Curio Blog / Jul 13, 2018

Why audio is the media of the future

In a post-screen age, audio represents the first step towards true augmented reality

A twig crackles underfoot as a predator approaches.

A mother sings her new born baby to sleep.

A rumble of thunder, the farmer’s relief.

If you listen, you can hear it, some sound somewhere telling exactly what’s happening around you.

Sound has put us in our place for millennia. It situates the self in an immediate and immersive way. And will continue to do so for millennia to come.

We have evolved to discern between the whisper and the scream, the small stream up ahead or the waterfall around the corner.

It tells us where we are and which way to go. Audio has the power to transport you to another world, to firmly put you in the shoes of someone on the other side of the planet.

But if you look around you, where you are now, what you’re reading there’s no clear sense of direction. I bet you’ve got several tabs open in the browser on a laptop, or that you’re looking at this on some secondary screen.

We have all these windows that open onto the world, but we leave them all open, and they just start reflecting onto one another.

This chaos, this contemporary cacophony is often referred to as ‘noise’. But human-produced sonic experiences are far more linear. They have beginnings and ends, whereas this visual mess has no end in sight. I like to think of it as a great ‘blur’, obfuscating the things that matter, clouding them over with things that don’t.

You can never learn anything important if you can never get to it.

At the same time as being omnipresent, these constantly blurring screens aren’t particularly convenient. We have to consciously take them with us, constantly be looking at them as to not miss anything. They require effort on our behalf. And as our working lives become ever more sedentary and wholly reliant on these screens, the last thing that people want is to be equally dependent on them for information and leisure.

Of course, today, most of us are. But we can also imagine a different future.

A media landscape that moves beyond the screen is often one that is seen as being synonymous with Augmented Reality (AR). AR technology, most obviously successful in the case of Pokemon Go, allows the boundary between the on-screen world and the real-life world to disappear.

In the future we could imagine AR technologies which allow you to walk through the ideas contained in a book. But today, one element of AR is already here: audio.

In fact, audio has been around for a while as a form of media, radio waves ensured the first iterations of mass communication. And there is no reason to think that listening to ideas, information and stories won’t remain relevant in the future.

Today, when you are listening to a podcast, an audio article or an audiobook, you can take it with you anywhere. It is of the place you listen to it, and allows you to experience different worlds without peering through the confines of a screen.

Our media diets have become so piece-meal, so stuttering, that I bet you haven’t read every single word of even the most interesting stories you come across — this one included! But if you were listening to something fantastic, that 21st century lapse of attention can’t kick into place, you can’t just mindlessly start scrolling away.

Audio forces us to appreciate language and writing as it was meant to be written, word by word, from start to finish. At the same time as offering that mental focus, it also frees us to carry out menial tasks or carry on with our day. Audio allows us to enhance every moment.

Our other senses are freed to make the most of the world around us. We can cycle into work while crossing the Sahara, and gain insight into Stoicism while doing the dishes It allows for both a healthier and more productive way of consuming content.

So the next time you read an incredible article and get distracted, imagine what else you could be getting done while you listened to it; imagine where you could be, the things you could see.

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