Siri is ListeningLet me preface the forthcoming statement with this: I live in Korea, and the 4S has not yet reached our shores. That being said, I like what I’ve seen from Siri. I also like the functionality that my Android phone offers. The reviews that I’ve seen from the majority of people who have used Siri seem to favor it, but many if not all come with this caveat: The feeling of utter foolishness using it in public. I suspect that most of us well-adjusted folks would share this feeling of mild embarrassment. When I first considered this I thought that it was a rather shallow and superficial reaction, perhaps based on a feeling of a breach of etiquette. I thought that the general public was hesitant to embrace this technology because, well, it just feels so darn awkward. However, I think that there’s a deeper reason to why we feel uncomfortable using voice to operate in public, and it’s a feeling that we should heed.

People like privacy. Sometimes privacy is valued just for the sake of privacy, but most of the time there’s a general rule behind it, a motivation based on security. But how does this concern voice-operated software like Siri? Is it really such a security threat to reveal that you’re meeting Thomas for dinner? That you’re going jogging at 6 PM? The information you’re passing along may seem innocuous on its own, but in the wrong hands, those tidbits of information just might turn the world on your head.

It’s easy enough to glean scandalous informations from passers-by even if you’re actively trying not to. You can’t ignore the girl sitting next to you talking about how insensitive or stupid her boyfriend is, nor can you ignore the boorish laughter of the bro sitting to your left. We’re bombarded with voice pollution every day, but the information that most telephone calls contain is mostly gossip and pleasant how-are-you’s.


With the advent of Siri, and with more advanced spoken-word software around the bend, the prevalence and utility of such services will instigate a bump in their usage, and no small part of that is going to be public use. And it’s not just voice-texting pictures of pretty prancing ponies, either. The information is time, place and activity specific, and therein lies the problem. Do you think it’s best that everyone on the bus knows that your girlfriend will be waiting at Gifford Park at 6 PM alone for her friend, or that you’ll be out of the house for the evening catching a movie? The scariest part about information passing through this medium is not knowing when its been intercepted. A missing wallet or phone is noticeable enough, but will you always have the presence of mind to guard your words? For some, the convenience will prove to be too much of a temptation.

It’s not such a matter of digital security. Voice recognition integration could possibly make those portals even more secure. This is an issue of real physical safety and security. Knowing the window of when and where someone is going to be is powerful knowledge. Voyeurs and criminals can use that information and exploit it easily. It doesn’t take any high tech equipment or knowledge; everyone is equipped to hijack the spoken word. All it takes is sitting next to you on the bus for a week to learn the routine of your life

Voice will still be valuable and useful in private. We will still be able to comfortably set our alarms and plan meetings, mouth-off texts to buddies and google home brewed cures for our rashes. But we won’t be doing it in public, or at least, we shouldn’t.

So next time you feel the need to call an audible, heed that little voice inside of you and let your thumbs do the talking. However much you want to, you can’t take back the words that you say.