When my wife lay in a hospital bed for several weeks with a burst appendix, I spent a lot of time by her side. I was horrified by the cacophony in the recovery ward. How can anyone expect to heal when they are surrounded by a jungle of machines beeping incessantly? And what about the hospital staff? I decided that the nurses could just as easily be responding to the sound of bird calls. These machines could be playing the sounds of songbirds instead of emitting the sonic equivalent of a finger repeatedly poking you in the eye. Not only would bird calls make for a more pleasant soundscape in the hospital, but different bird calls could be used for different meanings.
Below is a poem I wrote many years ago which expresses my feelings about the way machines talk to us.
I came to the conclusion the other day
That our machines have something to say
Our cars, our phones, our computer screens,
Our ovens and our bank machines
They’re learning how to speak to us
Yes, times are changing and so they must
How could we ever get along
If they didn’t tell us when something’s wrong?
“Your seatbelt’s off”
“Don’t forget your card”
“Don’t click me there”
“Don’t press too hard”
But the builders of these technologies
Have yet to give them personalities
I think our machines might benefit, you see,
By having a bigger vocabulary!
There’s another gripe I need to share
A concern for which you may not care
There’s pollution in my neighborhood
I’d love to end it if I could
You hear that incessant beep beep beep?
It woke me from my morning sleep
Six blocks east on Main and First
A van just went into reverse
The device which generates this din
was built to reach the ears within
a ten block radius of this city
that all may know the van’s velocity
Folks living in a future world
May wince and twitch at what they once heard
Recalling the voice of our technology
This low-resolution cacaphony
Beep beep beep beep!
This is the third post of my new blog. I expect to have more things to say about body language in user interface design – not just regarding avatars in virtual worlds. I think the subject of virtual body language spans across all kinds of technology. I’d love to hear your thoughts!