Bubbles, white noise and why it all seems so familiar

As the postmodern storm clouds gather on the social media
horizon, partially fuelled by research by such eminents as Turkle and Pariser,
I am inclined in my middle years to reflect on my own social media bubble and to
nostalgically reminisce on my interactions with technology and how it was in
some ways ever thus; up close and personal with the technology.

As a child in working class London we had a valve radio,
a thing of great beauty and resonance and I used to sit with my ear pressed up
against the musty cloth of the speaker listening to the Clitheroe Kid,
oblivious to the domestic hum around me. Whatever happened to that valve-driven
beauty, resplendent in its walnut cabinet? Its sound was warm and inviting, the
glow behind the dial alluring as my eyes gazed upon the exotic places listed on
its circular face; Paris, Luxembourg, Munich.

Then television hit. And it hit hard. Sharp edges, tinny
sound, primal, violent Warner Bros cartoons. Always going out of tune, replaced
with visual and aural static that also captivated me. Alone in the lounge room,
Bugs Bunny and the white noise alternating as the station went in and out of
tune in time with the London buses that passed our basement flat. The static
fascinated me and in time I suspect I became the only person who actually
bought Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and listened to it late at night whilst
studying. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first record player I got was a portable, blue
machine best suited to playing 45s. I saved up and bought Sergeant Pepper and
as a 10 year old I was terrified, fascinated and thrilled by what seemed like
music from the abyss, albeit played on a machine ill-suited to the purpose.

Then I got my first stereo and things became even
weirder. A cheap, plastic artefact with a cool, smoked lid I put on the White
Album and was transfixed by the sinister voice of Revolution 9 passing between
the speakers. For my birthday I received a pair of cosy, padded headphones and
for the first time was able to recapture the in utero warmth of the valve
radio, albeit with the “Number 9” loop passing from one ear to the other via my
brain. This was my first truly immersive technological experience.

Cassette players became part of the scene and along with
them the commodification of music as we swapped albums, copied them onto
cassette, made mix tapes and innocently engaged in music piracy. All those
years ago.

The CD revolutionised everything. All of sudden, gone was
the crackly, hissy warmth of co-constructed worlds of popular music. Replaced
with precision, minimalism, exactness without authenticity. We listened to each
and every instrument without hearing the whole piece. We painted by numbers and
bought CDs which demonstrated the clinical excellence of digital recording,
mixing and delivery.

My first computer was a VIC-20. I wrote programmes in the
middle of the night. I was thrilled by the control the new technology offered
me. When, in the mid-80s, I used an acoustic coupler to hook up to my first
bulletin board I was amazed at the seeming possibilities. “Hello”, I wrote and
then could not think of anything else to say.

My first laptop gave me portability which was in fact no
portability at all, and my first skirmish with the internet made me realise that
the world was about to irrevocably change.

In rapid succession came the WAP phone, broadband, the
Smart phone, the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad and I eagerly consumed each
one until before I knew it I was hooked, linked into a world of tweets,
messages and emails that were starting to resemble the static and the white
noise of early television. Lou Reed would be proud.

Last night I was trawling iTunes on my iPad looking for
episodes of the Clitheroe Kid. The bubbles change but the song remains the
same.

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