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tag: doorbell

“I’m On”

Even if "I" seem to be off, or even a little off

Time and again I’ve learned that the surest way for people to interact with technology is for them to experience the technology as not just a useful tool, but as a presence that is eager to help. I saw a fascinating presentation a few years back by a researcher who showed that simply adding a pair of stick-on googly eyes to a device would significantly increase the likelihood that people would interact with it.

There is a lot of discussion about matters of gender in the roles of today’s personal digital assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, though less so about the tone of those interactions, the balance they strike between authoritative resource and obsequious servant. The intelligences that animate our phones and “smart home” devices walk a tightrope that is suspended across the deep chasm we have come to call the Uncanny Valley (the scenario in which certain approximations of the human by the digital have the opposite effect of the googly eyes: repelling us rather than enchanting us).

As time passes, these digital assistants will serve as interpersonal middleware, along the lines of the Google Duplex service, which can initiate and make a call on your behalf, communicating a request to someone on the other end — and perhaps at some future date, to a digital assistant serving your intended interlocutor. The two parties’ mutual assistants might have numerous communications before their human guardians ever might speak to each other directly.

The humble doorbell, a device that serves as a technological messaging tool, is a model of such interaction. The tradition intercom, by extension, facilitates communication without itself participating, to varying degrees. In the case of this apartment building’s aftermarket solution, one takes for granted that the “I” in “I’m on” is not one of the human inhabitants, but the device itself. This intercom’s screen may have gone dead, but its purpose, its utility, lives on, and someone sorted out that by telling the visitor so in an enthusiastic tone would improve the intended interaction.

Also: Note the nose-like protuberance that is the exposed lock mechanism, a bit of chance anthropomorphism. Also: Note that one doesn’t “just” push the apartment number; one also pushes the hashtag (né pound, as in one must pound the button to make certain it has its desired effect).

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Freak Flags

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

The frequent employment of makeshift address labels on doorbells generally comes across as just that: a quick, easy, vaguely stable response to a specific need. The specific need is to align a given residence (or business) with a push button. The vaguely stable part is that those labels are sure to be rubbed down, ripped off, or otherwise damaged by the elements over time (humans count as elements, alongside rain, wind, and heat). The two such labels shown here are in different states of disrepair, and their non-alignment briefly brings to mind the manner in which opening credits for films starring dual leading actors use techniques to suggest neither is truly more prominent than the other: one may come first, for example, but the other is positioned higher. But what if these seemingly temporary labels are hiding their actual purpose in plain sight? What if they’re temporary precisely because the people who use them harbor some sort of fever-dream conspiracy groupthink that their street address can, in the future, be changed whenever they darn well please? Why, all that stands in their way is casting off the shackles of government overreach. In which case, what if such cheap labels aren’t just purposeful hedges in advance of that simultaneously imminent yet elusive utopia, but visual dog whistles: post-truth freak flags left for fellow travelers to acknowledge with a slight, knowing nod while out for a stroll?

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Fuzzy Sigil

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

While not quite the Fibonacci sequence, these 10 buttons at the entrance to an apartment building do make the visitor wonder what’s next. In fact, you’re left wondering before the sequence is even over. There are 8 buttons, numbered as such, and then what can be deciphered as “basement” (“BAST”? Why not “BSMT”?) and then … then it gets odd. There are twin rows of information to go by: the legible digits scrawled on the gate surface with a magic marker, and the almost-rubbed-off ones on the buttons themselves (apartment 6 seems to have been quite popular, judging by the wear; 4 not so much). Which leaves the fuzzy sigil on the 10th button noticeably uncertain. It looks like a 9, but why does it come after the basement and not before? What logic explains this ordering? And come to think of it, prior to “BAST” having been written above the basement button, what exactly was inked on the button itself? Gotta love a good mystery, especially a makeshift one.

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Oldie but a Goodie

A mystery grid

Took a walk to the bay and back and passed this old friend, one of more mysterious doorbells in the neighborhood. Twelve buttons sit in a blank grid at the front of a multiple-unit dwelling. Absent of labels, the mechanism begs the question as to how these buttons are employed. Are there a dozen units? Is it a very large numeric keypad with a single entry code? Is this a palatial single residence disguised as an apartment building?

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Counter-intuitive, Counter-clockwise

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

What a thing of beauty. Four buttons in two vertical pairs, tan ones on the right, white on the left. For no apparent reason, the lowest number of the four addresses is in the lower right, and then the others proceed counter-clockwise, which is to say counter-intuitively: 303, 305, 307, 309. The two labels on the right are from a different era than the one in the lower left. Both typefaces, however, share an oddness: the threes overly stylized, the zeros out of proportion. (It’s as if in the intervening years, the label maker was upgraded, but the product number remained the same, so when time came for a replacement, a process-oriented property manager trusted the paperwork and not their eyes.) As for poor 307, it lost its label long enough ago that the subsequent hand-written number has, itself, faded, left virtually illegible without the context of the neighboring units. Someone, at least, has learned a lesson and taken preemptive action with 303, reinforcing the label’s aging message with black magic marker. But what giveth also taketh away. The same marker appears to have been used to draw an arrow on the 303 button. It points up and to the left. That instruction remains open for interpretation.

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