On The Pleasures Of (Unmediated) Hearing

by Thomas Brett

There’s a wonderful short satirical piece by Ellis Weiner in this week’s New Yorker (March 28, 2011) on the virtues of going outside and leaving the electronic and virtual world behind.  What do we gain by engaging with this “comprehensive experiential mode” of going outside?  For one thing, we get a reminder of how finely tuned our senses are–we see, touch, smell and hear with a clarity unavailable to us through any digital recording/playback technology, no matter how “HD” it may claim to be.  So here’s Weiner’s humorous take on hearing outside:

“Delivers ‘head-free’ surround sound.  No headphones, earbuds, speakers, or sound-bar arrays required–and yet, amazingly, you hear everything.  Sound is supported over the entire audible spectrum via instantaneous audio transmission.  As soon as a noise occurs and its sound waves are propagated to your head, you hear it, with stunning realism, with your ears.  Plus, all sounds, noises, music, and human speech arrive with remarkable spatial-location accuracy.  When someone behind you says, ‘Hey, are you on drugs, or what?,’ you’ll hear the question actually coming from behind you” (59).