I painted my living room and dining room over the winter break. Both rooms required two coats. Typically, I listen to audiobooks or This American Life podcasts while I do this kind of work. I noticed that as I applied the second coat, I could remember vividly what I had been listening to the last time I had painted each part of the wall. The Pulse Smartpen from Livescribe creates a similar effect for much better results — and no fumes!
When using the Smartpen, you can record audio and / or the movements of the pen. The audio can be played back with the pen or uploaded to your computer (where you’ll also find .pdf versions of the notes you wrote!) When you use the Smartpen on Livescribe’s special dot paper, it indexes the audio you record to what you were writing when you recorded it.
This is a boon when you go to review your notes. The same way I recalled each of the 20 acts in 60 minutes while rolling on the paint around each faceplate, a student can hear what her professor was saying while she was taking each line of notes. She can literally click on a line of notes and the pen will play back that part of the audio. When demonstrated, it almost seems like magic.
Some of the practical uses of this technology are obvious. John, the undergraduate student who demostrated his Smartpen to me in the Digital Union, said he found it most helpful for taking notes in chemistry, where he was often too busy drawing chemical structures to also note everything the professor said. (Incidentally, John bought his $200 Smartpen the day after he had to return his demo model.) Would it work for ESL students? Perhaps. Obviously, the combination of input types can really help different learning styles, and being able to review notes in more than one media would be an advantage.
I’ve also been thinking about how this technology relates to my earlier post on captioning digital audio. With both technologies, they key is indexing the graphic with the auditory because the former is easily searchable. Once Livescribe adds some kind of optical character recognition, which would make the notes more easily editable, and once searchable captions become a standard component of digital video, we will have finally integrated all of this information in a truly useful way. Can the Singularity be far behind?