It’s a classic case of upping the ante, and it’s not clear where it’s going to stop. Much consumer technology these days has been focused on democratizing the media, letting everyday people make their voices heard. This happens in a variety of different ways, whether it’s a succinct tweet, a simple click of the Like button, or any of a number of ways of sending a message to someone.
The problem is that the success of these technologies makes them somewhat self-neutralizing. When there’s only a few people tweeting or +1ing or even sending text messages, it‘s truly a dialog, and people can digest and respond to what’s being said.
But with everyone doing it, there’s so much “noise” that a) it’s hard to get noticed, and b) no one has time to read everything anymore, much less actually respond. So it’s become so much shouting into the wind.
Well there’s a new technology just announced called S’CREAM that raises the stakes. For now, anyway. Taking a cue from the Howl messages in Harry Potter, subscribers will be able to include special audio tags in their messages. When, for instance, a text or tweet arrives at someone’s phone, in addition to the message being visible on the screen, the audio module in the phone will also be brought to bear, blaring the message at top volume. The point is to be heard, so the volume control doesn’t affect S’CREAMs; only putting the phone in silent mode works, and, even then, the phone simply whispers the message instead of shouting it.
This technology is actually being implemented in a number of innovative ways. For example, the near-field communication technology being built into phones can be harnessed by businesses that invest in a simple, low-cost NFC reader. If you have Liked the business online, or if your tracked behavior is in any way consistent with liking that business, then, when you enter, the NFC reader will make note of your entry, cross-check the database, and send a S’CREAM to your phone that makes it blare, “I LOVE this place!”
Beyond that, RFID tags sewn into clothes will be able to satisfy the need for many people to consume conspicuously. No longer to be ignored, these clothes or accessories can trigger the phone to exclaim, as you walk into a room, “This suit cost $5000!” Or, “My wallet was made with 100% endangered rhino skin.”
Asked whether this will be self-defeating once everyone has it, CEO U. R. de Lautest said that we were underestimating the creativity of users. “It’s not how loud you say it,” he suggested; “it’s what you say, so being noticed is in your control.”
Asked whether all public spaces would resonate with a cacophony of S’CREAMs, he simply waved me away, saying, “Silence is dead. Get over it.”