• 12.06.10

Sign of the Times: A Device That Does Boring Small Talk For You

With Gerard Ralló’s conceptual Reiterative Communication Aid, a digital readout replaces predictable speech.

Sign of the Times: A Device That Does Boring Small Talk For You

There are two ways to look the world’s swelling dependence on virtual communication: We’re turning into robots who’ve lost any sense of how to talk to each other face-to-face or we’re not automated enough. And when it comes to the banalities of small talk, a little automation might go a very long way.


Gerard Ralló, a Spanish designer and technologist, takes that view — albeit ironically — with his conceptual Reiterative Communication Aid. Worn around the neck like a harmonica rack, it tracks every single word you’ve ever uttered, noting speech patterns. Then, based on those patterns, it replaces you in conversation with a digital readout. So if your S.O. asks “Do I look fat?” never again will you have to reply, ?You look perfect just the way you are.” The device does it for you!

The idea here is to mechanize casual chatter — which, for those of you who aren’t Dorothy Parker, can be pretty redundant — leaving you to do more important things.

Obviously, Ralló is spoofing our collective obsession with efficiency in the age of hot-desking and Google Instant. But the device could have some interesting non-jokey applications. Think of how much data communication researchers could collect directly logging people’s speech patterns over time.

The Reiterative Communication Aid is one of three “Devices For Mindless Communication” Ralló, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Design Interactions program, produced.

[See CreativeApplications for more of Ralló’s fabulously wacky ideas]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.