Week 14 – Seeing and Hearing Through a New Medium

The evolution of sound as traced in Jonathan Sterne’s article interested me very much with respect to this idea of seeing or hearing through a new medium. The McLuhan idea proves itself always in these thought experiments, for just imagine how paradigmatic it must have been to, one day out of nowhere, use a machine that put you intimately in touch with people who were hundreds of miles away almost as if you were face to face. When telephony came into fashion the effect was even more pronounced, as a human being’s voice was being piped directly into your ear in a way that almost seemed CLOSER than intimate.

This of course, as Sterne relates, led eventually to headphones and other modern paraphernalia. The development of listening ‘techniques’ really becomes immediate here, as people are now individuated so much that they literally have a whole ‘space’ that is utterly private (even in crowded public places) and cordoned off from others. It is WEIRD to think of sound as performing this action, but most anyone who has used headphones would attest to the fact that they have an isolating effect.

This I think is how the process happens. I don’t think it is predictable or tangible how a given technology will affect or change the way we live and interface. It always seems odd or vaguely alien at first (I remember this feeling in the case of using old MACs for the first time in elementary school) and is hard to make analyzable.

The implications for aesthetics? Great. Take a look at photography, essentially changed all art forever in that it added a dimension that was so real, so non-mythical, that eventually it led to a complete reorganization of artistic practice and purpose. The dominant art today? Conceptual. Non-realist, even non-representational. One can plausibly say that this, at least in part, is a product of the paradigmatic change developments such as photography ushered in. Simply representing something realistically in painting is almost no longer even CONSIDERED art, or good art anyway.


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