Everyone in the intersection is waiting to get going
Pedestrians waiting in the crosswalk at 5th and Spring are prone to multitasking. They listen to music, talk on their phones, and stare absently at the flow of traffic; they do all this, while waiting for the white, “walk,” sign. Occasionally, when it does change, the pedestrians do not notice because they are distracted.
To facilitate speedy movement through the crosswalk and clear cars from the intersection faster, a speech component should be added to the crosswalk interface. This way, distracted users will be brought back to awareness. Clearing the intersection faster will reduce the number of opportunities for accidents, protecting pedestrians and drivers. It will also help people reach their destination more quickly.
The sound component needs to have specific characteristics to aid intelligibility, since that is the most important kind of sound for this situation. It should be a voice because a repetitive tone could be confused for the construction sounds in the area. The voice should be female; most of the sounds in the intersection are low pitch, so a high pitch, feminine voice would stand out and improve intelligibility. A fast speech pattern will evoke a feeling of urgency, aiding in the clearing of the intersection quickly. The speedy delivery will also pair homophilically with the state of mind of most pedestrians increasing the effectiveness of the interface.
Three of the four corners of the Tech Square intersection of 5th and Spring are burdened with noise pollution. The only respite lies in the final corner, across from Starbucks, where a little patch of greenery encases a mostly empty parking lot; with this corner’s quiet comes potential. This shady little cubic meter is the perfect place to install a voice-directed interface designed to help users cross the street more safely.
In order to engineer an appropriate voice for this talking crosswalk there are some strategic paralinguistic decisions to make. In Wired for Speech Brave and Nass outline the major considerations. For instance, giving the voice a lower pitch would suggest competence (42). The voice should have a large pitch range and a large volume to accentuate its dominance and convince users to listen to it (42-43). In addition, decreasing the speed of the voice would encourage users to take their time crossing the road and help discourage users from rushing into the street without taking a look around. The voice should also have falling intonation to give it an air of confidence (34). Lastly the gender of the voice should be female, with a stern but kind persona. These qualities of voice attempt to give the crosswalk a well-intentioned, confident, and qualified motherly persona that encourages safety while crossing the street.
The first user that could benefit from this amelioration is the user who walks while on his or her phone. Guided by the voice-directed interface, users on their phones wouldn’t even have to look up; they would be able to navigate the crosswalk without ever lifting their eyes from the screen. Some might argue that this enables dangerous oblivion to surroundings while in a car-ridden intersection. I would argue that the user that is on his or her phone is already distracted and would probably continue using their phone while crossing to the other side of the street regardless, so this voice-directed interface would only help.
Another kind of user that would benefit from this sound-directed interface is a disabled user, such as a blind person. At this intersection there is no accommodation for blind users so voice-directed interfaces hold much potential when it comes to guiding visually impaired users across the street. Depending on the complexity of the interface, the crosswalk could range from a simple “walk now” suggestion to a personalized guide as users cross to the other side of the street.
Over Labor Day Weekend, I visited Monterey, California, which is a mid-size beach town just twenty-something miles north of the famous Big Sur (which unfortunately is currently experiencing forest fires). Much of the first day there, I spent kayaking on the bay. While on the open waters, staring back at the beach, I began to think: does the soundscape of a beach really contribute to (or even determine) how relaxed or rejuvenated someone may feel from spending time at the beach. After listening to the amalgamation of all the sounds in Monterey, I was a firm believer in the therapeutic effects of taking the time to listen to the various sounds at the beach. I was hoping that I would be able to replicate the same feeling, during a quite time on the GT lawn, by the fountain.
I first took the time to explore the sounds that were audible to me in that soundscape, while in California. I was on an individual kayak between 3-5 miles off from the coast, facing the beach where we initially took off. I could hear the low pitch rustles of the uneven waters. I could also hear the higher pitched (much more infrequent) sounds of the sails of anchored boats snapping, every time a breeze came through. Of course, I couldn’t forget the barking of the sea lions to my right that were resting on the jetty, right next to the Fisherman’s Wharf. The light sound of the waves rocking would almost immediately create the taste of seawater in my mouth. Finally, I’d hear the occasional boat coming in to park at the bay marina, giving off a rhythmic sound, somewhat disrupting the natural soundscape described in the aforementioned.
I then compared my experience on the kayak to my experience on the beach, as I waited for my friends to return from the open waters. Much of the soundscape was still the same (the waves crashing, seagulls, light breeze), minus many of the man-made sounds I listed, such as the boats. Maybe in part bias from feeling tired from kayaking all afternoon, I felt an immediate sense of relaxation. From a young age, we are almost taught to associate the beach to being a relaxing place, but not necessarily why. The sounds of the waves crashing coupled with the light whooshing of the breeze almost immediately invoked a sensation of relaxation and calmness. It was very interesting to see how different I felt in very similar soundscapes, minus a few man-made sounds. I connected this to our discussion in class and readings on Foley’s article on How Sound Effects are made. This made me think of the countless movie scenes where the director almost plays the sounds of the beach prior to actually letting the frame show the beach to first grab the watchers attention by invoking the sensations attached to sounds from the beach.
Finally, I took the time to sit on the Georgia Tech lawn with a friend of mine, to see if we could find a similar sensation from the soundscape there. We thought that the sounds of the Fountain coupled with the quite breeze seemed to bring the same sensations I felt on the beach. We did a test of closing our eyes to see the effects of seeing the actual origins of the sound would change the way we perceived the sounds (as we discussed in class). We were able to conclude that actually seeing the origins of the sound completely altered the actual experience. Although, an water fountain can’t really be compared to a beach, the basics of that soundscape (running water/breeze) did invoke similar sensations (although with less intensity). If only the GT lawn were really a beach… Although, I’m sure the GT Lawn was constructed as a relaxation spot for students, we may have found an alternate use for it – a great way to relax with a group of friends after a long day.
In closing, I wanted to include a song that I believe has done an amazing job of replicating many sounds of the beach (I actually frequently listen to this song to fall asleep):