Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life

Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life

Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life

Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life

Synopsis

On buses, trains, and streets over the past decade and more, youths in particular but increasingly older people as well tune into their personal stereos and tune out city sounds. Why? What does the personal stereo mean to these people and to urban culture more generally? Does it heighten reality? Enable people to cope? Isolate? Create a space? Combat boredom? Far too commonplace and enduring to be considered a fashion accessory, the personal stereo has become a potent artefact symbolizing contemporary urban life.This book opens up a new area of urban studies, the auditory experience of self and place. In doing so, it enhances our understanding of the role of media and technology in everyday life. Urban, cultural and anthropological studies have been dominated by explanations of experiences drawing upon notions of visuality. But culture always has an auditory component that shapes attitudes and behaviour -- perhaps nowhere more so than in the city where sound is intensified. This book challenges strictly visual approaches to culture by proposing an auditory understanding of behaviour through an ethnographic analysis of personal stereo use. The author reformulates our understanding of how people, through the senses, negotiate central experiences of the urban, such as space, place, time and the management of everyday experience, and examines the critical role technology plays.This book will be of interest to anyone seeking a fresh and incisive approach to urban studies, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, or media and communication studies.'This is a splendid book. Theoretically sophisticated, empirically compelling and opening up a new agenda for the study of the media by directing our attention, and not before time, to sound.'Roger Silverstone, Professor of Media and Communications, LSE

Excerpt

This book analyses the meaning of personal-stereo use in the everyday life of users. However, the attentive reader will discover that in the text users habitually refer to their machines as ‘Walkmans’, whilst I describe them as ‘personal stereos’. There is a relatively simple explanation for this. For whilst I or perhaps you tend to describe a personal stereo as a ‘walkman’ in everyday discourse, the name is in fact a trademark of the Sony Corporation. This means essentially that they own the name.

Sony were the first company to market personal stereos in 1979. Initially they were not sure what to call these machines but hit on the word ‘walkman’, which proved a great success. The very success of Sony in establishing the term ‘Walkman’ to describe personal stereos has produced the need to defend it. A trademark means that other companies cannot market their personal stereo's using the name ‘Walkman’. This ownership extends to the commercial use of the term. So whilst this book is not selling personal stereos, it is, nevertheless, a kind of commercial product. With this point in mind, the Sony Corporation were not willing for the author to use the term in either the title of the book or in its content, except verbatim to report what personal-stereo users actually say. Rather than displaying any antipathy towards learned books, Sony appears to be concerned that, by giving permission to use the trademark in this instance, they might thereby compromise their ability to defend that trademark against other companies’ use of it in the future. Both terms are interesting in the context of this book: ‘Walkman’ for its connotation of movement, and ‘personal stereo’ for its description of the intimate and private nature of use.

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