Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Technology Changed Sounds We Take for Granted

Technology offers us many unique benefits. It allows us to keep in better contact with friends and family. Post photos, keep track of kids via cell phones, entertainment, instant news, see where we are located on the globe, instant mapping and directions, and discover alternative sources of news/information. The list is virtually endless and the apps grow exponentially.

As I was thinking about this it also occurred to me what we have lost. I do not mean privacy or other issues. That is for more intelligent people to discuss and debate. Specifically, I was thinking about sounds. Yes, sounds.

Listen to what you hear today. Everything is tapping. Tapping on keyboard. Or, if you have a recent smart phone, no sound. When you scroll through a page, you literally hear no sound. If you have Kindle or Nook for book, newspaper or magazine reading, just clicking.

You are thinking, so what? Yes, I can understand that. So consider this. When you dialed a phone (touch or rotary) you had a sound. For those of you unfamiliar with a rotary phone is, ask someone over 45 years of age.

Over a decade ago my wife bought me a Bose to play CDs on. Before that I had a record player (again ask anyone over 45). She played for me a CD and a record. When the record was played it was really loud and scratchy. The CD was as clear as could be.

Please allow me to digress for a moment. CDs miss this inventive marketing technique of the old vinyl records. Monty Python Flying Circus fans remember the show and the records. However, one record stands out. It is titled “The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief” was among the most unique. After I listened to side two for the fourth time, an entire new record played. The record became known as the Monty Python 3 sided record. For those of you still asking what a record is, here is a layman version. A record is a two sided, thin vinyl product. It is about a foot in diameter. The record has grooves cut into it. What the Python production team did was cut a new set of grooves deeper in the record. Try doing something like that with a CD. I freely and happily admit to being a Monty Python fan. I am such a fan that when my family took me to see “Spamalot” I laughed before the punch line because I practically knew the dialogue by heart. For those that know me may recall I can have a rather loud laugh.

Back to noise. When you activate your cell phone, you do not get a dial tone. You may or may not hear a beep with every number you dial. When you read a magazine it makes a sound when you turn a page. When you buy a new hard back book and begin to read it, it makes a wonderful crunching sound when you first open it and the soft sound of paper moving every time you turn a page. When you read a newspaper you hear paper rustling when you try to quietly turn the page.

When you write, you start by finding a pen, either by opening a drawer or lifting the lid of a fine wooden case. You are looking for a high quality fountain or ball point pen. You begin writing and you can hear the pen moving across the paper. It is a scratching sound, and it is quite beautiful. After you have written a page on a pad, you hear the sound of the page tearing as you pull it off the pad. Old typewriters had a very distinctive sound when you pressed a key (hard) and it hit the paper that was held in place by a roller. It was the sound of metal tapping on metal. And when you reached the end of the line, a bell would ring and you would push a lever on the right and move the carriage holding the paper in place back to start a new line. All these are sounds we will hear less of and sounds I will miss.

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