11.16.2007

Smell mail

In the pantheon of Bad Applications of New Technologies, here's one that really stinks: Several companies reportedly are perfecting ways to transmit aromas over your e-mail.

That's right, folks. Smell-mail. Just when you thought the Internet couldn't possibly get any more intrusive, they've found a way to download odors.

The technology varies from company to company, but essentially it works like this: You'd have a device hooked to your computer that would contain an array of aromatic chemicals. When someone e-mailed you a picture of, say, a strawberry, you would slide a piece of adhesive paper through the device. The paper would pick up the appropriate chemicals and, once spit out by the machine, the paper would carry the scent of a strawberry.

Other companies are working on versions that would mix chemicals stored on a cartridge and actually waft the aroma into your room with a small fan.

So it isn't exactly like transmitting actual odors over the Internet. It's more like a digitized simulation. But it's still an exceedingly bad idea.

We all know these things tend to get out of hand. Already, people e-mail goofy animated greeting cards for every holiday. Websites have soundtracks of obnoxious music. Every time you visit a site, your computer is fed "cookies" that result in a deluge of advertising spam. Now, we're going to make it possible for people to send their favorite aromas along, too?

Virtual flower bouquets undoubtedly will be one of the first uses. That annual holiday letter -- already a pain because you're forced to read how some distant relative is doing much better than you -- could include the evergreen scent of the family Christmas tree.

It's bad enough that some chirpy friend can send you a cute photo of the family dog. What happens when they can send along his smell, too? That's what you need: Essence de Wet Dog spilling out into your house. If you wanted that smell around, you could hose down your own dog and save the hundreds of dollars the digital scent generators cost.

The developers of these new devices say the applications are endless. You could have smells accompanying your favorite movies, they say. Or you could sample a perfume before purchasing it over the Internet. Cookie and candy companies have expressed interest in using the technology for samples. (There goes the diet.) They're even perfecting "new car" smell to accompany auto ads.

This technology could easily fall into the wrong hands. If your friends send you sweet little fragrances and your computer smells like fresh-baked cookies, how long before one of your enemies gets hold of your smell-mail address? Pretty soon, you've got the stink of sweat socks filling your home office.

I don't even want to think what the purveyors of Internet porn might do with this.

And won't hackers have a field day? Already, they can send viruses and worms and other terroristic programs to computers all over the globe. What happens when they decide the virtual world needs a sniff of stockyard stench? Or, when they decide to protest government policies by sending federal offices a fetid whiff of body odor?

Worse yet, some of the same companies that are working up virtual aromas also are working on taste transmittal. That strawberry mentioned earlier? You can lick the paper and taste the berry, or a chemical facsimile. Do we need this? Couldn't we just stop at a supermarket and buy actual strawberries?

Already, many of the e-mails we receive every day are in bad taste (particularly jokes sent by friends -- you know who you are). What happens when actual bad tastes can arrive unbidden over your computer? Are you willing to take a chance on licking a piece of paper that purports to be chocolate? Could be garlic or broccoli or worse.

Not me, buddy. The day that virtual food and fragrance start arriving on my computer is the day I dust off the typewriter. The scent of correction fluid I can handle. The rest you can keep to yourself.

1 comment:

Bruce Greenberg said...

I think this is a national security issue.

What if terrroists get hold of this technology. If they don't explode a dirty bomb they can make it smell like they did. Pandomonium would insue.

There would have to be a reset button to make it smell like our government has everything under control. What would that smell like?