The promise and peril of "sonification": giving feedback through sound

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I thought it was agreed that autoplaying at full volume was a scourge upon the earth.


Great, more doorbells, more alarm clock buzzers.


Hard pass. I really really hate notifications, and in particular I really hate notification sounds. Any time I install software, an app, etc the first thing I do is silence all sounds. Just can’t stand it and I would hate to use something that leverages sounds as its main way to give feedback


They even started bothering me in movies (especially the carrier-specific ringtones). Don’t get me started on the chirping and tapping sounds during prolonged scenes of actors sending texts back and forth…


We’re already walking around in our own sonic world, with smartphone-­connected headphones plugged into our ears.

No. We are not.

in an age of constant earbud use, there is lots of potential for more.

No. Just NO!

It used to piss me off at work that it was assumed by the powers that be that, despite insisting on forcing us into open-plan office layouts, we must all have had earbuds at the ready to listen to the regular stream of corporate tick-box training and indoctrination. (Because they couldn’t possible have wanted us all to turn on our speakers!)

As a tinnitus sufferer, I never use earbuds. And despite being a particular case myself, it strikes me that earbud use in public (and it was largely the same at work) is typically observed in those who are younger (under 30?). I know that’s a crude observation, but the blithe assumption that the world now constantly uses earbuds is a foundation of sand upon which to build a case for ‘sonification’. Overall this all seems to me to be a false basis for a case for more unwanted noise in our lives.

And looking at a screen is no more anxiety-producing (and probably less so) than constant pinging and dinging. Only three things ping on my phone - email, SMS, and actual phone calls. Can’t think of anything else I need audio notification of.


Visual notifications only impinge on you if you look at the screen. You are in control of when you have your attention diverted. Audible notifications interrupt your attention even if you are across the room paying attention to something else. No thank you.


Reminder everyone: for peace of mind, proper sleep, and mental health, the correct response, 99.9% of the time, to the question “can we send you notifications” is NO.


It cracks me up that movies and shows have scenes of computers being used with all sorts of bleeps and bloops, particularly hacking scenes. It’s like lazy shorthand for technical electronic mumbo jumbo.


You know where it was done well is the bridge of the Enterprise, where there was a constant low warble of “everything’s fine.” Also, if my car’s engine sounds funny, I can detect that much faster than I can look up a diagnostic code.


There’s a cure for that.


The texting ticks me off because most writers are too lazy to include any dialogue (as though viewers want to watch two people typing). Worse, what is typed appears on a screen too small to read at a distance, but the content is not included in closed captioning. I’m not going to jump up and walk within two feet of the TV to figure out what is going on every time this happens in a film, so I skip the whole exchange.


Please stop making cars beep and honk when they’re remotely locked. That is the worst. At least make it legal to have the car removed from the area and crushed/incinerated?


One of the things we have noticed in implemented patient clinical system is “alert fatigue”. Too many alerts makes people start to ignore them.


Well sure, ‘done elegantly’ as the article suggests, audio feedback is a huge boon (if you’re not deaf).

But, app makers will never do it elegantly, preferring to drown you in useless omnipresent noise. This is full on tragedy of the commons.


Illegal where I live.
Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung (StVZO) FTW!


I once read an interview with one of the Deep Space 9 guest stars where she mentioned that in trying to take her role seriously, she pressed lots of “buttons” on the console props when she was supposed to be using the computer. This earned her a little side-eye from the sound engineers and later she learned it was because every time she pretended to press something, they had to manually add a little sound effect.

(Thinly veiled excuse to geek out over LCARS)


For laughs, I made a program that read the firewall logs and played a sound effect, lifted from the game Star Fleet Command, depending on which port was attempted.

It really added another sense to be able to hear the firewall. I could always tell when a new Code Red variant was spreading, or someone was trying an early botnet. With my setup at the time, I could attach another PC and get a second IP address, sometimes quite different from the first, and hear it in “stereo”. It was impressive how fast some Chinese scans would sweep across the two IPs, assuming that it was a linear scan.

I guess I could duplicate it these days by armor-plating a Raspberry Pi and shove it out into the DMZ, but it’d still be a security risk.

Hmm. It’d make a fun Hack-a-Day project…


So if Chinese hackers were red alert, were Russian hackers black alert? :grinning:

[note: this joke only makes sense if you watched Discovery.]


I disagree. In my experience, older people use earbuds, and younger people use the speakers on their phones to talk to their friends and listen to music. I am 41, in an office of people around my age, and everyone uses earbuds. I recognize they my sample is probably unrepresentative, but I can’t think that your sample is any different. Personally, if a solution can be found for elegantly informational audible notifications (emphasis on elegance, as the article repeatedly stipulated), I’m all in.