Unwanted vocalizations

Computer users are bombarded with unrequested noise from the time they turn their systems on to when they turn them off. Why can't we get quiet by default?

I don't remember the last big meeting I was at where at least one Windows machine did not play the start-up "Ode to Bill" at some point, usually in the middle of someone making an important point. I realize that it is useful to have some indication that your machine is coming to life but why does it have to be so loud by default and so long? Maybe Microsoft sees it as some sort of an advertisement to lure others to adopt Windows but mostly what it means to me is that few people trust the system enough to do anything other than shut it fully down in between uses - hardly an advertisement. (In comparison, almost all Macintosh users just put their machines to sleep and wake them up silently when it's time to use them again.)

Why do systems, Macs included, think you want to sound like you are playing a video game when you are editing a file? You get noises each time you hit a key, change text, delete a file. I could understand the attractiveness of this sort of thing if the user is about 5 years old but it quickly just becomes an annoyance to the person next to you on the plane.

This sound-pollution problem is not limited to operating systems and applications; the people who design Web pages have continued their fascination with form over substance. This started with imposing inescapable dancing Flash graphics on anyone who just wants to visit a Web site to get some useful information. More Web sites now imitate boom boxes or yell at you when you mistakenly assume that they might be more concerned with content than sizzle.

Looking for a recipe for Guinness Beef Stew? If so go to the GeoCities site for Napa Valley and you get Irish (I think) music to read the recipe by. If you miss the self introduction that Johnny Cash issued on many an album and at all concerts go to his Web site and you get blasted with it at full volume. If you want to catch up on the NASA Mars rovers by going to the NASA Web site (and skipping by the pretty but time-consuming Flash animation) you get personally greeted by the voice of NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, who seems to have far more ego than sense. In addition, if you leave the Web page open, I guess O'Keefe gets lonely because he greets you again and again. These are only three of hundreds of sites I've bumped into that for reasons that elude me want to make it clear to everyone in the neighborhood that you have reached their site. This is in addition to the growing number of sites where you get bombarded with sound augmented ads.

Of course, you run into these idiot sites most often when you are in a meeting pretending to listen to your boss, or some other presenter. This is not a good way for a Web site to endear itself to visitors.

I do not mind operating systems where you can turn on sound effects with a configuration screen or sites that include an "annoy me with sound" button, but computers and the Web should not speak unless requested to.

Disclaimer: Students, on the other hand, have to figure out that it can be important to speak unbidden - at least sometimes - thus, the above plea for silence is mine and not the University's.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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