It's struck me recently that I'm a little obsessed with screenless design. I bought this book the other day, and it's great - but it's depressing how much of it depends on a gloomy room. Screens and projections are lovely but they tend to demand an accommodating context. It's all about them.
On reflection that's one of the things I like about the bikemap. It mostly just sits there, inert and quiet, like an ornament or a piece of furniture. It doesn't glow. (Much)
Anyway. Sound is also screenless design. It's a great way to connect computation and people - it's just not used much. I'm always really struck at design conferences how many designers didn't seem to have an audio channel.
I was trying to get at that a bit with this SAP idea. Yes, some of the time it's an active thing - the bit illustrated here - but most of the time it's supposed to be just a little radar ping at the back of your attention.
And this brilliant post from Phil made me realise how much the device oriented bits of sound design and behaviour is also focused on Primary Attention. The Walkman gave us personal soundtracks, I wouldn't be without mine, but they're a powerful drug and there's a difference between listening to sound in your head and listening to sound in the world. Maybe, in fact, there's a more important difference - between listening and hearing.
(I suspect this explains some of the reason why 'the kids' listen to their music through the speakers on their phones. Obviously it's partly just because it annoys the rest of us, but some of it must also be about creating a shared social space, a shared soundtrack.)
But sound should be about more than that. It does other stuff, stuff that needs exploring. How about media that aspires to the condition of Woman's Hour, of radio. Stuff that sits in the background, creating quiet context and occasionally snagging attention.
One version of this I love is the idea of a small box of sound. Something that embodies a particular channel, that contains all it needs, speaker, power, media, the minimum of buttons to press, no menus to scroll through. Like a transistor radio that only receives one channel.
The best examples are the various versions of the Bhudda Machine, which are splendid (as are the original cheap, plastic inspirations). But, these days, you really want a stream of media coming out of a box, not a fixed block of it. I do anyway. I want an In Our Time Machine, or a Solid Steel Machine. So I built some prototypes with some charity shop ipods.
Admittedly they don't sync over the air but my backlog of listening to both Solid Steel and In Our Time is so extensive that it feels neverending. And it works. They both sit there on the shelf, like dense packages of high-quality radio ready to be unfurled, not always for listening but for creating the particular audio background I'm after, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, wherever.
I could of course, just use a regular ipod plugged into a regular speaker but there's something about all that choice, all those options, those MENUs. I just want to switch it on and for the right sort of sound to come out.
It's different. There's something to doing less, having less, building something for just a little bit of attention.
And it's made me wonder whether you can use sound to do more useful or interesting Secondary Attention things...