User experience of sound and earlids

Interaction designers, researchers and architects interested in sound and the user experience of sound in space should really have a look at Karrie Jacobs' latest column in Metropolis magazine about that topic. Analyzing how noise-cancelling headphones works out, She is making the point that although sound is a very important in her perception of the environment, it is sometimes convenient and intriguing to re-discover that very same setting with sound attenuation through a technology she describes (what a long sentence I wrote here). Some snippets:

"many people deal with the acutely intrusive nature of our sonic environment by wearing audio armor. The iPod and similar devices provide them with a controllable acoustic circumstance, one that keeps them reasonably well insulated from everyone and everything else. However, I’m an extremely late adopter— possibly the last person on earth who does not own an iPod. This is a philosophical decision: I like to be where I am. And part of being in a place is hearing it. All well and good, except the world is filling up with sonic spam: endless security announcements, cell-phone ring tones from hell, people talking about their grocery lists at a volume more suited to Il Duce from the balcony. (...) I met with two members of the Bose “noise-reduction technology group” (...) Eventually I tested the Quiet Comfort 2 headphones, somewhat bulkier than the newer model, with big cups that enclose the ear, and I marveled at how the sound of the room’s vent fans disappeared when I turned the switch on (...) I visited the Met to see an exhibition of fifteenth- century Italian art. I found myself bombarded by loud conversation, so I remembered the earplugs, still in my purse. I put them in, and not only did they cut the volume on the voices, but the colors in the paintings suddenly seemed brighter."

Why do I blog this? There is a lot to draw here, especially when you think about designing applications in an urban environment. The discussion about silence is of great interest too (the fact that it does not exist in nature on Earth, the role of religions...).

At a higher level, I find that there is a direct translation from this silence problem to activities. In a sense, designing a new type of urban computing activity puts people in a sort of parallel world, as creating silence with earlids.