08.04.22
Liz Danzio + Lee Moreau | Audio

The Futures Archive S2E11: The Microphone


How many microphones are in the room you are in? Did you count the ones in your earbuds? On your phone? Your smart device? On this episode of The Futures Archive Lee Moreau and Liz Danzico discuss the microphone as an embedded technology, and the power it commands from center stage to tucked away in a drawer.

With additional insights from Susan Schmidt Horning, Jonathan Sterne, and Meryl Alper.

Liz described our relationship with technology evolution:
Over time there has been—I don't know if it's a trend or a trajectory, or what it is that makes us want to take things that are large and make them small. And it seems to be every new technology, it's like we invent it, it begins large and we make it smaller, and smaller, and smaller. What does it say about ourselves? I think that it says that we feel a sense of centeredness in who we are without technology. We want all the power without being augmented. We don't want biohacking. We don't want the devices to be all around us. We don't as much as we want the new pieces of technology to empower us. We don't want them to be visible. We want it to sort of seem like it's happening naturally.
Lee Moreau is President of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation consultancy based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University.

Liz Danzico is part designer, part educator, and full-time dog owner.

Susan Schmidt Horning is Associate Professor of History at St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the author of Chasing Sound.

Jonathan Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.

Meryl Alper is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University and the author of Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality.


Subscribe to The Futures Archive on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. And you can browse the show archive.

Kathleen Fu created the illustrations for each episode.

A big thanks to this season’s sponsor, Automattic.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to The Futures Archive, a show about human centered design, where this season we'll take an object, look for the human at the center and keep asking questions. I'm Lee Moreau.

Liz Danzico
And I'm Liz Danzco.

Lee Moreau
On each episode, we're going to start with an object with power. Today, that object is the microphone. We'll look at the history of that object from our perspective as designers who've done work in human centered design, not just how it looks and feels, but also the relationship between that object and the people it was designed for.

Liz Danzico
And with other humans too.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic. Later on we'll hear from Jeff Ong, a code wrangler at Automattic.

Lee Moreau
Hi Liz, how are you doing?

Liz Danzico
Hi, Lee. I'm doing great. How are you?

Lee Moreau
I'm doing great. This is our penultimate episode for this season. And, you know, for us, this is at this point, the fourth time we've recorded an episode — three in our series this season on communication and human centered design. Thank you for being with us again.

Liz Danzico
Oh, it's such an honor. I am excited.

Lee Moreau
So today we're going be talking about the microphone, which in my mind is the most iconic thing that we can think about in terms of communication. And partly because I just love the image of myself singing karaoke with the microphone. So when I think of communication, it's through a mic. But we're also talking into mikes right here. And this is just part of our daily existence at this point.

Liz Danzico
Yes, indeed. And I think we don't think about how many microphones are around us all the time. It is part of our daily existence, even though we don't we don't even know it.

Lee Moreau
Liz, when you think of microphones, like if you close your eyes and just imagine the scene of a microphone and not me singing karaoke, but what do you think of like what does that evoke for you?

Liz Danzico
Well, a couple different things. I mean, I feel like the microphone is a symbol of beauty, beauty in the sense of sort of like a magic that can happen, in the sense of a performance of some kind, either sort of planned or unplanned, but also power. So who holds the microphone metaphorically or physically holds the power. And when I was younger, I had a visceral fear of the microphone, not the form, but the the public speaking aspect. So I would never encounter a microphone. I would want to and I would look at them and want to sort of get into the environment where someone would hand me a microphone and magic would ensue, you know, whether it be a performance or spoken word, but it would bring out sweaty palms and shaking voice and that kind of thing. I had such a fear of it. And so it took many years of working to to be in the place where holding the microphone could have that sense of delight and wonder and feeling of comfort where I could feel good about it. What do you think about when you think about the microphone?

Lee Moreau
I mean, the the sort of representational quality of the microphone, the kind of iconic handheld mic that pop stars use suggests. Yeah, obviously power, the kind of ability to have to talk to many people at once, right. So it's the the one to many power of what the microphone can do. It puts someone on stage. I find it terrifying, too.

