The Future Is Noisy

There’s a device made by Amazon called the Kindle. It’s something approximating an electronic book. You can load electronic versions of books you’ve paid for onto it and read them like a normal, run-of-the-mill book. Or so marketers would have us believe. It’s actually a very substandard device. The number of titles is limited and if you are reading a book with pictures or diagrams, forget it. You won’t be seeing those. There’s also the Sony Reader, which performs a similar function. Now the iPad (a more recent product) has some sort of similar functionality. Or it might. It hasn’t been released in Australia yet. When Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder, launched the iPad, his spiel included a demonstration of reading the New York Times, almost sorta like a real life newspaper, on it. The thought occurred: why don’t people just go out and buy the New York Times (or any other newspaper)? Reading one of those will even more closely approximate the true experience of actually reading a newspaper. But that’s not a helpful idea. Newspapers are said to be dying. Circulation is shrinking all over the world, which is why newspaper websites are increasingly becoming crammed with video and other media you’d probably get busted for viewing or interacting with at work. They’re trying to compete too with popular bloggers and amusing quasi-news websites and have become infested with their own blogs on such subjects as style, relationships, and parenting – the real hard news areas of interest.

In a way it doesn’t matter what these devices do, or which is best, or whether an avid reader should buy one, or if it’s possible to elect to purchase the economical model, should that exist. These things matter in a sense, but not for me. What I’m interested in here is whether they make a noise or not. It seems everything in our contemporary world makes a noise of some sort or there is potential to somehow broadcast noise for the benefit of others if one should so choose.

Growing up, when experts talked of the future and the discussion was about the conveniences of life in the world to come there would be mentions of communication and data retrieval, of a transformation of the domestic sphere so that leisure activities could be co-ordinated from a central location. That sort of thing. We now carry around computers with us in our pockets, in the form of mobile phones and MP3 players. There is wireless connectivity. Laptops fit into bags. There’s even a robotic vacuum, the iRobot Roomba, which cleans the house while you’re out (I want to play with one of these). In many ways the future is here. We’re in the future. Computers are no longer the size of a building – you can strap one to your wrist – and that’s a powerful thought. What we weren’t told, what they couldn’t have known when they were speculating, is how loud it all is.

It is a long-held position of mine that loud music playing in the car next to you is never music you would choose to hear. I have never heard the 1812 Overture blaring from a hotted up car. Or Zadock the Priest. Perhaps my little theory or maxim should be extended to include all unwanted music and other sounds that we really shouldn’t be able to hear. Because they all are painful. On the train, in both mornings and afternoons, mobile phones ring, loudly, and people seem deliberately to answer them slowly so that the rest of us can listen to more of the number they selected for their ring tone. (I must admit that I too have a “creative” ring tone. It annoys even me if I receive more than about three calls in a day. It’s a repeated line from a popular animated TV show about a family comprising characters named Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart.) But there are other devices and other noises. People play games on a PSP or on their phone, which emit more than just ping and boing and boof noises, they have tinny soundtracks. There are also those who play music, presumably music which could be personally listened to with the aid of headphones, for their friends, and generally for the edification of the rest of the carriage. When told/asked to stop they often seem surprised anyone would be offended by their musical taste. Why would we all want to listen to what you are listening to? Where does the idea come from that we will like what you like? Or is it pure selfishness? I’m enjoying myself and I literally don’t care what others think. I wonder.

Life has turned into a cheap electronic video game. And quite frankly, I’d like some peace and quiet.

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Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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