Real natural sound is as essential as visual

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Real, natural sound is as essential as visual information because sound tells us about things we can t see, and it does so while our eyes are occupied elsewhere. Natural sounds reflect the complex interaction of natural objects: the way one part moves against another; the material of which the parts are made hollow or solid, metal or wood, soft or hard, rough or smooth. Sounds are generated when materials interact, and the sound tells us whether they are hitting, sliding, breaking, tearing, crumbling, or bouncing. Experienced mechanics can diagnosis the condition of machinery just
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by listening. When sounds are generated artificially, if intelligently created using a rich auditory spectrum, with care to provide the subtle cues that are informative without being annoying, they can be as useful as sounds in the real world. Sound is tricky. It can annoy and distract as easily as it can aid. Sounds that at one s first encounter are pleasant or cute easily become annoying rather than useful. One of the virtues of sounds is that they can be detected even when attention is applied elsewhere. But this virtue is also a deficit, for sounds are often intrusive. Sounds are difficult to keep private unless the intensity is low or earphones are used. This means both that neighbors may be four: Knowing What to Do: Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback 157 annoyed and that others can monitor your activities. The use of sound to convey knowledge is a powerful and important idea, but still in its infancy. Just as the presence of sound can serve a useful role in providing feedback about events, the absence of sound can lead to the same kinds of difficulties we have already encountered from a lack of feedback. The absence of sound can mean an absence of knowledge, and if feedback from an action is expected to come from sound, silence can lead to problems. WHEN SILENCE KILLS It was a pleasant June day in Munich, Germany. I was picked up at my hotel and driven to the country with farmland on either side of the narrow, two-lane road. Occasional walkers strode by, and every so often a bicyclist passed. We parked the car on the shoulder of the road and joined a group of people looking up and down the road. Okay, get ready, I was told. Close your eyes and listen. I did so and about a minute later I heard a high-pitched whine, accompanied by a low humming sound: an automobile was approaching. As it came closer, I could hear tire noise. After the car had passed, I was asked my judgment of the sound. We repeated the exercise numerous times, and each time the sound was different. What was going on? We were evaluating sound designs for BMW s new electric vehicles. Electric cars are extremely quiet. The only sounds they make come from the tires, the air, and occasionally, from the high-pitched whine of the electronics. Car lovers really like the silence. Pedestrians have mixed feelings, but the blind are greatly concerned. After all, the blind cross streets in traffic by relying upon the sounds of vehicles. That s how they know when it is safe to cross. And what is true for the blind might also be true for anyone stepping onto the street while distracted. If the vehicles don
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