Everything I Was Worried About Then, I Am More Worried About Now
A 2021 Footnote to Ways of Hearing
“Keeping our attention — or at least, keeping us engaged inside their program — is at the moment the goal of some of the most powerful corporations in the world.
“Online, it’s becoming more and more difficult to escape the influence of those corporations, and their algorithms that shape the subset of information we each see. They are replacing the freedom and chaos of the internet at large, with the control and predictability of their programs.
“But subverting that system is easy offline. It can be as easy as walking into a bookstore.”
(Ways of Hearing, Episode 5 / p. 105)
When I recorded the podcast series Ways of Hearing in 2017 (the transcript was then published as a book in 2019), it was easy to walk into a bookstore, or record store, or go to a gig, or meet with friends, or employ any of the other analog short circuits to digital life that gave me hope at the time. Not so much in 2021. The pandemic has forced us ever more online – we are now only deeper in the clutches of the corporations that dominate the virtual.
Is this temporary? Will my casual confidence about walking into a bookstore make sense once more? Or will limits to analog life from the pandemic calcify, like so many “emergency” security and surveillance tactics adopted after Sept 11 2001.
Certainly by the time we emerge from this, we will have lost many of the venues for analog exchange I mention in Ways of Hearing: small clubs, recording studios, independent shops… But even in 2017 I was treating these as endangered, which had nothing to do with airborne disease and everything to do with capital.
Capital has not seemed to suffer from the pandemic. That’s my scary 2021 footnote to Ways of Hearing. Everything I was worried about then, I am more worried about now. And I’m feeling that walking into a bookstore is not nearly subversive enough.
The pandemic has made the power of individual conscientious action seem rather romanticized, if not outright deluded. Collective action is what’s needed when society is under threat. Which it is - by misuse of capital no less than by this disease. Indeed, the two seem entwined throughout: from the spread of the virus along lines of global labor and goods, to the treatment of vaccine as private property, to this week’s CDC announcement that quarantine times will be reduced in order for workers to provide uninterrupted services.
I do still feel that downloading media and saving it to your own digital library is important, though. In fact, it’s only more so now that we can’t necessarily walk into an analog bookstore. How else will we safeguard ideas from digital platforms that swallow them indiscrimately as “content”? This is one of the reasons I have posted my podcast series to Bandcamp, where it can be downloaded and saved by individual listeners. It’s also a way to share it ad-free, and uncompressed - the excellent sound design by Ian Coss deserves to be heard in CD quality.
As an end-of-year thanks to paid subscribers, below you’ll find download codes for each of its six episodes. They are 22 minutes each, precisely the length of one side of an LP: a triple album in total!
And thank you all - free and paid subscribers - for helping launch this newsletter. Here’s to the subversion we can manage as digital writers and digital readers.