Overheard on the Train: "Happy Birthday Smiley Face"

The new iPhone's Siri voice recognition system was the subject of an article in yesterday's New York Times. With the robotic commands and a computerized response, phone interactions with virtual assistants are becoming annoying to people in public places.

Because the technology is so new, policies haven't yet kept pace. Cliff Cole, a spokesperson for Amtrak, for example, told the Times that it currently bans "phone calls," but not talking with your phone. He said, "We may have to adjust the language if it becomes a problem."

People are complaining that users could just as easily type without disturbing others and that the robotic speech often sounds "creepy."

According to James E. Katz, a mobile communication researcher at Rutgers, most people will eventually get used to this new behavior, but "there will be a small minority of traditionalists who yearn for the good old days when people just texted in public."

Discussion Starters:

  • Have you overheard people talking to their phones in this way, or have you done this yourself? Do you consider it annoying?
  • Imagine that you work as the director of corporate communications for a major company. Write a policy for employees who use their virtual assistant in a cubicle office environment. What is important for people to know, and what rules are reasonable for people to follow?