We just won’t be satisfied until we all exist in isolated little VR cubes, never having to interact directly with another human being unless masked by a digital avatar of our own design. Engineers are designing all sorts of strange gadgets in order to fool or mask our sensory experiences and enable us to exist in new realities. I mean, reality’s just too boring, am I right? Why wouldn’t we want to live in a virtual fairytale land of digital make believe?
To help insulate ourselves further from having to acknowledging the humanity of the beings standing next to us in line at Starbucks, a new startup called Hushme has launched a product of the same name which it is billing as the “world’s first voice mask for mobile phones.” The device physically muffles the sound of one’s voice when talking on the phone and even plays audio such as Darth Vader’s breathing or ocean sounds to further mask one’s voice. Ok, maybe the Darth Vader part is pretty cool.
The Hushme’s designers claim they were inspired after hearing another person’s loud Skype call while sitting in a small café. They were so incensed by the audacity of another individual to break the smug, pretentious silence of their presumably overpriced hipster coffee shop that they decided to ride their fixed gear bicycles to the nearest hackerspace and invent a demonic device that would add one more brick in the digital walls we’re currently constructing around ourselves.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but seriously: does the world really need such a device? Is this one more case of digital culture gone too far? Really, though, we’ve been closing ourselves off and creating alternate realities for centuries, just with the best technology we have available. Cave paintings, stage productions of Shakespeare, paintings, literature – all of these media have served as ways for the human mind to escape the confines of our own sensory experience and physical reality. Is VR or AR really any different? Is masking our voices in public any stranger than writing a letter in private? Is this any ruder than reading a book in public?
It’s hard to say. But you won’t catch me wearing that goofy mask anytime soon.