Alone Together Technology

    There’s no succinct way to ask this …

    Could you network together via wireless technology a bunch of over-ear headphones with integrated microphones so that when one person talks the sound is captured by all microphones in the room and used to create nearly-perfect sound-cancellation in the other networked headphones? 

    The point would be so a bunch of people in a room, such as an office, could carry on separate business without disturbing each other. And I could see it being useful at home as well.

    As far as I know, current sound-cancellation headphone technology only gets you about halfway there. I’m wondering if networking the headphones together and using the information from all connected microphones as data about the sound wave could close the gap. And maybe this only works in rooms that have sound dampeners on the floors, walls and ceilings.

    I’m going to assume that some sort of current or near-future technology can get us to a point where we can be alone together. And by that I mean we might be physically near each other but our attentions will be unreservedly elsewhere. I know you think that’s already the case when people text. But a person texting still hears you and still has one foot in your reality. Things will feel entirely different when we give over our full audio attention to external sources nearly all the time. 

    In the future, we’ll be zombies to each other while our full attentions are focused far away. Eye contact will become a lost art. In the interest of efficiency we will place calls to people who are sitting next to us because the sound quality will be so much better. The technology will auto-correct for the mumbler who likes to talk while standing next to running water. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a playback feature to hear what someone just told you, such as the proper way to pronounce their name?

    You scoff at my prediction, but I’ll bet you’ve texted from one room of your home to another, and you probably didn’t see that coming either.

    I predict that someday every source of sound during your workday will come to you via wireless headphones simply because the experience will be so much better than natural sound.

    I recently started using over-ear headphones while I draw. I was surprised at how absorbing they are in the sense that they improve my ability to focus. As our world becomes more complex, and distractions are multiplying exponentially, headphones are a way to filter out a lot of the stress-noise. 

    I assume Apple has interesting plans for Beats. In five years it might be surprising to see anyone’s naked ears in public. Watches, schmatches. Over-ear headphones, networked and with better sound-cancellation are the next big thing.

    (Disclosure: I own Apple stock but I hate half of their shit. The other half is cool.)


    Scott Adams

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