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December 07, 2007

Mindf--ck: A&E ads make New Yorkers hear voices

A&E is literally targeting consumers with hypersonic beams on billboards. The rays broadcast sound in a beam, so the noise is inaudible unless the consumer/victim strays into the target area--in which case they may experience the sound as a voice in their head.

David Giantasio of AdWeek's magazine's blog, AdFreak:

Now, Holosonic Research Labs (sounds like something out of Scanners) strikes some new notes in the urban symphony with a creepy audio outdoor effort for A&E’s Paranormal State. From the release: “People passing by the Manhattan billboard suddenly hear a voice talking to them, but when they take another step the noise is gone. The sound captures their attention and the message appears as though it is just for them.”

Earlier this year, CourtTV used similar technology for a campaign called "Mystery Whisperer":

During the month-long campaign, targeting eleven bookstores and cafes throughout Manhattan, the Audio Spotlight directed more than 100,000 messages to shoppers asking them to tune in to the new Court TV television series.

"Because the message delivered by the Audio Spotlight system is only audible when directly in line with the narrow beam of sound, we were able to capture consumers' attention in a whole new way," said JP Freeley, owner of BlueBlast Media. "We left consumers with a message that resonated instead of one they just walked right past." [Holosonic Press Release, 2007]

Holosonic Research's website offers customers a chance to "put sound where they want it." Great.

The company's PR team has convinced some reporters that this wonderful invention "preserves quiet," which technically it does, on least compared to a megaphone, which broadcasts sound waves in all directions. The ray sends sound to one point, so unless you wander into the beam, you can't hear anything coming from the billboard. None of the gushing media coverage notes that laws against noise pollution preserve quiet even better.

Josh of Gawker got hit by an A&E ray at on Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott. He describes what it was like to literally get shot with an ad for some TV show about ghosts. He was walking along, minding his own business when suddenly he heard a woman's voice in his head saying, "Who's there?"

According to Holoonic, the devices have also been used in libraries and galleries to deliver audio without headphones. I don't know whether people interpret the sound as being inside their head when they are told what to expect.

It's one thing to direct patrons to stand in a particular spot if they want the audio tour. It's totally different, and completely unethical, to bombard unconsenting passers by with unsourced sounds on public sidewalks.

New York needs to ban this nuisance, assuming it isn't already prohibited by existing laws. You can't even put up an outdoor billboard in this city without permission. Corporations should not be allowed to colonize patches of our sidewalks for their stupid brands.


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Isn't this verging on assault? I mean, you're not allowed to get physical with someone without their consent, so how is this even legal?

(Schizophrenics battling voices in their heads will find this experience enjoyable too, I'm sure.)

Neuromancer, here we come. Add up ever-increasing media fidelity and technique, widespread use of modular AI, total erosion of privacy, and exponential improvements in medical treatment, formerly with-it gen Xers are going to be feeling a constant low level of alienation trauma in about 20 years.

And that's even before the body modification hobbyists get their appendages on 3d bubblejet fleshprinters.

Wow, that's straight out of "The Merchant's War". Only in that story, accidentally walking through the beam made you an addict to the product. I suppose the technology isn't quite there yet.

It's interesting (& comforting) that, because NYC is #1, it will continue to be the "target" for this kind of shenanigans... kinda like Microsoft being the "eternal quest" site for hackers. I bet that there will be city council members around the country who will be attempting to use this to "discourage" street people... and maybe subliminally telling them how easy Life is in LA... chow ^..^

Holy crap, if that ever happens to me, I'm liable to freak out and not freak back in again for days...

The future: the ad recognizes your face, quickly loads your info and targets you with an audio beam. The message you receive calls you by your name. The sender seems to know just what to say to you. Like your bestest friend or closest lover. Dreamy.

So after fleeing the wretched shit that passes for music in stores, restaurants, and dentist's waiting rooms; once I'm back out on the street I'm to be bombarded with still more audioturds. Swell.

If there weren't accounts of people actually being hit by these, I'd be skeptical that they'd work. Man, that's creepy and invasive.

I can only imagine what walking through a mall will be like in 5 years if this technology takes off.

Although, honestly, my guess is that if this becomes at all common it will be ineffective since the whole appeal seems to be its novelty. You hear a voice and are like "WTF was that?" So maybe you back up to hear it again, or stop and listen, or look around to find its source. If its commonplace, you just tune it out like so much white noise. Or it gets banned when people get sick of it (although again I'm sure the corporations will try to claim its "free expression" to beam shit into your head).

I used to work at the Hollywood Bowl Museum, and when we were redoing the exhibit space, we considered using that sound ray as you enter the exhibit (in the space of a small alcove.) The sound would have been of an orchestra tuning up; you'd hear it as you came and went. It proved, at the time, several years ago, to be too expensive and experimental. I liked the idea however.

I like the idea of high tech malls walls saying "Welcome Mudkitty..." when I walk in some place.

Did I write "small alcove?" What it really was, was just an archway, that's how concentrated the sound ray can be.

The first image this post brought to mind was from "Midnight Cowboy". The second was that "Onion" article from a few years ago, "Voice of God In Oval Office Found To Be Dick Cheney". Certainly, if our future presidents are as sure of their connection with God as this one, the implications are alarming.

oh, let's just take this concept and drive it against the wall. is any of these things for lease ? just choose a more appropriate message, like a sultry female voice saying "Jesus can see inside your pants.", and i'm sure we'll find out if this is legal pretty fast.

It's not exactly patches of sidewalks, but of the airspace - and individual brainspace- that is being invaded.

A truly evil concept.

This is really creepy. Let's hope our politicians don't start using it. Can you imagine walking along and suddenly hearing Mitt Romney talking to you in your ear? The mind boggles.

thanks for the heads up lindsay.
now think about the fact that the advertisment doesn't want you to buy anything, just wants you to watch a free television show, so the producers can get money from MORE advertisers.
this new millenium is pretty out there.

I think the use of this device on unsuspecting passerby clearly constitutes assault under existing laws. Furthermore, have any safety tests been performed on it? What happens if it turns out 20 years down the road that these devices increase the risk of cancer?

I love it.

But then again, I have a strong sense of self.

Paging Orwell, paging Children of seems increasingly like the movies which we have watched and warned the wingnuts life might turn into if we didn't change the course of civilization.

How small can we make these devices, and could they be aimed at, say, a microphone that a politician was speaking into? If aimed at the glass of a car window, do they make it "sound"?

This does seem more intrusive than visual ads, though I'm not sure why. Is hearing an ad really intrinsically more invasive that seeing one, or is it that we've just become accustomed to advertisers owning rights to our eyeballs? I can vaguely remember billboards being denounced as a form of urban blight--but someone making that argument today would be unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing. I wonder what it would take to mount an effective resistance to this new appropriation of "the commons".

Voices in your head making you think of slogans. Is this how Wesley Willis got his start?

And if Jesus really can see inside our pants, then why do we have to wear clothes to church?

Make it work.

>but someone making that argument today would be unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing.

Four states ban them.

As someone who has worked in psychiatric hospitals as a chaplain I want to you this technology would be disastrous for anyone with certain psychiatric problems. How would you tell the difference between the voices a patient hears all the time and the voices coming from a bill board? Suppose two patients walked into the path of the sound at the same time. They would both hear the same message. Imagine a therapist trying to sort out that one.

That won't happen JH because the sound rays will be iris-activated.

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