January 13, 2015

Hackers made an LA traffic sign say “READ A FUCKING BOOK”

by

We may never catch these geniuses. Image via Twitter.

We may never catch these geniuses. Image via Twitter.

Hacking! It’s the word of the moment. It happened to Sony. Australian torso Chris Hemsworth is playing a hacker in a new movie, Blackhat, which comes out this Friday. And yet, for all the hubbub, we must pause and wonder: how does hacking affect books? (We wonder this a lot.)

Well, the answer has been provided in the form of that classic bellwether of cultural trends: digital traffic signs. LA Weekly reports that a downtown sign recently started displaying a new slogan: “READ A FUCKING BOOK”.

Sound advice, if not entirely helpful to drivers in the moment.We’ve seen this type of thing before, and the media will tell you that #ReadAFuckingBook the hashtag was spotted as far back as 2010, and they are correct. But there are so many other unanswered questions beyond that. Like: was this the work of the LA Dept. of Transportation, advocating for literacy? Or was this something much more devious? And is Blackhat going to be the best movie of the year, or of the century?

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility. The company that owns the sign, the unfortunately acronymed Traffic Management Incorporated, quickly deflected responsibility for the slogan.

Downtown’s notorious “READ A FUCKING BOOK” street sign likely produced that message as the result of a hack, a spokeswoman for the company that owns it, Traffic Management Incorporated, told us.

The TMI spokeswoman said whomever did this would have had to physically break into the trailer-based sign. But she did acknowledge the possibility that it’s wi-fi enabled.

TMI is described on their website as “combine[ing] over a decade of experience with new approaches and technologies to provide a fresh, progressive direction in the area of traffic control”, which makes them sound like they’d fit in just fine at the new New Republic. But if TMI didn’t do this, and we exclude the possibility that this is all just a fiendish marketing stunt for the novelization of Blackhat (which is really a movie that opens this week with an A-list lead from an Oscar-nominated director), then we have to confront a few terrifying implications.

Like: if traffic signs can be hacked to profanely endorse the printed word, are all out of home ads fair game?  Is this just the opening salvo by a renegade troupe of book advocates, who will soon begin jamming the culture en masse?

Or is this the work of gods, like Thor (the character who was portrayed by very famous actor Chris Hemsworth, who plays the lead in the movie Blackhat, a film that was made and is being shown in theaters this week?) Can even book blogs also be hacked, perhaps to promote, for instance, a movie that $80 million was spent making, so maybe the marketers are just some good people who are trying to do their jobs and are getting a little desperate?

In any case, this doesn’t look good for me or the fine people at Kramerbooks, but I assure you we all have alibis. Specifically, we were all miles away, discussing our most anticipated movie of the year, which is, you guessed it, Ant-Man. Ha ha! I’m kidding, it’s Blackhat.

One thing we do know; if this hack was committed by diabolical “wi-fi enabled” hackers, then they clearly are advanced, because all it takes to hack most road signs is a functioning hand. Keep an eye out for these cyber-geniuses’ next audacious act.

 

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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