Multi-touch designer and developer Richard Monson-Haefel considers sound as an important part of our user interfaces. As an application of "Calm Technology" which revolves around giving feedback about the running state of a system in the 'periphery' of our consciousness – a concept introduced by ubiquitous computing pioneers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown – he proposes to attach a sound to every process running on your computer: an unique croak, chirp or trill - the sounds of frogs, crickets, and cicadas of a small pond at dusk. Resulting in an ambient environmental murmur people should be able to interpret.

"If every process had a unique croak, chirp, or trill - a sound that is the same every time the process is run - our computers would have a kind of natural ambient pond-like sound when it ran. At first we would take notice but after a short time the sound would settle into the periphery of our awareness so that we would only take notice when a new, and unexpected sound, was introduced. If we just installed some new software a new sound would register when the software was installed and become a part of the natural and healthy ambient audio rhythm of the computer. If, however, some new process - one we did not intentionally install - was introduced such as a virus, the new pond-sound (i.e. croak, chirp or trill) would be out of place and stand out. We might take notice and wonder, what new process is running?"

"As an experiment, play the YouTube video below but turn down the sound so its very quiet and minimize your browser so you are not looking at the video, only listening to it. After a few seconds start doing something else on your computer like reading some other article and just let the sounds of the pond sink into the background. It's a nice calming collection of sounds and you can quickly tune it out and focus on other matters. If a new sound was suddenly introduced, however, you would probably take notice. The sounds in this video are constant, nothing really new is introduced, but try to imagine a new kind of croak, chirp or trill suddenly making an appearance."

We are awaiting of the Froggy–style computer process monitor. Let us know when you've made one. Thanks Timothy High.

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  • Maybe this is off track or missing the point, but I wonder if this could work with some kind of generated music as well, with either bits of the song going missing if a process closes, or maybe becoming more urgent (faster pace whatever) when an applicaton is running stressed or you're overheating, or maybe you haven't checked your email in a while so the email noise gets put in twice as much... It isn't really much of an extension of the idea, but I guess I'm probably going to be listening to music anyway and ambient frog pond noises may not match the song, so perhaps combine the two.

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