Nasal pilates

Reach out and touch someone

A bunch of German scientists have developed a way for mobile phones to communicate messages by touch: A set of pins that rises and falls would transmit information, kind of like braille. They don’t actually use braille, mind you. Their system is intended to communicate simple types of messages to a mobile phone user, so that they could receive messages on the sly. If you were in a meeting, you wouldn’t need to actually pull out your phone and look at it — you could just stick your hand in your pocket, feel your phone, and figure out that your spouse was texting you. As the BBC reports:

For instance, the ‘@’ sign might feel like a spiral, the word ‘I’ as a wave that flows towards the person and ‘you’ as a wave that flows away.

I love this idea. It’s part of the (hopefully) growing trend towards “ambient information” — devices that communicate information in the peripheries of our attention, as opposed to forcing us to stare at a screen. If you’ve ever seen the Ambient Orb — produced by the insanely brilliant David Rose and his team at Ambient Devices — you know what I’m talking about. Indeed, one of the most elegant pieces of ambient-information design I’ve seen are the psychoacoustics of America Online’s Instant-Messaging application. When someone on your buddy list logs on, you hear the sound of a door creaking open; when they leave, the door slams shut. It’s a delightfully nonintrusive way to let you know that your virtual social-scene is filling up, without forcing you to continually click over to look at your buddy list.

A well-designed “touch and read” mobile phone could do the same thing: When you idly reached into your pocket to touch it, it could gently indicate some important information, without you needing to whip it out and stare at it.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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