Tag Archives: listening

The Software Shuffle

There’s an art to setting up online forms that are responsive and adaptable.

Anyone that works or does business with an organization—pretty much all of us—face an almost daily task that would have been unknown a generation ago. Not only do we use computers, and often depend on them for the payment of bills and the submission of forms and applications. We also no get the flip-side effects of messages we no longer control.  The requirement to use a group’s proprietary software in order to complete even the simplest transaction is so common we hardly notice. But sometimes the smaller the business, the more the software has you wandering into the weeds.

There’s an art to setting up online forms that are responsive and adaptable. Bad software is typically written to meet the needs of the makers rather than those on the receiving end.  Good software works on the principle of convenience.  Ever notice how easy it is to buy something on Amazon?

Software is the last to know when it’s stupid.

I am now regularly invited to meetings via an official looking Google form that lets me state my intention with a “Yes,” “No”, or “Maybe.” You probably get them as well.  My frustration is that there’s no space to communicate anything more meaningful.  Just this morning I was sent such a form announcing the cancellation of a meeting, but still inviting me to respond “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.”  I pushed the green “Yes” button, but didn’t know what I was actually “saying.” Was it: “Yes! do cancel the damn meeting for sure; I’m glad to have the time back?” Or: “Yes, thank God someone came to their senses.” But what would a “No” mean?  Perhaps “I’m going anyway, just to soak up the silence in the otherwise empty room?”  Or, “No, and that was a career-busting mistake to call it off?”  Then there’s the middle option: “‘Maybe’ I’ll think about not going to the cancelled meeting.”  These responses pose quandaries inside of quandaries worthy of a diagram that looks like a ballpark pretzel.

Software “for interfacing with consumers” is designed with closed-ended options. Most of it converts the human experience into a set of comparative numbers, making all of us less aware and savvy. This is the result of a general overreach for quantification. Results of a questionnaire or an application for services seem to require simple responses so that the organizational chain never has to deal with the natural variability of human understanding.  Put simply, open ended questions don’t “code well.”  They require a listener/reader on the other end: a bigger stretch than some organizations want to make.

The Primacy of Sound

Source: Wikipedia.org

We may see lightning first.  But only when it’s roar reaches our ears has the drama begun

The writer and musician Robin Maconie calls sound “the second sense,” ceding the top spot to vision.  But I think he’s wrong.  In its varied forms, sound more directly nurtures our capacity for language, serving as the gateway to the richest forms of consciousness and communication.  The modern preference for content that comes via screens sometimes encourages us to miss our indebtedness to the aural.  But even when our eyes have shut down at the end of the day, we have a consciousness of our environment through the 24/7 sentries of our ears.

Ultimately, a reduction of our senses to simple binaries is usually not helpful. But it is important to understand how a sensory platform supports what matters most in our lives.

The common property of language visits us first as sound, years before it is converted into the diverse media we know in later life.  As linguists remind us, oral speech is the source of learned language. Our consciousness depends heavily on the verbal. We think in words. Words trigger experiences that know because they can be named. In addition, beyond speech as the generative driver of all communication, other myriad elements of the auditory world carry us deeper into every corner of the world.

We hear by sensing minute variations in air pressure, which are subject to the vagaries of wind, weather and even degrees of humidity.  The thin tissue of the tampanic membrane, must work with the small bones and nerves of the middle and inner ear to pick up tiny variations in air pressure that we convert into sensations of hearing. Altogether, this is a fragile enterprise. Our visual capacities may be robust, but our auditory acuity is more subtle. On a clear day it may be possible to see the spine of the Rockies on the distant horizon about 80 miles away.  But sound as heard by humans has no such range. We measure the audible in feet rather than miles.  And single sources are easily swamped by noise.

Air is the mother of all media.

In the vacuum of space astronauts may still see each other, but they can talk only through visual signs or radios. The essential medium of air is absent except for the very thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen that rings the earth. Even so, films about space are awash in wall-to-wall music and effects. On the ground and in a theater, Dolby ATMOs can drop a single unit of sound behind one ear.  It’s another reminder that air itself is the mother of all media.

This localizing capacity of binaural listening sometimes compensates for what the eye misses. Sound offers the advantage of insights and warnings at 360 degrees, not the limited 90 or so of our vision.

More than we realize, the clamor of everyday life never ceases to contribute to how we understand the places we inhabit and the people we know.  What we finally express in response is our bridge back into this world.  As musician and naturalist Bernie Krause has noted, “Without sound…there would be no music, no legend, no voice to stir the soul, evoke the memory, or transport the spirit.”