Knock Knock

In January 2003, Crispin Jones and his colleagues at Ideo (an industrial-design company responsible for designing such products as the Palm V pocket computer, the original Microsoft mouse, and the high-tech dressing rooms at New York's flagship Prada boutique) unveiled five prototype "social mobile telephones":

The first phone, called SoMo1, gives its user an electric shock depending on how loudly the person at the other end is speaking.

Users of SoMo2 must manipulate a joystick and a pair of saxophone keys to produce (via a speech synthesiser) an expressive range of vowel sounds for non-verbal communication ("Hmm? Yeah")...

SoMo3 resembles a small wind instrument. Dialling is done by holding down various keys and blowing; tunes replace telephone numbers. "The public performance that dialling demands acts as a litmus test of when it is appropriate to make a call," the designers explained.

SoMo4 replaces ringtones with a knocking sound: to make a call, users knock on the back of the phone. The recipient of the call hears the knock and may judge from its intensity whether to answer.

And SoMo5? It features a catapult-like device which can be used to trigger intrusive sounds on another nearby phone, anonymously alerting its user that he or she is speaking too loudly.

[The project won a prize from the Agency of Cultural Affairs in Japan.]

["Mobile phones with built-in cameras are being banned in gyms and nightclubs over fears that the technology is tempting normally level-headed professionals into risky high jinks," The Sunday Times of London reported in 2003. "In Japan, operators have been forced to fit new handsets with warning devices, including a voice that shouts Yatane! ('You did it') whenever a photo is taken, after a string of upsets involving men using the phones to take snaps under women's skirts."]

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