I remember what silence sounded like — it was like sound of the background noise on the original Star Trek series. It was like a engine hum together with a constant high pitch. “Maybe I have tinnitus?” I thought.
I had been floating for a few minutes in a sensory deprivation tank with wax stuffed in my ears. The hum started fairly soon after the session started and persisted. Eventually, I ignored it.
For your reference:
The second instance was inside a semi anechoic chamber. However, the silence was different. There was still noise from the fluorescent light but the feeling was more of being boxed in than being in quiet space. It was much more unsettling because it made you feel like you were in a tight box. It was claustrophobia inducing without being locked in.
When it comes to ambient voice interaction, we try to eliminate noise as much as possible to create better far field voice interaction. However, ambient noise is very important for us.
Think about the sound of a stream, the crackling of a fire, the sound of birds, or crickets. Utter silence in nature usually means you’re buried and it can be panic inducing.
In speech, pauses or silence can create discomfort as someone is expecting a response but doesn’t hear one, or it breaks the norms of communications because one doesn’t know what is the intention of the other silent party. For voice first or audio first devices, silence can indicate malfunction or disconnection, e.g. “are you still there?”
The pain of silence is important to consider when building multi-turn systems. How can you use it to prompt a particular reaction? Can background music between turns helpful? Silence can be a tool to create a deeper connection with a voice experience.