We are living in the post internet and mobile revolution age. Using our smart phones we can communicate with anyone anytime anywhere, see videos, share our “kodak” moments using instagram, get directions, lookup anything instantaneously etc. So anyone has a question about a product or an object or any kind of information, instead of even studying the object or problem in front of us, we quickly reach for our smart phones. Smart phone have become an extended limb of our existence, where the entire world is available via the handheld device. Therein lies the problem in all our smart phone interactions, we are really engaging with the world via the smart phone instead of engaging with the real world. We’ve all seen the ads on buses, trains and subways, urging us to visit their website or capture a picture of it using your smart phone, so even physical advertisements are driving us back to our digital screens instead of the other way around. If I am in a bookstore and thinking of buying a book, we all know the best way to get the latest reviews or information or pricing of the book is to physically put that book down, peer into our smart phone to lookup what we want, its really counter intuitive the way we are perceiving the real world not to mention the effect on our eyes. Even this article I am writing will be better served if it were not written rather spoken/read… I am not against digitization or engaging via smart phones, but I think there should be a better way of perusing news articles or enjoying the physical world instead of burying our heads in the smart phones.
So, whats the solution? Have you ever visited a museum or a historical monument where they offer audio tours where you are given a device and listening to the audio commentary while you walk around the museum where your visual sense is directed firmly at the object(s) you are there to enjoy while your auditory sense enhances the experience with the commentary? This is really a great way to enjoy a visit to the museum, I see few limitations with this particular approach. The first thing is, a very specialized device (there may be some museums already employing a smart phone app instead of this audio device), and the audio is generated and distributed by the establishment itself and has no way of generating feedback and its really limited to a particular museum or monument or an object.
I was thinking of a cloud based audio platform where a community can associate various sounds, voices and even songs to any physical object and make it available to the whole world. Imagine a scenario where you are visiting the metropolitan museum of art in New York and looking at a monumental artwork by Titian and be able to listen to a commentary in Arabic uploaded by a fellow art connoisseur (assuming Arabic is your language, wouldn't that enhance your experience of taking in that particular artwork? Most of the physical objects in the world from toothpaste to a laptop are bar coded already, if we have a simple way of accessing all the audio associated with that object, we can experience a range of emotions in all the possible languages without taking our eyes off of that object. You want product reviews? You got it, you want audio tour guides, you got it (using geo location along with bar codes). I can even imagine a scenario where an birthday card sent around in the office for everyone to sign (ya, we've all seen those) can associate a whole host of voices and even songs associated with that particular card can be retrieved and enjoyed by the receiver anytime they want. Its like capturing a moment forever and be able to relive the nostalgia associated with that card or gift or whatever. We can even think of attaching audio notes to everyday objects from cereal to a photo frame or watch to a favorite dress. I can even imagine a scenario while perusing a menu in a restaurant (if each of the menu items have a tag or bar code) you can hear your favorite foodie blogger’s review or your brother-in-law’s opinion (if you value it!) without taking your eyes off of the menu. Yes, there are many objects in the world are not bar coded or tagged, but that’s easily fixable by providing tags (which can be NFC enabled) for very very cheap prices and encourage people to affix them to any object and letting the world start recording their voices around these objects. This could be a platform to make a statement at a place or event or symbolic monument without indulging in traditional graffiti, could be like a visually silent protest but entire range of voices can be expressed and shared. Imagine being able to record voices of visitors and their emotions after visiting the Vietnam war memorial or voices of protesters at Tahrir Square, any visitor to Tahrir Square after that can relive those moments, it makes it more powerful and relatable.
I envision NFC enabled tags or bar codes being associated to any object at a micro level or a place at macro level and without having to take our smart phones from our pockets we should be able to hear and experience that particular object, even newspapers or articles can be read to you on the move, imagine opening the newspaper in the morning and touching few interesting articles you want to read and creating a dynamic playlist that can be listened to on the go during your commute… We can really give voice to an inanimate object or piece of furniture. We can really mesh the digital and physical world via audio. We don’t have to invest millions and billions to create smart objects by embedding expensive sensors, yes we are all waiting for the day when our refrigerator orders our groceries or our washing machine makes a service call to get a technician without us lifting a finger, while waiting for that day, we can really make objects smart by adding voice to it, especially if a community like wikipedia is involved, we can make our interaction with everyday world that much richer.
Here at LizenUp, we are hard at work to make this vision a reality. We are releasing an app and a website so people can start sharing their stories. Please use our contact form to signup for updates.