Willfully Deaf

We are enveloped in a world of sound; a fact that I take for granted. Sound seems so natural to the daily course of life that I find myself ignoring many of the rich sounds throughout my day. This audiography assignment has given me a chance to closely consider and examine the sounds that make up my day and how I perceive them. Dr. Seth Horowitz writes, “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (Horowitz). I fear that I have succumb to the “digital distraction” that I choose to surround myself with. I divided my ten sound clips into three themes: “Around UHeights,” “Meal Time,” and “Out and About.” By looking how I perceive this collection of sounds, I hope to gain an understanding of how I listen or fail to listen.

The “Around UHeights” set is composed of the sounds that I encounter throughout my day in the dorm. From the hiss of the shower, to the clanging of hangars, to the tones of my computer waking up, to click-clacking of my keyboard, and my lively reaction to a sports game; my dorm life is filled with many sounds most of which I hear, but fail to truly listen to. The second set, “Meal Time,” chronicles the sounds from my lunch time at Cook. From the crinkling wrapper of a Rice Krispy Treat, to the hissing of the soda fountain, to the clanging of plates; again, these sounds are very rich, but I take them for granted. The last set, “Out and About,” is a collection of the sounds of my movement throughout campus and downtown. From the stomping of my boots up the stairs, to the zipping of my jacket, to the whip of the wind, and the hissing of the lowering bus; only when I have sat down to inspect these sounds do I appreciate their qualities.

“Willfully Deaf” is an apt title because I am engulfed in this rich, varied soundscape, but do not truly listen nor appreciate the distinct qualities of the sound. I find that throughout my day, I mostly utilize causal listening which “consists of listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause (or source),” or semantic listening which is the listening that which “refers to a code or a language to interpret a message” (Chion 48,50). I utilize causal listening when it comes to my electronics or clothing. It allows me to multitask as I can gain an understanding of my progress of a certain task, be it the operation of my TV or the zippering of my coat, without needing to give it my full attention. Semantic listening comes into play with my interactions with others whether it is in class or at lunch or in the dorm.

The one mode of listening that I find nearly non-existent in my life is reduced listening, “the listening mode that focuses on the traits of the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning” (Chion 50). After recording and examining the sounds of my audiography, I was shocked by how many interesting sounds I never recognize. One that stood out was the hissing of the bus from the clip, “New Comic Book Wednesdays.” Every Wednesday I go downtown on the 5:07 bus, stop by the comic book store for the new releases, and get right back on the next bus to University Heights. I am so focused on the mission at hand and distracted by my phone that I never stop to appreciate the sounds along the way. When I captured this selection of the bus, I was stunned by the clip. I was aware of the hydraulic action of the bus, but only through careful replaying of the clip did I truly experience the unique character of the sound.

Dr. Horowitz’s fear for our loss of listening is one that is very real, and as a society we need to examine how we listen and do not listen. What are the sounds that we choose to listen to and what are the sounds we ignore? There is a true richness in life that is lost when we fail to listen, one that I hope to learn to embrace in the future.

Works Cited

Chion, Michael. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Horowitz, Seth S. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times 9 Nov. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 25-39. Print.

Super Bowl XLVII. CBS. CBS, New York, New York, 2 Feb. 2013. Television.

3 thoughts on “Willfully Deaf

  1. I like the “Willfully Deaf” title. I think that most of us can relate to your idea that we are constantly surrounded by this soundscape but that we miss out on many of the sounds that fill it because we are so consumed by our own devices and sounds that we create and choose to listen to. Working a little bit off of Annie’s comment as well I agree that while we take many of this sounds for granted, there are those who do not get to hear them at all so it seems we are abusing this privilege that we are granted every day. Great points.

  2. I liked your emphasis on the “willfully deaf” aspect. It’s so true that we don’t hear so much, simply because we take it for granted. Others who are actually deaf don’t experience these sounds because they don’t have the option to. We should realize how lucky we are to be blessed with a working sense of hearing. I appreciated your focus on how we choose this ignorance, and that the fear of losing listening is very near and real to our generation.

  3. When I listened to my clips I too realized just how much I didn’t hear. Even though I don’t deliberately block out sound by listening to music on my walk to class for example, I still don’t listen to the soundscape around me.

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