Private affairs…

A while ago we noted the disappearance of phone booths. As mobile phones became the dominant voice telephony tool there was no longer a need to stand in a specific spot and talk. That is certainly true when it comes to the connection of the device itself. But, whatever happened to the need for clarity and privacy? The phone booth at least helped the caller to hear and be heard – by the called party only.

Have a look around these days! Thanks to improved microphones and headsets we can make calls in noisy environments. However, our own voice is overheard by people around us and can be quite disturbing. Further, research has shown that people are more annoyed by hearing half a conversation than by the sound that they are actually hearing. No wonder that mobile phone conversations are forbidden in some trains while physical conversations are still allowed.

With regards to privacy it seems that people are becoming more and more relaxed with using their mobile phones and tablets in public. In buses and on the subway teenagers are happily and loudly chatting about their recent crushes and conflicts while others are playing games and watching movies, although using headphones. We are now less embarrassed by showing how and for what we are using our mobile devices.

This does not mean that we are ready to openly display all of our curiosity or ignorance. And, that’s why voice-based interaction, as in the shape of iPhone’s Siri, is much more likely to be used in a car, or in other situations when we are not overheard by others, than in public transport. Siri certainly seems impressive in its application of artificial intelligence and groundbreaking in its conversational user interface. Its (Her?) bold answers may even be sharper than Google’s. But if we are afraid to ask the questions, virgin Siri’s areas of learning are likely to be very different from Internet search queries in general …

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