    But citing the most recent figures from the Mori Youth Survey, a poll of 11 to 16-year-olds, it says 27% of schoolchildren admitted in 2005 to having committed an offence in the previous year.

    There have been 39 teenage murders in London alone since January last year.

    A few decades ago, the US was seen as a very violent place (which it was) while most developed nations had very little violent crime. The days of unarmed Bobbies meandering around calling people ‘Guv’ and “Luv’ is over. Britain has a very big violent crime problem and the perpetrators skew very young. Whether London is worse than New York is not the point. The point is whether 2008 London is worse than 1988 London, and it is – by a long shot.

  43. What was the point again? I thought it had something to do with PDAs, but it seems to have drifted into UK-bashing yet again. Every time a civil liberties or crime in the UK issue comes up, there seems to be a bloc of boingboing commenters who can’t wait to tell us what a dreadful state the UK is in, and how complacent we Brits are for allowing that to happen. Often backed up by biased news reports and some quaint notions of life in the UK (“Luv”? What have you been watching?). Is it something Americans absorb with lessons about the Revolution?

    You’ve thrown a lot of unrelated statistics up to support your notion that we Britons are deluded about the state of our nation (except for Daily Mail and Times leader writers, I guess). This page shows the rate of violent crime holding steady at just below 2,500,000 (from a peak in the mid-nineties of about 4.3 million). If we take the number of teenagers committing violent crime as the same as the number involved in violent crime (which doesn’t necessarily follow) at 56,000, that’s roughly 1:100. For the general population the figure seems to be roughly 1:25. Even allowing for differences of methodology, this hardly equates to us being over-run by youth crime.

    Note also that your quoted middle statistic — 27% of kids committing an offence — has little to do with the rest of the statistics you quote that have to do with violent crime, and seems to be included merely to excite the excitable. Which it seems to have done in at least one case.

  44. Nelson,

    I don’t consider it US bashing when everyone points out that the Iraq war is a gigantic, evil disaster of our making. It’s just the truth. Both the US and the UK have gone to hell over the last eight years. You under Blair and us under Bush. It’s just the truth. Civil liberties are down, the economy is down and human misery is up. I would consider a 39% increase in youth violent crime in only three years to be a pretty big red flag, especially when considering the enormous increase in public surveillance. Acknowledging the problem is not bashing. It’s just facing the truth.

  45. Antinous @51: How is “[..]most Britons might be trying to pretend that you’re not overrun with murderous youth gangs?” even remotely true?

  46. You’ll take my tech when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!

    ’nuff said.

    – HC

  47. What I read is that adults have been kicked and beaten to death by roving gangs of fourteen year olds.

    You know, I don’t even care what the statistics for roving bands of 14 year olds kicking adults to death are. This is non causa pro causa.

    For this inference to be relevant, one must assume that PDA usage by adults at a park is the cause of roving gangs of fourteen year olds beating adults to death. And that stopping PDA usage at said park will stop roving gangs of 14 year olds from forming.

    Unless you can show that parents taking their kids to an amusement park and then taking a call from someone, thereby ignoring the kids for a few minutes, leads to 14 year old roving mobs of killers, this is a completely irrelevant line of reasoning, and boils down to emotive pleading.

    Does the “no pda” rule only apply to parents with children? If I go without kids, can I use my PDA? Last summer I went to a roller coaster park with my brother, his wife, and their kids. Should I not use a PDA there? Or would an uncle using a PDA also lead to roving bands of killer 14 year olds?

    And if one is going to justify this ban on grounds that it prevents roving bands of 14 year old killers, why stop at banning just phones and PDA’s? how about kids with iPods? Should parks ban iPod usage by kids so that kids will be forced to interact with parents? And ban those little portable game systems?

    Last year at the roller coaster park, my nephew kept playing skee ball after everyone else had gone on to more rides. Grandma had to stay with him just to keep an adult with him. Maybe they should outlaw lone skee-ball usage just to keep the family unit together.

    This is a dumb ban made by a dumb corporation who didn’t think through what in hell they were proposing. I can guarantee you they were not thinking about how to solve the roving-band-of-14-year-olds-murdering-adults problem.

  48. ‘Roving Bands….’

