May we have our attention back please?

Hold the phone, it's Patti LuPone

July 26, 2015 | When over-the-top cell phone use makes the news, the public is usually quick to sympathize with the aggrieved party. When an Amtrak rider was kicked off a train and subsequently arrested in 2011 after a sixteen-hour cell phone conversation, the public and the media reacted with overwhelming approval. When actress Patti LuPone grabbed an audience member's cell phone at a theater performance, audience members applauded, social media celebrated, and George Stephanopoulos described it as a very satisfying moment."

Concern about horn-based vehicle alerts is more about attention than about noise. That's why many people can tolerate a quieter electronic tone even though they might prefer silent locking. A subtle electronic tone (and even a not-so-subtle first generation "chirp" like the ones in Lifetime movies) speaks to the car owner without necessarily stealing bystanders' attention. But a horn, no matter the volume, engages your attention. That's why horns are used as a safety device.

Ironically, most automakers classify horn-based lock feedback as a "safety" feature even though it has caused accidents and near accidents when drivers and cyclists mistake the sound for an actual warning. At the same time, when consumers write to automakers with critical feedback about the technology, the communication is processed as if reflecting a minor annoyance rather than something that creates a safety risk or contributes to environmental noise.

It was bad enough when automakers opted to misuse a safety device as lock feedback. But now remote horn honking is being offered as part of infotainment systems. These are the advantages according to automakers' marketing teams:

"Beep the horn from the comfort of the breakfast table!"

"Lock it from the movie theater!"

“Never forget where you parked again.”

"It puts you in charge of your vehicle from virtually anywhere!"

"A command is sent to their vehicle to honk the horn and flash the lights for five seconds."

As Hyundai executive Barry Ratzlaff explains, "Connecting to your car through a smartwatch and voice recognition was previously something seen only in science fiction movies. Now, we can provide this capability to owners of Hyundai vehicles equipped with Blue Link."

It is interesting to note that critics of remote honking often compare the technology with science fiction.
As one forum user wrote, "This is like a twlight zone episode on how to torture and torment modern man."

Honking from a smartphone or wristwatch? Why not? Why not honk from our earrings, or honk by twitching our noses like Samantha on Bewitched? What's one more thing competing for our attention? One more distraction? One more thing that we don't need, one more thing that misuses a safety device and creates a startling and discordant sound in an inappropriate situation?

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