I’ve not given a conference presentation in a number of years, and being part of a piece delivered at the Mobile Music for Everyday People: A Symposium on Mobile Music and Sound was consequently quite odd. What was even odder was seeing the proceedings from the perspective of a laptop. Neither Tim Wall nor I had been able to travel to the conference (which was in Minneapolis), but we did the next best thing: Tim pre-recorded the presentation, it was projected onto a big screen at the venue, and afterwards we took questions via Skype. So, first conference paper in ages, and being on a giant TV. Interesting day.
The conference itself was all about mobility and music, as the title suggests, and papers were drawn from the contributions to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music and Sound Studies, edited by Sumanth Gopinath and Jason
Stanyek. As you’d imagine, technology is a very substantial theme here, and our contribution, on the social impact of the transistor radio, examines the relationship between technology and identity, space and place.
One major issue we set out to tackle is that of technological determinism. There’s a strong tendency in narratives about major technological developments to give those technologies agency, a defining role, almost, in what people do. In our particular case, that of transistor radio, narratives are constructed in which the radio appears almost as the cause of youth culture, rather than something which teenagers employed as one component of their cultural practices. This is not to deny that the transistor (and the devices produced using this technology) were of enormous significance – they were revolutionary. However, technologies don’t change the things that people do, they change the way in which people do those things, and they do so because people choose to use them, and not the other way around.
People continue to do people things, in spite of (although often assisted by) technology. Ironically, one of those people things is attributing agency to objects, which we all do from a very young age (Piaget’s animism), at first unconsciously and then as part of socialisation and play. I blame the Internet.