Let me paint you a picture. In sound.
The metaphors that we have to describe how the future might be are incredibly biased towards things visual. We talk about “visions”, not “hearings”.

We are, if you listen to the neuro-linguistic geeks, incredibly visual in our preferences for how we receive information. A picture paints a thousand words and all that.

And so our visions for the future of technology bias towards the visual too. And that’s then further emphasised by the world of television and cinema who need stuff for people to look at when creating the imaginary future worlds of science fiction.

As a result, the literary and cinematic archetypes for the future of technology seem to mostly revolve around things visual. The screen, the headset. And so is the trajectory for augmented reality.

But I’d like to suggest that AR is already here. We are just looking in the wrong place. Audio, in the form of radio, music, spoken word, various bleeps, buzzers and bells, voice interfaces, delivered through headphones, speakers and mechanical devices, is already augmenting our world in a way that visual things never will.

I’m writing this whilst listening to music (Laura Marling, since you ask). My phone can subtly interrupt with various chimes if it receives a message. But through my headphones I can also just about make out the computer-generated announcements on the train. Try that level of multitasking with anything visual trying to augment our lives.

Visual content is all-consuming. It’s front and centre, with stuff on the periphery generally ignored. Audio is subtle, not shouty (unless you need it to be shouty).

I’ve become a little bit obsessed with Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her. It depicts a near future where audio becomes the dominant user interface. Screens are everywhere, but only used when people actually need to look at something. Audio is there all of the time that the earpieces are in. The AI that becomes the central character is eons away. The importance of audio as a primary channel for secondary communication might be much closer than many think…

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