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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Instrument of mass deception

March 31, 2004

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"Running late, hon -- I'm stuck in traffic!"

Honk, honk, honk!

Wink, wink, wink.

Guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. According to The Week magazine, the Romanian company Simeda has just come out with SoundCover: fake background noises for your cell phone. You've got your traffic sounds, your thunderstorm, dentist's drill and, for some reason, circus sounds. ("I'll be right there, boss -- just gotta take care of this lion.")

Most valuable of all, SoundCover also offers the extremely plausible sound of another call coming in. That option alone is going to make them millions. Maybe billions, as we -- and our mothers -- live longer.

Be honest: How many times have you been stuck on the phone desperately trying to will your call-waiting to click? SoundCover is a godsend for us can't-quite-say-what-we-think folks. I.e., everyone who isn't as direct as Dr. Laura.

But is it a godsend for mankind?

It's a disaster, says my friend Laura (not the doctor). "Why can't you just say directly, 'I don't want to talk to you!'? Or, 'I overslept because I'm a lazy slob and I don't want to deal with my issues'?"

Uh, maybe because I wouldn't have any friends anymore? Or a job? And my mom would need CPR?

There really isn't anything wrong with a bit of polite deception. Most people actually appreciate it. But is the world truly better off when, instead of saying, "Hi, hon. Can't make it home -- I'm in bed with a 22-year-old," a spouse says, "Hi, hon. My plane is delayed. Listen to that thunder!"

With SoundCover, the cell phone becomes just another instrument of mass deception. Like the Internet, where 57-year-old housewives describe themselves as 23-year-old blondes with breasts the size of bongo drums, SoundCover affords us a brand-new way to fake a brand-new world. This raises issues not just moral but practical.

"What if your wife accidentally takes your cell phone one day and says, 'Dear, I pressed a button and got all these thunder noises'?" Or what if you press "hospital sounds" and tell your caller, "Gotta go -- Grandma's dying. Here comes the priest!" You'd better remember not to press that button again: "Didn't your grandma die last week?"

So SoundCover would need to come with some safeguards. And if they add the sound of the subway, New Yorkers may never tell the truth again.

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