Nov. 16 readings

Michael Bull

Mobile communication technologies and their use, Music and sound in urban culture. New directions in Critical Theory (The Frankfurt School), sensory experience and methodologies.

Bull analyzes how iPods alter the user's experience of mundane daily activity, in this case a commute in a large city. Music transforms the everyday “non-space” through which they travel, keeping the user's thoughts and emotions in prescribed, predictable bounds, based on the particular song chosen (or not chosen). The ultimate effect of this self-imposed control is one's isolation from the city's pre-existing, massively complex network of contingencies, of causes and effects. The spaces commuters experience lose their original significance, and become part of the commuting experience that mobile music is used to filter out.

It shouldn't be surprising to learn that iPod users (or other mp3 devices) utilize easy access to their music library in order to shape their mood while walking through public spaces. It is not unlike listening to music in your own automobile. Music has been part of that mobile space since the 1930s. In a recent interview, singer-songwriter Ryan Adams revealed that he often enjoys riding in his car while he listens to complete albums. For him, it is a way to get away from the problems from or with other people. Of course an automobile is more private than walking through the city, but the function of music listening remains the same:

"The iPod, in effect, warms up the spaces of mobile habitation for users."

These spaces are warm, in effect, because users have a certain amount of control over these spaces. At least this is true of the many sounds one may encounter in a city. Bull refers to many user comments that feel powerful in situations in which they might be uncomfortable without their own soundtrack to their own "personal movie" to surround them (350).

This power of choice is a big change in the history of listening to music in public. Whereas radio, muzak, and pre-programmed music can be heard in the home, shopping malls, or bars, the iPod is a personal device. Broadcasting is substituted for personal choice: "MP3 technology thus suits the progressively individualized aural taste of many consumers" (348). It is important to note that now marketing also has an audience of one rather than the previous mass. Ipod users can reclaim the 'realm of the ever-same' by privatizing the space.

"It appears that as users become immersed in their mobile media sound bubbles, so those spaces they habitually pass through in their daily lives may increasingly lose significance for them and progressively turn into the 'non-spaces' of daily lives which they try, through those self same technologies, to transcend" (353-354).

I fail to see the reasoning through which these two quotes follow one another. It seems that the warming up of these public spaces is accomplished by giving the various users isolation, or by sufficiently insulating them from one another. So does it remain a public space, or become rather a multiply-private space? Does Bull like the use of mobile music as it is described in the article? In relation to these questions and the mobile media sound bubbles, I'm still wondering how much different our relation to urban and social spaces is with the Ipod compared to the Walkman or CD player. Haven't we always made these bubbles with different mediums? I understand that there are time shifts based upon the library of the Ipod but that is more our relation to the specific technology and doesn't necessarily change the relation to the environment. So the argument should be that the ability to select your soundtrack augments the personalization of the soundworld and rendering of the surround space of daily life into 'non-spaces'. I would agree that something is different but it may not be a radical shift.


David Beer

was born in Derby in 1977. He studied for a BSc in Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Bradford between 1995 and 1998. In 2001 he returned to university and studied for an MA in the Sociology of Contemporary Culture at York. He then stayed on at York to complete his PhD on the digitalisation of music culture between 2002 and 2006. […] He teaches predominantly in the areas of the sociology of culture, popular culture, contemporary sociology and social theory.

Beer's approach is focused on placing mobile music into a larger picture, based on the computational infrastructure and information-gathering related processes 'behind the scenes.' He draws on several concepts in making his argument. The 'cognisphere' is “a co-evolving and densely interconnected complex system” (Beer 471), where human action is the tip of the iceberg. As information technology becomes smaller and cheaper, the non-human workings in the cognisphere become more invisible (not transparent) as well as increasingly interconnected and self-managing. In addition to this he introduces the notion of 'logjects,' which are devices which are both dependent on their coding to function, and which keep logs of various aspects of their use and status.

At this point Beer begins to apply these concepts to the idea of mobile music. The discussion casts an interesting light on Bull's position, as he claims that at present (and increasingly as mobile devices become increasingly networked) the practice of listening to music through these devices is not done in isolation. Rather, the statistics (what, when, where, etc) are either potentially or actively gathered and processed through the inner machinery of the cognisphere.

As listening statistics become more aggressively mined and applied, will individuals need to remain in their mobile bubble? Will the time arrive when the non-spaces they once filtered out provide a tailored musical content, in accordance with their usage statistics? How do you feel about the music industry creating statistics in how you use your music?


[de Vries & van Elferen = WIP]

The authors here are trying to argue that ringtones can be understood as cultural and communicative performances that help shape identities and musical subcultures. Building off of Goffman's Performance of the Self in Everyday Life ringtones are seen as performances whose disruptive nature creates outer performances of the self that in line with the dramaturgical model construct identity formations. Mobile phones are not corrosive to traditional face-to-face communication but according to Gergen they provide opportunities for "continuous and instantaneous reconnection of participants within face-to-face groups." (pg. 67) Floating worlds are pockets of free and informal exchange within communities in 19th century Japan. The new floating worlds of mobile phone users for Gergen "replicate the uninhibitedness and unbound nature of communication within those communities." The 'Candy Shop' ringtone flaunts a cultural competence of gangsta culture and allegiance. "Like the Walkman and the iPod, the ringtone serves a personalized soundscape tailored to the user’s likings as well as to her body, but, unlike these, its sounding is necessarily public." Loyalty to these floating subcultures are publicly signaled and flagged (with great efficiency) by ringtones as they tap into individual and shared musical memories and virtual musical worlds.

Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License