2014 March : Ron Riesenbach's Blog


Filed Under Tech

Predicting the future must be human-kinds second oldest profession.  I try to avoid falling into the trap of prognosticating anything, preferring to use a more Darwinian approach  in preparing myself and my organization for what will come (flexibility, adaptability, etc.).

Whenever someone does ask me about the future of technology —  “What do you think the next big thing in technology will be?” I have a ready answer. I respond with something ridiculous and humorous. “Smell-O-Vision!”, I would say, trying to make the point that it is futile to try to predict the unpredictable.  How anti-predictive I thought I was.

Today I learned that I’m going to need to invent a new snarky response to that question. Thanks to the innovators at the Oscar Mayer Institute for the Advancement of Bacon, a marketing campaign has just been launched to promote a real-life smell-o-vision device. They have built a hardware plug-in for the iPhone that enables an alarm clock to wake you with the smell of bacon.


At first, I thought April fools day had come early. But on checking this out, it appears that this is legit — it is a real product. Snap the device onto your iPhone, set the app for the time you want to wake and put the phone down on your night stand. At the designated hour, the device will emit puffs of vapour scented like fresh cooked bacon.

Well, it turns out the folks at Oscar Mayer are not the first to think about bringing scent to the user experience. PC Magazine has an article on 10 oderific gadgets and gizmos that you can buy today which lever what scientists believe is among the oldest of all our senses.


The Science of Smell

According to a New York Times book review of the aptly titled Smell,  the nerve bundles branching backward from our nose are connected to the evolutionary ancient parts of our brain. The olfactory system also connects more or less directly with our limbic system — the part of our brains that deals with our emotions. Smelling something generally leads to emotionally nuanced and even instinctive actions. Hormone production is also triggered quite automatically through the strong connection of olfactory nerves to the pituitary gland. The upshot is that what we smell influences our general bodily function in an way that we may not be concious of. According to the book review, before we can rationalize or verbalize what we smell, but have an immediate reaction and start to act in accordance with it.

Personally, I can relate having recently spent a year suffering from anosmia . What I missed most during that year was not the joy of tucking into a fragrant glass wine nor was it wafting up the waves of scents from a bouquet of flowers. What I felt was a general feeling of missing the mini-surprises of unsought emotions.Poem That is, I was not pleasantly distracted from my daily activities when I caught a waft of my wife’s perfume as she walked by. I was not pleased by the clean smell of a freshly washed towel after my shower. I was not alerted to the state of cleanliness (or lack thereof) of the public toilet I walk into at the Hospital I work at. I could walk past a bagel shop and not know I had done so. No sensation of sweet baking. No reflexive mouth watering. No gentle hunger pangs.

Now that I can smell and taste again, I have become very attuned to the little mini-emotions that pop into my conciousness all during the day. So much richness has been restored to my every day life. I am happy to smell and to feel the emotions induced by smell — even the negative ones brought on by stinky garbage.

The Emotion of Smell

Our sense of smell is a very under appreciate human sense.  Even reading about smells can induce emotion and memory. See if you can read the poem on the left by Christopher Morley without your limbic system triggering a pleasant emotion or two.

If you found yourself experiencing the warm recollections of the smell of ripe apples and camp-fire smoke, this little poem provides some subjective proof that our nose is an important part of our emotion-inducing senses.

I don’t think I’ll be a customer for the bacon vapour alarm clock gadget, but it’s nice to know that the frequently forgotten olfactory system isn’t totally ignored in today’s personal technology maelstrom.