Liz Danzico
And don't get me wrong now I love it. Now, I love the- I really enjoy it. But then I really, really didn't. And, and I do I think it's worth noting and I don't know if it's personal or or or shared, but I, I sort of resent the power that that that object does have and appreciate the change that the microphone has taken. I mean, we see we saw the, you know, the lav mic and there's the kind of iconic sort of TED head set. And then the moves that the microphone has taken to become a visible object, the hand-held mike, even the the standing mike, you know, early days to become sort of more part of our behavior. So headset and now it's we don't even discern it is part of the fabric of what we're wearing. And so that I think speaks to sort of it disappearing into our our behavior and not really being part of the sort of power dynamic in the room or on the stage, but just more a part of who we are and a shared sense of of power, if you will.

Lee Moreau
You're talking about the sort of integration of the mike into our daily behavior. And I guess once you start getting comfortable with that, you find yourself in situations where you don't even presume there's a mike at all. Yeah, I guess that's a sort of huge transformation in our relationship to microphones. And that's what we'll be talking about more on this episode. So now we're going to hear a little bit more from the sort of historians and designers who work on the microphone to help us make sense of it.

Susan Schmidt Horning
So the earliest recording devices were acoustical mechanical, meaning that they took sound from the air, collected it in a horn.

Lee Moreau
Susan Schmidt Horning is an associate professor of history at Saint John's University.

Susan Schmidt Horning
The basic performer was the diaphragm connected to a stylus, which would then cut the groove. Original one was, of course, the tin foil phonograph that Edison invented and then that moved to wax coated cylinders. And then ultimately, when Emile Berliner invented the flat disk recording, the stylus was etching into a round disc. That's literally one groove that goes all the way around and continues throughout.

Lee Moreau
Susan is the author of Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP. Her book explores the interplay of technology, music and sound engineering from the birth of music recording industry to the 1970s.

Susan Schmidt Horning
There were always efforts to improve the quality of sound. With the advent of radio, with electronics, the advent of the invention of the audion versus the vacuum tube, you have amplification and microphones. So the very first microphones, really, I'm going to head back again to the telephone, you know, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone had the basic principle of converting acoustical sound waves in the air to electromagnetism — pulses of electrical current. And that's what is ultimately the basis of a microphone.

Lee Moreau
So really, the microphone is sort of a byproduct of other inventions like the telephone. So in many ways, it's always been an embedded technology. Without the microphone, we don't get other things that work that we that we understand. Like the microphone is sort of a foundational technology in many respects. When we think about the this kind of track on communication and human centered design that we've been talking about, you know, initially we talked about the dongle as sort of an object, just this thing that kind of like you kind of manage and it helps you connect to other things. The experience of the car radio and how that creates a whole, you know, acoustic environment that you can own and curate and craft. And now we really have the microphone, which is the ultimate sort of sensing device for capturing sound and a sort of representational icon for that very effect in and of itself. Like, how does this fit into the overall sort of arc that we're drawing?

Liz Danzico
Yeah, it's interesting if if it is indeed the enabling technology— if it sort of enabled radio in that way, and if radio enabled television, and television enabled, you know, sort of like, you know, without it, would we still be sitting in front of a stage or a grassy lawn watching plays? And would that be such a bad thing, as it were? But what you know, how dramatically has it changed culture? Is interesting to think. But on its own, you know, it certainly holds significant power. Going back to power, you can stand in the center of the public square and use the microphone in the same way you could, you know, a bullhorn to be heard. But it also has significant power to enable these other technologies or, you know, communication devices.

Lee Moreau
So even even when it's not recording, it's it's amplifying.

Liz Danzico
Right.

Lee Moreau
But then also the microphone sort of expanded who got to be recorded, what voices could be captured, where and when — so it's it's it's amplifying on one hand or has the potential to but it's also able to capture as well.

Susan Schmidt Horning
So in the acoustical period, if you didn't have a strong voice, and most of the recording stars in the acoustic period weren't necessarily stage performers, they were recording artists who were good at knowing how to project— once electrical recording comes in, you can have singers who don't have a necessarily a powerful voice— rudy Vallee is the famous, you know, crooner Bing Crosby — These are people with powerful voices. They have a different kind of sound. And the microphone is much more sensitive, can pick up more sound.

