The way in which devices interact all are bound by the 5 senses we humans have to interact with our world. Screens display things visually for our eyes, speakers emit audio alerts as do phones for our ears, and keyboards and force feedback joysticks for our sense of touch. Our sense of smell and taste, somewhat intertwined, are not utilized much.
I think in the main 3, we’ve gotten pretty good and knowing how to best utilize the senses via our various technological devices. The screen shows text so we can clearly see it, we can adjust the brightness to compensate for lighting levels, and image compression technologies take advantage of the fact that there are thousands (millions?) of colors we cannot see, therefore, they are removed from the image to save in file size.
Audio is the same way; speakers have volume controls, sub-woofers not only help enhance realism, but also have evolved to help the deaf. I even saw a Flash site once that with audio told you where to click to navigate… the whole site was just a blank, black Flash movie. Certain sounds have become a part of our lifestyle, and from them, we know what they are, what they mean, all by their distinct sounds. Some forms of pitch and intonation are used to evoke emotions and or illicit a response. Just like a crescendo in a song builds, so to can a simple, 2 syllable sound song invoke a feeling that the computer is asking a question, or has completed a task.
Touch is getting there. I think there are a lot of neat boundaries we are pushing. The whole virtual games are getting cooler and cooler. From the adult world, those “sensation suits” will hopefully be adopted to the gaming world, so like force feedback joysticks, when you get hit in game, you’ll “feel the punch”, or “experience the rush of the explosion”… things like that.
The whole point of this post
I feel a vibration at my hip. I grab my Cingular Text Pager. No new message. It’s my phone instead telling me I have a voicemail. They are in the same vicinity, and thus, it is very easy for me to get confused on which one it is vibrating.
Couple that with the proximity to my actual skin; loose pockets, or a thicket leather jacket I wear in winter, it makes it difficult for me to actually “feel” the phone ringing; to feel someone is calling me.
Given some of the studies done on touch I learned about in college, some people’s sensitivity to touch is based on their experiences with it growing up. This was psychology, so they were mostly talking about Freud’s theories, and how much people were comfortable with touch. If you didn’t experience a lot of affection as a child, then later in life, you were more likely to feel uncomfortable with people touching you vs. if you had a lot of affection. This is cultural, too, because some families are just not affectionate, while others are. Some touches have associations built that are positive, whilst others negative. It’s pretty complex, but to me, you can easily find the sources/causes.
Therefore, I’m not really sure you could quantify a stereotype/generality about what vibrations imply what. Therefore, I just look to music. For instance, something fast and quick implies urgency. Something constant, and then building up intensity implies someone/something wants your attention. I guess I’m not sure, if I were an engineer, how would I differentiate the vibrations between devices as well as ensure the experience is correct… enough so to be marketable and/or have a real business use. For example, ring tones do make money, thus, there is a reason to invest time in their effect on users.
…all I know is, via vibration, I’d like to know which device is telling me it has a message; my phone or my text pager. Vibrations are quiet, but get my attention more than anything since they are so personal.