Try this simple experiment one day: wear a couple of earplugs and try to conduct your regular everyday activities, for a couple of hours. How would you describe your feelings in that deafened state? You would probably feel a sense of isolation, from the world and from other people. So, absence of sound induces perceived isolation which may turn into felt oppression in some environments, such as an anechoic chamber. One may think that if silence induces isolation, sound induces presence, but unfortunately this is not the case. We know sensitive souls that have difficulties falling asleep because they live in noisy neighborhoods. One solution that may work in this case is to play loud noise through the hi-fi loudspeakers to mask the noise from the environment. Again, isolation (e.g. from street noise) is the result, but the means to achieve it is loud noise, the opposite of silence. And how would you describe all those people that experience modern city life being shielded by earphones that play music from their walkmans or mp3 players? They look rather isolated from each other, don’t they? In some circumstances there might be a need of concentration (e.g., in studying), or people want to tune their mood (Brodsky 2002). In all those cases sounds may be the appropriate mean, as it was well known even to Thomas Edison, who used to accompany commercialization of his phonograph with a “mood change chart” aimed at surveying users reactions to that new technology. So, it seems that sounds have the potential to modulate human engagement (from isolation to arousal) in everyday environments, and this is an aspect that should be seriously considered when designing the artefacts that will populate the environments of the future, likely to be pervaded by Ambient Intelligence (AmI) in its various facets.
Berlin / Heidelberg: Springer , 2007. 233-254 p.
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