Lee Moreau
So that's the story of the microphone and communications that we're going to be talking about today, which is this sort of expansion of access, range, and really inclusion by allowing other voices to be to be heard. Right, so it's it's partly from the ubiquity of the microphone, but also from just what it's able to afford us from a technology perspective.

Liz Danzico
Yeah. And this idea of, you know, bringing it back to design or we don't we never have to bring it back to design because what isn't designed but — you know, kind of making things audible that haven't been heard before or with design making things visible that haven't been seen before. So this idea of sort of like raising the visibility or raising the audio profile or bringing not to say bringing voices to, but expanding the the reach of, you know, the the sound profile so that more can be heard. It feels similar to kind of an extension of what we're doing and have been doing in design.

Lee Moreau
So let's continue talking about what a microphone is.

Jonathan Sterne
Okay. So what's a microphone then? Well, I'm going to say after the invention of the telephone, we could say that the microphone is any device that takes sound and changes it into a kind of signal which can then be stored, amplified, transmitted, and processed.

Lee Moreau
Jonathan Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author of numerous articles and books on media technologies and the politics of culture, including The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.

Susan Schmidt Horning
I say metaphorically that once you have telephones and phonographs in the 19th century, already any sound is potentially a signal. But today, like looking around your home or even walking through an urban environment, there is not just a possibility, but a reality that all sounds are being treated as possible signals, right. And those signals can be used for all sorts of things.

Lee Moreau
So microphones are everywhere. You know, they're absolutely ubiquitous now. I'm wondering in the room that you're sitting sitting in right now, if you could sort of like count how many microphones there are and what are their various functions?

Liz Danzico
Well, I think I just have — I only have three. Is that true? Three. I'm- probably probably four. There's no security device in the room, so there's no monitoring here, so. And they're functions. I have an explicit microphone which is sole purpose is to record external feedback, likely spoken word or when I sing if that ever happens into an external, you know, input like my laptop. No, four! I have an external monitor that also has a microphone which I didn't consider. My laptop, which has its own microphone, and my phone. Those are four, I'm sure there's a fifth that I'm not thinking about.

Lee Moreau
I'm definitely seeing one of them, which is the earbuds on your head.

Liz Danzico
Oh, the earbuds. Five and six. That's right. And each one has a microphone. So there are six. I have another set of headphones, they're wired, which — seven that are lying here in a drawer. I also have Beats, that's eight, nine. Yes. Okay. So nine.

Lee Moreau
Yeah. Now it's getting interesting.

Liz Danzico
Yeah. So that's nine. And that's just in this room.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic, which is building a new web and a new workplace all around the world.

Jeff Ong
My name is Jeff Ong, I live in Queens, New York City, and I am a code wrangler at Automattic.

Lee Moreau
At Automattic, Jeff can see the impact of his work.

Jeff Ong
My main contribution to Automattic and to WordPress is through code. I came to Automattic because I was attracted to the way they were thinking about design and technology. As a designer coming from a studio background, you know, I worked out some really, really cool things at a studio. Did those things ever see the light of day? You know, no. The idea that you could work on something and focus on it for long enough to actually have an impact and reach. For example, I worked on the default theme for 2022 WordPress. That software has been installed and touched by millions of people within days, you know. Yeah, Automattic for me has been a place to really explore and identify what's important to me and how to do that in a way that reaches people all over the world.

Lee Moreau
Designing a better web. Join us at Automattic dot com slash design. That's auto-m-a-double t-i-c dot com slash design.

Lee Moreau
So normally we would have a clip from someone, some sort of expert microphone user, but in this case, that's us. So I'm wondering if if we can kind of like become design strategists, design researchers for a moment and talk about like and invent some questions on the fly that might kind of probe this topic. So initially, we were going to say, you know, like, what are some of the initial experiences of the microphones? You said there was a sort of youthful terror associated, I'm paraphrasing, but a real fear of microphones in the early days. But now you're using them in your professional life. You're talking on one right now. And you're really good at this, by the way.

