John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Japanese-designed gadget plays the offending speaker's words back to them in a highly irritating way.
For lovers of peace and quiet, is there anything more grating than riding public transit next to a person with no sense of speech-volume control?
While many in this situation may choose to relocate meekly to a quieter seat, it's now possible to torture these loud talkers with a taste of their own abrasive chitchat. Enter the wondrous NoiseJammer, a handheld audioweapon that looks like a radar gun but acts like a badly functioning microphone.
This quizzical innovation is the product of Japanese researchers Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada, the latter of whom also birthed the intelligent laundry hanger and the (seriously) fork Theremin. As you can see in the below video, these men of science are bothered by "empty cellphone talk" and their teachers' "boring and endless lectures." So they've built a kind of direction-sensitive microphone/speaker system that can be mobilized to "disturb people's speech."
The NoiseJammer works by recording the irritating voices of rude individuals and playing it back to them a microsecond later, overriding their annoying conversations with a flood of their own words. If you want the technical details to build your own jammer, it's all described in this academic paper, which explains the reasoning behind such a device:
We can infer that because speech has unavoidability, or cannot be easily avoided by listeners, we have established a consensus that we should not generate excessive levels of noise in public. However it is difficult to break off such inappropriate talk once it starts as we have to participate in the "inappropriate" conversation to tell the initial speakers that they should not do it. This contradiction may create a psychological burden....
[The NoiseJammer] effect can disturb people without any physical discomfort, and disappears immediately the speaking stops. Furthermore, this effect does not involve anyone but the speaker. It is expected that the negative aspects of speech, which lead to all the problems mentioned above, can be relaxed by the ability to jam remote people's speech.
While the men see this device as a useful way to avoid "conflict," I have to say I don't believe it actually will work. When someone points an alien-looking pistol at you, with a mounted laser on it no less, would your natural reaction be to stop talking or start asking a lot of questions? (Or screaming, which is the opposite effect desired?) There's also the issue of the supreme rudeness of counteracting a loudmouth with even more noise, as well as the impact the audio stream could have on innocent bystanders in the line of fire.
That said, anybody who's devoted serious time to figuring out how to disable Chatty McChattersons on the metro deserves a big high-five. Keep on fine-tuning this thing, Japan. (H/t Co.DESIGN.)
Photo credit: Amy Johansson /Shutterstock