Wednesday, January 25

background signal

what if it were illegal to yell?

part of me almost sort of likes that idea. criminalizing all the obnoxious, excess noise...

101 years ago, a fellow named Dan McKenzie published a book called The City of Din: A Tirade Against Noise. someday I will have time to read it and when that time comes I'll be so excitedly interested I can hardly imagine it. The City of Din is a public domain text (available via the Hathi Trust), so maybe someday I'll read it (calmly and softly and in a lovely, quiet room) for LibriVox.

McKenzie's tirade was made known to me by Russell Davies, who blogged about it in the context of a more recent book: The Age of Noise in Britain. that one also sounds like a fascinating-to-me book. there is always so much and more to read. not enough time.

what I am reading (still), is Benkler's The Wealth of Networks. I'm treading water in this fat, deep treatise, soaking up quarts and quarts of 10-year-old wisdom about humans, technology, ideology, policy, and the economy. this quote stood out to me yesterday, and I transcribed it first into a notebook and then into this blogpost:
“culture operates as a set of background assumptions and common knowledge that structure our understanding of the state of the world and the range of possible actions and outcomes open to us individually and collectively.” (p. 297)
a few pages on he points to a need for us to study how culture works on us, how it influences policies, how it does its structuring and how it draws its lines. he writes, “we must diagnose what makes culture more or less opaque to its inhabitants…” (p. 299). Benkler consistently uses a metaphor of containment and habitation in this discussion. culture is all around us. it's what we swim and breathe and see in.

of course that reminded me of David Foster Wallace's renowned speech (do you remember me blogging about it before, once?)--"This is Water," as it's sometimes called. this video rendition is rather neat. go watch it if you haven't. it isn't that long. not even 9 whole minutes. totally worth it, believe me.

in other related and semi-relevant things-I've-been-reading lately, there is an article (stumbled upon via the smacksy blog) about how powerful it can be to recognize the frames of your own perspective. I'm thinking that the phrase “the story I’m telling myself is…” can easily be adapted into “the culture I’m swimming in says…”. either mental trick can pull us out of our bubbles for a moment or two, help us remember our limits and our contexts, yes, but also our agency and our responsibilities. it's empowering to reflect on the background structure of your whole life. to actively participate and acknowledge your role in either accepting/reinforcing or resisting/revising the culture you swim in--that seems important. that's what it takes to make all of that power and structure more open-book, more readable, more transparent and less like a vice.

today, in my LibriVox researching (I'm almost one year into all ten+ years of these), I wound my way over to this set of slides from a 2007 podcasting conference. I'm curious what the spoken half of the talk must have been like, but the slides do stand alone pretty well. transparency is a theme there, too. openness and empowerment.

I do not think I would really want yelling to be illegal. a quieter culture might be nice, and if I can in some small part bend my world that direction, maybe I should. but then I think about how subjective it will always be. what's horrible noise to me would be awesome entertainment to someone else, and what's perfectly comfortable background music to me could be uselessly inaudible to the next person.

and then there's the whole issue of times when making some serious noise seems useful, meaningful, and lastingly important. it's probably very meaningful and important that yelling is not illegal.

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