Nokia's Vibrating Tattoo: A Bad Buzz

How do you feel about attaching a small membrane to your skin that vibrates when your phone receives incoming calls or messages?

Eric Zeman, Contributor

March 21, 2012

2 Min Read

According to a recently uncovered patent filed by Nokia, the company wants to be among the first to turn human beings into cyborgs. The patent is for what amounts to a vibrating tattoo.

The patent application describes "a material attachable to skin, the material capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field." The material would react to magnetic signals emitted by a nearby electronic device, such as a smartphone. It would offer some sort of micro vibration, and could be set to certain vibrating patterns. The idea is to provide you with a more direct way to notice when you're receiving some sort of incoming device alert, whether it be a phone call, email, or text message.

The patent was applied for in September 2011 and will likely never be realized in real-life, but the concept raises some interesting ideas.

[ What makes Apple's new iPad tick? See New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's Tablet. ]

First, why go this far? Obviously, Nokia feels (pun intended) that the way in which we currently receive notifications isn't getting the job done. Think for a moment how many calls, messages, or other alerts you've missed when you were out and about. Even with your phone set to maximum volume with the vibrate alert on, it is easy to miss alerts in noisy environments such as trade show floors, city streets, or in moving vehicles.

There's a much better chance you'll notice that your skin, rather than something in your blazer pocket, is vibrating. In terms of practicality, such an concept could in fact help us better notice our smartphones or other devices.

But second, what does this idea tell us about our society? Is it that important to receive smartphone alerts that we'd attach or embed a micro-electrical machine on/in our skin? To me, it crosses the line.

We already spend a huge percentage of our day staring at screens, whether they be computers, smartphones, tablets, or TVs. Going so far as to embed technology into our skin so we don't miss text messages would take away an element of our humanity. It would rob us of the present. We'd become even more addicted to our technology than we already are. Society is in enough danger of succumbing to the temptation to check our phones every five minutes. This would only accelerate people's need for a fix.

Pavlov would spin right out of his grave.

It doesn't take much imagination to think of all the places in which vibrating skin would be inappropriate or distracting in an impolite or even dangerous way.

To Nokia, I say, "Neat, but no thanks."

About the Author(s)

Eric Zeman


Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies.

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