    It sounds very quaint, I thinking minstrals, lutes, and a bladder on a stick

    All together …” I been the Wild Rover for many a year,
    And I spent all my money on Whiskey and Beer.’

  49. Easy.

    I grew up in the States, but currently live in the UK.

    I can easily say that without a doubt, I feel safer walking around at night in London or Glasgow than I would in Newark or Camden (NJ).

    The murder rate for London from April 2007 to March 2008 was 1 per 48156

    The murder rate for Detroit last year was 1 per 2535. Camden was 1/1954

    When somebody gets murdered in London, it’s front page news. On the other hand, Detroit is less than 1/7 the size of London, and has more than twice as many murders — full stop.

    This is why, when a violent crime occurs in the UK, it’s front-page news. The numbers speak for themselves.

  50. Public snipers take note: If you want to rain death and mayhem on amusement park patrons – this place actually actively prevents communications with the outside world and pesky law enforcement types. You should be able to get off at least 50 rounds from a high – powered rifle – no problem. No one is going to have the means to call for help, except security – perhaps (they might have their hands full chasing after PDA owners) – so be sure to selectively target them first.

    Enjoy the hunt proud gun owner – you deserve it.

  51. I suggested this link to BoingBoing. The article caught my eye not because it had anything to do with the issue of balancing work and family, but because it had everything to do with another petty, intolerant, self-appointed “authority” claiming dominion over others, and inventing a crime to justify it.

    Sorry for the late response, by the way. I spent the weekend away from the Internet and with my family and friends.

    (Though I didn’t insist they turn THEIR Blackberries off.)

  52. “I spent the weekend away from the Internet and with my family and friends.”

    Your heresy has been noted, Suspect. The Council will decide your fate.

  53. #36, no technology is necessary for a parent to just ignore a kid (unless said kid was doing something he could be hit for). I should know; I was that kid in the early 1980s.

    And now I’ve chosen to not have a family of my own largely because of that. It’s working fine!

    #39, I’d actually read a newspaper if tits were on page 3. The internet is great in that regard — I can read the news AND have porn! Well, at home, anyway…

    #44, thank you for calmly doing what I couldn’t do. I would like to argue that a kid needs positive attention from Mom and Dad at least some of the time, or, well… see above.

    #46, you seem to live in the USA (CA, to be exact). I’d trust your opinion on current events in L.A. before I’d trust you on what’s happening a continent and an ocean away, regardless of your sources.

  54. yeah, this is just PR-fodder, trying to get the words ‘Alton Towers’ into the press. If you want to see how it’s really done, look up Travelodge in any of the UK papers – now there’s a company that can create a news story for you!

  55. Sounds like a sweet way to acquire some new tech…just dress in an official-looking outfit, carry a clipboard, offer a “receipt,” and leave the park with pockets full of PDAs, phones, etc.!

  56. ————————

    This thread is self-fulfilling

    The sort of person who gets angriest at the though of somebody touching their phone is the sort of person who really needs to switch it off when they’re supposed to be out enjoying themselves.

    A major part of amusement parks is the atmosphere they try to create. If you’re yakking on the phone you’ll miss out on that.

    The park works hard for you and has just as much right to tell you to switch it off as a cinema does.

  57. The PDAs are not confiscated. You drop off your PDA, and collect it when you leave. It’s voluntary. And it doesn’t cover the whole park area. But it’s been neary a year, and I wonder how successful or unsuccessful the scheme has gone.

    (Kind of unrelated) there are some shops that have lockers for you to lock your bags before you go in (to reduce theft). But sometimes when I walk towards them, one of the staff members would ask “Is that a computer in your bag”. (It’s a laptop bag I’m carrying). “Yes”. “Never mind, you don’t need to put it in the locker”. I suspect the shop has had problems with angry customers complaining about lost/damaged computers.

  58. Geee, aren’t we lucky we have those managers to take care of the well-being of their customers children? It’s totally beyond me how we managed life before, without them.
    Maybe they should also do short interviews with the children about possible abuse or unfulfilled wishes. Totally voluntary and only in special areas, of course.

  59. This plan seems deeply at odds with my own experience. Our family outings, especially the multi-generational outings with siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents, would be a mess without cell phones. We split up and regather several times throughout the day, and it’s much easier when we can call and text each other on the fly.

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