Liz Danzico
Oh, thank you. I really love it.

Lee Moreau
So how did you learn that?

Liz Danzico
Good question. I failed miserably. So I went into the trial of disappointment and disillusionment or something. I, I took a public speaking class at my worst point in college, and then I started getting invitations to do public speaking. And I failed quite, quite miserably. And then I started studying people that I found that did it well. And I started asking them questions about how they did that, how it happened. And I realized that they did things called practicing and that they practiced in front of the mic, you know, with a microphone in the environment that they would perform in. And so that's that's how I learned.

Lee Moreau
You know, as design researchers, if you were trying to do create a deeper understanding about the microphone in the way it exists in people's lives and maybe the impact that it has, how would you kind of structure questions about that?

Liz Danzico
Yeah, well, I would—it would depend on the ultimate outcome in terms of the impact it has on people's lives. You know, what kinds of people, where are they? First, we would identify clear goals. You know, are we trying to create a more affordable version? Are we trying to have it distributed more widely, create a better supply chain, clarify the goals, and then think about people and their current access to use of or lack thereof, the microphone and create some some questions around that and and potentially develop a set of, you know, visits. Think about would it be appropriate to ask those questions? Would we partner with communities where it would be more appropriate for someone to to ask those questions on our behalf? Are they being impacted by the the microphone and not having access to it or having access to it? Are they being harmed by not having access to the microphone or having access to the microphone. I mean, just sort of like thinking about our role and our are we the, you know— who's the expert in this situation? And, you know, what is the impact that we would have by even engaging in this, this research? So yeah, so just kind of going about getting more definition around those kinds of questions and then I think really kind of finessing who that community is. So you could really, really find the right people. Could be us, but it might not be to start start to ask those those good questions. And say it were— my extended family ends up being the right community to ask those questions. And then the questions could be, tell me about your experiences with microphones. You know, how many microphones you have in your space? You know, are they effective? Do they do the job that you want them to do? How long do you keep them around? You know, I mean, there's so many fun questions that you could ask, but I think before you even start identifying those questions, you want to start thinking about are you even the right person to ask questions? Are you going to do harm by asking those questions yourself? You know, are you prioritizing the right things by even going in there and some of those kinds of things?

Lee Moreau
Yeah. The thoughtfulness around how you would one make not make any assumptions about the audience that you're talking about, right. And so that you can be as open as possible and as receptive to what they want to bring to the table. All of that, you know, speaks to this a- suggestion that you must be open to what the target audience is is going to bring to the table that it's not a it's on an interview it's a conversation, right. It's a two way kind of flow, an exchange of information. Maybe as a proxy for this, in some sense, our our guest, Jonathan Sterne, who we talked to, he doesn't just write about audio and microphones. He actually has a specific relationship to being a microphone user. So we can listen to that — I'm I'm channeling your kind of structuring of questions — as we hear this next clip.

Jonathan Sterne
So in 2009, I acquired a paralyzed vocal cord. Cancer ate my right recurrent laryngeal nerve. So most people, their vocal cords both move and they close together. But in my case, one is paralyzed and the other moves to close the gap. And it does it pretty well so I sound normal. But if I project too much or talk too much, I blow out my voice. So my speech therapist introduced me to personal portable speech amplifiers, which are just these wearable devices, sort of like a transistor radio without the radio. I call the speech amplifier dork-o-phone, because it's kind of dorky. It's this big, chunky box that hangs around my neck. Can I swear on this podcast? So I once had, you know, we were we had a house party and somebody knocks on the door and I open the door and the guy looks me up and down. This is what the fuck is that? Right, which is something you'd never say about someone's glasses. So I explained— it's like a cane for my voice. It's like glasses for my voice. And that took care of it, and then that becomes unremarkable very quickly. But wearing a microphone is an interesting thing because on one level it's the most unremarkable thing, right? We just talked about how microphones are everywhere and our houses are full of them in our cities are full of them, and they're constantly listening to us and recording and transmitting sound. Well, people don't wear microphones that much, right? For all the ubiquity of microphones, it's still seen as something not to wear on your body that if you are wearing it on your body, there's going to be like a reason or an explanation.

