Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Peculiar intimacies and two-way radio phones

Some time ago, I posted on my "strong attraction to the staccato movement of the email conversation, caused by message lag-time. All that groping about, anticipating articulation, time to imagine..." and a recent m2m post on silent dating got me thinking about this again - which in turn reminded me of an excellent conversation I had with Allison Woodruff and Eric Paulos at UbiComp last month about two-way radio phones.

Push-to-talk phones are unusual in that they allow people to project their voices without the certainty that they will be heard - not unlike whispering to a lover in the dark, not knowing if they are asleep and unable to hear you. (Oh, the things I have said in those moments...)

This type of mobile communication is interesting to me because of its peculiar intimacies:

I can speak a fleeting thought and it is possible that my thought remains fleeting and eventually dissipates into nothingness - definitely not recorded, and possibly not even heard. (What a wonderful antidote to unflinching and unforgiving machine memory - and even to the violence of human memory!) But it is also possible that my voice is heard as a whisper out-of-the-blue and from far away, ephemeral yet tangibly present - a sort of resonant-Anne, like being glimpsed but not seen. And just as a lover can feign being asleep, so too other radio-phone listeners can pretend to have not heard, or choose not to acknowledge. After all, not all words deserve or require response in order to be meaningful.

But maybe I just like radio phones because they encourage the sharing of daily minutiae, those experiences that mark us without leaving obvious traces ...

Update: I should have mentioned that Allison's research group at PARC has done some really interesting work around social, mobile audio spaces, including a study of college-age push-to-talk users.

See: Media affordances of a mobile push-to-talk communication service (pdf) and
The Mad Hatter’s Cocktail Party: A Social Mobile Audio Space Supporting Multiple Simultaneous Conversations (pdf)

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