Current theme:

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

So much of our world today depends on technological communication, but what does this mean for the way we have to speak to, see, and share things with each other? With this project, we hope to understand just a little bit about how technology can impact communication and relationships.

To participate, simply call our Google Voice line at 706.538.8372 and leave a message according to our current theme. Your words will be transcribed and sent out to the world via our Letters From Next Door twitter feed.

When Sara and I were assigned a telematic art project in class, we brainstormed a lot of potential projects on our way to finding Letters From Next Door. All of our ideas had one thing in common: they relied heavily on social media and the Internet. That observation lead us here, to an exploration of the capabilities of online communications technologies. Since we are both majoring in Emerging Media and Communications, we have studied the Internet extensively; but now, we get to work with it as creators. We feel that our project works well as a telematic and crowdsourced piece because it asks the users to think about the very products they are using to communicate with us in a new light.

We also think this project is important because our research on telematic art turned up nothing exactly like it. All the technologies we used to make it existed long before we started, but no one has combined them in this way before. By creating a cycle of voice to text to voice, we are playing Internet telephone, and everyone is invited to play along with us. Our results show that while these technologies can connect us across spaces, they are far from perfect or utopian.

We hope this piece brings you some laughter with its funny transcriptions, but we also wanted to create room for thought. Participants can see not only how their own words are twisted in translation, but also look at the other statements and wonder what their user might have been trying to say. On the flip side, those messages where the transcriptions are fairly accurate show that we all have common worries, fears, hopes, and dreams. "Stay true to yourself," one user advised on April 23rd; "don't ever start smoking," said another, on April 28th. Messages like these provide us with something we can all relate to and take to heart.

How does this all work?
When you leave your message with us, Google Voice transcribes it and sends us an email. We set up an IFTTT recipe to export that to a Google Spreadsheet, where we have a function that will remove the information Google sends with the transcription—including your phone number—from the message. Then, we have a few JavaScript functions set up to detect changes to the Google sheet, apply the necessary function to each new message, and then shoot the results back to our email. From there IFTTT grabs the message and tweets the first 140 characters, then sends the full transcription to our Google doc (linked to the left). It's quite a process!

Can you tell who is leaving you messages?
While Google Voice does attach a phone number to your message (a standard practice for voicemail services), that number only goes as far as our Google Account, which is protected with a secure password. We set up this project to be automated so we could stay out of our inbox, so it's unlikely that even we will see that data. On the event that we do, though, neither Sara nor I would attempt to track you down or share your identity—we understand the importance of having a place to speak anonymously.

How often can I participate?
As much as you want! Whether you think of a better response or want to try for a better transcription, feel free to call in at any time. Just make sure we haven't changed our theme since your last look!

Why isn't my message showing up yet?
The scripts we have automating the whole thing do not run constantly. IFTTT scripts run about every fifteen minutes, and our Google script runs every five. It may take upwards of a half-hour for your message to make it to the Twitter.

I waited half an hour and my message still isn't showing up. What gives?
There are two things that could be going on here. First, Google's transcriptions are often hilariously incorrect. We think this gives the project some personality, but it can make your contribution hard to recognize. Second, sometimes Google can't understand a message at all. See a tweet that says "Unable to transcribe this message"? That might have been you. why didn't Google transcribe my message?
While we do not have an exhaustive list of the reasons for this, we've discovered a couple throughout our tests. First, Google does not transcribe other languages. However, if you start your message off in English, Google assumes everything you say is in English and hilarity often ensues. Second, Google tends to get confused if the volume of the message is too low in comparison with background noise. Try placing your phone calls from a quiet place, and make sure to talk at a normal-to-loud volume.

Thank you to Mona Kasra for her encouragement and advice as we built this project.

Background texture by Vasili Hartikainen. This project is powered by Google Voice, Google Drive, and IFTTT.

Website by Caryn DiMarco.


Theme: What advice would you give to your younger self?

See our social media pages for more responses!