Liz Danzico
What's interesting about this is that it's one thing for the microphone to be passive, I guess, and it's another thing for someone to sort of like hold the microphone.

Lee Moreau
Almost to capture, right, as opposed to— right instead of listening it's capturing.

Liz Danzico
Mm. Right. Interesting. Yeah, change of, change of verb because it changes potentially the intention of, or the, the use of what's being taken, you know, from you or with you. So that's a really interesting story and you know, sort of suggests a possible future where we all have recording devices in our glasses, in our ears, around our neck, what have you.

Lee Moreau
And the social cues that would be around that. So how does one either present for that, like I certainly when I see a camera in a room, I certainly change my posture. I change the way I'm oriented. I don't always know when a microphone is in the room, but I'm pretty certain I would change the way my voice projects and definitely control what I'm saying and probably swear less, right. And all those — so the just the kind of sense of being monitored and surveilled definitely has an impact on the way that you you present.

Liz Danzico
Yeah. Interesting. I mean, it's it's even, you know, he asks if he can swear on this podcast. So, you know, it is just the difference between what you say when you're being recorded or projected versus what you say when you're not, yeah. And just the the work not to dismiss even the work that someone has to do to make other people feel comfortable, you know, which is next to adjacent to the microphone, but still an important aspect of that story, yeah. Just this work that someone takes on to make other people feel comfortable is tremendous weight, or a piece that other people don't have to do.

Lee Moreau
So I wanna return to a word that you just used, which was comfortable, because it seems that when we don't see the mikes, that's when we're the most comfortable with them. And then that's maybe as the person wearing that technology or the microphone or the person who's who's kind of seeing it or not having to kind of recognize it. But have we ever gotten comfortable with our relationship to technology when we really just want to make it disappear? Like, what are those moments where it's like: Oh, finally, I'm, I'm okay with this because it's just I no longer have to interact with it. What does that mean?

Liz Danzico
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know if I well, I, I think it's true maybe in the scenario that I described that we might be comfortable with the mike when it disappears in certain scenarios. But I think in other scenarios we might be uncomfortable because sometimes we may be uncomfortable if we know there's a microphone and we can't see it because we don't know who's recording us. I mean, it sort of does depend on the scenario. So I think that's not necessarily a ubiquitous kind of blanket statement. Um, I do think that there has been over time this, I don't know if it's a trend or a trajectory or what it is that makes us want to take things that are large and make them small, you know, and then that's with new technology. And it seems to be every new technology, it's like we invent it, it begins large and we make it smaller and smaller and smaller. So there is this. What does it say about ourselves? I think that it says that we feel a sense of centeredness in who we are without technology. We want-we want all the power without being augmented. We don't want biohacking. We don't want the devices to be sort of all around us. We don't, as much as we want the new pieces of technology to empower us. We don't want them to be visible. We want it to sort of seem like it's happening naturally. That's what I think it means.

Lee Moreau
Yeah, I think I'm feeling that we, we're comfortable having certain environments that are sensing and then there are other environments that we don't want to be sensing. And so, you know, the function of the microphone and some of these other technologies that we are talking about, in their relative scale, is about like the type of interactions we want to have in particular spaces and how technology is either embedded or is not embedded, it's either implicit or explicit. And I think everybody has sort of different preferences for those — different cultures, different people have different preferences, and we're just still managing that. And I don't think there's a lot of rules that are defined for this.

Liz Danzico
Mm. Agreed.

Lee Moreau
So let's hear more about the intersection of visible communication, technology, and power.

Meryl Alper
So I was really interested in the ways in which disabled kids were coming to communicate through these tools, but also how the people around them understood them and how they would kind of foreclose or create opportunities through these technologies based on what they thought communication itself meant for voice meant.

