What can sound technologies tell us about our relationship to media as a whole? This is one of the central questions in the research of Phantom Power‘s host, Mack Hagood. To find its answer, he studies devices that get little attention from media scholars: noise-cancelling headphones, white noise machines, apps that make nature sounds, tinnitus maskers–even musical pillows. The story these media tell is rather different from the standard narrative, in which media are conveyors of information and entertainment. In his book Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control, Mack argues that media are the way we control how–and how much–we let the world affect us.

On Phantom Power, Mack has always focused on presenting the ideas of other scholars and sound artists. However, during our summer break we thought we’d share a piece by Mack that appeared in another podcast, the audio edition of Real Life, a razor-sharp magazine on digital culture. “Emotional Rescue” begins with the odd example of pillow-based audio technology to make the point that media are really about something more intimate than information:

The cozy conflation of content and comfort… is not a recent digital development. Nor is it, I would argue, a quirky edge case of media use. In fact, this is what media are: tools for altering how the body feels and what it perceives, controlling our relationship to others and the world, enveloping ourselves, and even disappearing ourselves.

Misunderstanding the true nature of our media use isn’t merely of academic concern–it has had disastrous effects on our politics and social cohesion.

The article was written for the Real Life website, then subsequently dropped in podcast form. Writing for the eye is quite different from writing for the ear, but podcast producer and narrator Britney Gil is amazing at elucidating written prose for the listener. If you listen to nonfiction audiobooks and/or want to hear a great narrator reading insightful takes on digital life, be sure to subscribe to Real Life: Audio Edition.

“Emotional Rescue” by Mack Hagood:

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