Of Equal Sense

“Issue”: 047

Take a moment to be present. Right now. How would you do that?

I think most of us would start, quite simply, by closing our eyes.

What we are saying is that the human eye appears to be the father of linear logic. It’s very nature encourages reasoning by exclusion: something is either in that space or it isn’t.

— Marshall McLuhan

Yesterday I was thinking about when any heightened sensory experience ever became “too much” for me. It was never tied to the fact that what I was witnessing was too much to turn my gaze. But always, that in the space I was inhabiting, there was a sound that I could not place. And in the panicky moment of not finding the source, I was overcome.

Wondering if my senses had begun to betray me. If the source of the audio I thought I was experiencing, was not even in the space with me, but beyond in the extended environment that I could not place. Or even more frightening, inward, so that I was self producing that which I thought was external.

It is this exploration, through sound and the building perception of the world around me, that is far more complete than my mono-directional sight could ever produce in the moment.

Each of these modalities is a sensory preference of the culture. For the society that accepts it, that modality, whether acoustic of visual, is the foundation on which it recognizes its own perception of sanity.

— Marshall McLuhan

I remember when AirPods came out, everyone rushed their takes to state AirPods were the next big platform to build on. Perhaps a false inflection point? (be sure to read Michael Dempsey’s latest)

In the excitement of a truly great product, people failed to recognize two key things.

1 - Our behaviors are predominantly shaped by our environment.

2 - Americans are, primarily, visually led reasoners.

Our dominant sense, dictates how we collectively reason, which is how we construct the mechanics of life. For most, that which is not seen, which cannot be brought into focus, simply does not exist. At least not within that individual’s reality — despite at times having fervent opinions on the very thing.

We step out of our apartments, put our AirPods in and lower our heads. It is not an act of letting in the many varied sources of our surroundings, but instead a shutting out. In doing so we take what is naturally rich, 360, acoustic space — and turn it into a singular stream. Not tied to time or place, but demand and choice. Which allows our dominant sense, to regain complete control.

I would argue this behavior isn’t new. It is far less tied to AirPods as a form factor as it is tied to streaming as a form factor/business model. What a Twitter feed is to our thumbs and eyes, Spotify playlists are to our ears. In its massive singularity, it creates an entirely new environment. Pushing our present behaviors.

Perhaps the most important part of this environment is its predictable response. That which is framed, and selected, and neat, and flowing.

Our technological visual culture reinforces this. Text is kept to 280 characters. Instagram posts are kept neatly in frame. Three images per row for every profile. Never an end or bottom to reach, never enough to see.

What happens when we finally “see enough”? In short— change.

What happened when we actually saw war? The country couldn’t handle the video of Vietnam. It was very different than reading the heroes of WWII. The true environment around the artifact of war had shifted from structured text narrative, to raw pixel reality in our living room.

I think we are witnessing a similar effect today on social media and civil rights. Everyone equipped with a camera and mass broadcast network… There is a difference in reading a statistic to form an opinion and seeing a man shot in the back seven times. However, at the same time, the nature of flow and fractured narratives also allow for the emboldened counter story. This is a dynamic that could take us towards one of my more frightening beliefs, which is that Q-Anon will be a modern successful 3rd political party. But that’s getting us off track.

We just talked a lot about seeing.

What service does audio play here? To reinforce the visual flow.

Tying together McLuhan’s two points — by living in a visual culture, we set the course towards linear reasoning. In contrast of an acoustic culture that would not be bound by similar frames or limited inputs.

The path towards building stronger audio / voice technologies is inextricably linked to strengthening American acoustic culture.

This also sets out a beautiful future, in helping us advance past linear reasoning.

Some loose closing thoughts around audio and voice… and a request for product???

I’ve been thinking about how binary the interactions are for voice and audio. I’m in a live room with people chatting, someone sends me a voice note, I compile a bunch of voice notes…. etc.

So it’s either a phone call with a different interface and joining mechanism. Or extremely singular and isolating, living in my space where the context around it returns to visual reasoning. Again, the problem here is that audio (in our culture) tends to return to strengthening the visual narrative of our culture. Not existing to progress acoustic sensory and our relationship to it.

Inspired by a mind-expanding LSD journey in 1985, I designed the HyperCard authoring system that enabled non-programmers to make their own interactive media. HyperCard used a metaphor of stacks of cards containing graphics, text, buttons, and links that could take you to another card. The HyperTalk scripting language implemented by Dan Winkler was a gentle introduction to event-based programming. Steve Jobs wanted me to leave Apple and join him at Next, but I chose to stay with Apple to finish HyperCard. Apple published HyperCard in 1987, six years before Mosaic, the first web browser. 

— Bill Atkinson

The best audio/voice app right now? TikTok

TikTok treats each element of a video as it’s own HyperCard — allowing you to trail off into the creator, audio being used by other creators, the filter effect, dueting, etc. It’s the ultimate jumping off point if you have the propensity to create.

And so what we have on TikTok is potentially the largest reusable audio library for any sort of video you’d like to create. This is incredibly powerful, but still serves to progress a linear visual understanding.

A product I’d love to see.

Thinking of an audio file as a HyperCard that, similar to commenting in the middle of a SoundCloud track, I can bridge off of a friend and record something new. And this can fan out forever.

A literal audio galaxy.

I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.

Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.

Much love.