Lee Moreau
Meryl Alper is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. Her book, Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability and Inequality is largely based on. A study that she did of how individuals and particularly children who are non-speaking or who had developmental disabilities that impacted their ability to communicate in a traditional way, and I'm using air quotes there, that we might think of as talking, we're using assistive communication or speech technologies— basically the kind of microphones that we find in our computers or even more advanced sort of specialized technology like the Stephen Hawking type communication tools. What's really key here is that she's talking about people who use the microphone technology explicitly and in a very visible way.

Meryl Alper
I was drawn to this particular kind of assistive technology because I was interested in sort of mobile communication more broadly. Even if we are talking about something like the microphone, it's a technology that has evolved so much over the years that we can think of it as some theorists of media and technology say it's domesticated, so we no longer necessarily think of it as a new or novel technology. It's like it's just a microphone. There's nothing particularly exciting or shocking about it. It's mundane. But in the same vein, microphones, like any technology, are never really done evolving.

Lee Moreau
And so a lot of these assistive technologies that we have, they tend toward these very sort of simple normative embodiments, like, why does Siri and Alexa, why are they all sound like white women? Or they may be everywhere, but they're not equitable. So they're ubiquitous, but they're not really equitable. We don't have the sort of breadth of expression that we would want from the breadth of human behavior and presentation that we would want to see in the world and that we do see in the world so that the technology's lagging, right.

Liz Danzico
So, I mean, human centered design, it's complicated. You know, I mean, I think that both Siri and Alexa— not going into the deep history of how they were formed and their origin stories are born of human centered design stories and our human centered design efforts. And so that said, they are known to be sounding like one particular kind of archetype, one particular kind of person that may be based on, you know, a white woman who speaks a specific kind of English, and that only speaks to a very particular kind, you know, one one part of the population who may be using these platforms. And so there is another part of the human centered design community who has been working to create other aspects of how these voices can sound. And there are projects where they have created other kinds of voices so that people can recognize that there is a non-gender specific voice that they could hear, that there is a non white voice that they could hear. There are many projects going on, both those in the kind of public domain that people can access and those behind the scenes in design communities. But it's not just, it's not just that that's the voice, it's that the people who use these platforms aren't being heard or recognized and their voices because of a particular accent or because of the way that they pronounce things, the platform itself, because of the way that it was designed and engineered, does not recognize certain accents. And so you have households where perhaps one person is understood, but multiple other people may not be able to be understood by this platform, which feels exclusionary, it feels frustrating or worse. It's not my lived experience, but speaking from the experience of someone who's worked on the platform, can only imagine that it's the responsibility of design communities to understand and to work with these platforms to to improve them and to continue to evolve the platform so that people can be included and continue to find ways to connect with communities so we can make sure people are both hearing voices that are more widely representative and also are being heard.

Lee Moreau
I mean, this is complicated to radically simplify what you just said. But, you know, I think on this show, a lot of what we talk about is both to some degree championing human centered design and saying why it's really valuable, but also showing why there are shortcomings. And part of that is just like there's just so much to be done and so much work to do. And I think you just really kind of beautifully laid out the complexity of just one challenge that we are facing with this design practice. And, you know, in the situation of the microphone, it's not a magic solution. It's- the microphone is not going to solve all of our problems. And I don't think we have we live in a society where it can be solved by simply a better microphone. We have to look more deeply at everything that's going on there. And Meryl Alper talks a little bit more about this.

Meryl Alper
The phrase giving voice to the voiceless. I think that we can critique the giving part, the voice part, and the voiceless part. The giving itself leaves very little space for co-creation or the kind of letting go of power that there is always the role of the giver and sort of who gets to be the giver, who gets to be the one who enables and in what ways that can be reified by kind of existing power structures. And then the voice part, what definitions of what it means to have a voice or use a voice or to be vocally expressive. In what ways might those who are giving have a have a definition of that that can be very different than those who are expected to benefit from whatever technology is enabling it.

Lee Moreau
This theme of power that's pervasive through everything that we've talked about this season, in this particular case is this notion of giving the voice to the voiceless — and all the complexity and in everything that that really means.

Liz Danzico
Yeah, I couldn't agree more with what she's saying, that every part of that phrase is problematic and this sort of breaking down even of the the giving aspect and in order to share power distribute all the the verbs are problematic. But to have-to have and hold space for distributed and collective power, you know, you have to find ways to share the connective power of the the microphone, you know, and and sort of what that means. And these these platforms that designers have been imagining and inventing and building, I think are really part of what's doing that truly. You know, the microphone, microphone enabled radio and television and led to all these things and possibly up to today, these sort of, you know, pockets of distribution and these networks where many people are holding one another up and lifting one another up so that we can connect and do a better job of facilitating shared power where needed. And these relationships, not tracing back to the microphone, but this idea of the the physical microphone kind of like dissolving into behavior. But going back to to what our guest, Meryl Alper, just said, kind of breaking apart this idea of giving voice to the voiceless and kind of pushing against that actively, but making sure that we use our distributed microphones, right, that are now embedded in the things that we've helped build to make sure that everyone who does have access where there isn't access. So I think that part is still powerful and needed, but it's not a giving of, right. It's not a handing over the microphone. It's a different kind of verb.

Lee Moreau
Yeah, it's it's complicated because it you know, clearly in the object to the microphone in my brain, when I think about handing it to someone, I'm granting someone else access to all the focus in that moment. And if we if we don't kind of stop and think about the the fact that we really actually just need to be creating conversations and creating dialog as opposed to the one to many kind of activation. You know, I do think that our tendency is to say, oh, well, I can I can centralize the power real quick, and that's easy to do and making conversations much more difficult.

Liz Danzico
Yeah. You know, it's something that the handing of the mic doesn't allow for as much that's needed, is pause and silence. Whether individual or collective. I'm not saying that there's no need for the mic, so we should state on the record that there will continue to be the need for the microphone in all of its all of its forms. But the microphone in its traditional sort of form that we've been talking about also doesn't really allow for the pause. Something about the pause, the silence. You know, if you were holding the mic, suggest that there's an issue or a problem and you need to fill that space with something. And I think that that has the the silence or the kind of collecting of one's thoughts also has a power that is important with people or individually that we don't we don't give enough credit to. And so those objects. Well, one being space and one being the microphone almost work at odds. And so it would be, I think the the dissolving of the the object to a certain degree gives more power to pausing in reflection, which I think is a good thing for the times we're living in for this year, this coming set of challenges that we have ahead of us.

Lee Moreau
And I guess that's the site of design for us. To sort of wrap up the conversation. You've gotten used to this at this point. We like to do a sort of thought exercise at the end. And I'm wondering if you have anything in mind that we could, we could ask our listeners to kind of reflect on as it pertains to the microphone.

Liz Danzico
Well, thinking about science fiction a little bit, I wondered—this might be a frustrating exercise, but I wondered if people could go around to the establishment that you're in, whether it's your home or your office or wherever you're listening. When you get to the place, you're listening, maybe not your car or your public transportation— and see if you can turn off every microphone except one. Is that even possible in the day that we're living in? Is it possible to only have one sort of live mike in the place that you are? Or is that a failed attempt these days? I don't know the answer. I'm sort of interested to see if that's possible, but that would be my assignment.

Lee Moreau
I love that, one live mike. I think you would— you'll have a lot of people turning off all their devices, but that'll be a really cool, cool phenomenon. So I'm excited to hear how that goes. Liz, thank you as always. It's been really great talking to you and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

Liz Danzico
Thank you, Lee. Good talking to you, too.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with the show, go to TFA dot Design Observer dot com or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, please make sure to rate and review us and share it with your friends.

Liz Danzico
And if you're interested in following me on things unrelated to the microphone, you can find me at Bobulate, which is discombobulated without the prefix and the suffix on all media platforms, and my personal website, Bobulate dot com.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you this season by Automattic. Thanks again to Susan Schmidt Horning, Jonathan Sterne, and Meryl Alper for talking to The Futures Archive. You can find out more about them in our show notes at TFA dot Design Observer dot com along with a full transcription of our show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Owen Agnew edits the show. Thanks, as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


Posted in: Product Design, The Futures Archive



Comments [0]



Jobs | December 02