On the web as soundscape
One of the things I love about twitter is the very thing that so many point to as its great weakness, namely, that everything gets boiled down to something so short it can't help be lack for content. When people say this, they imagine that we always talk about something for which the content is available, that we reduce in order to make fit. But there is another way of using twitter, and another way of speaking. To use it in this second way is to drop an idea onto the surface and then watch it move out and change.
I had this latter experience today as I read something David Ascher wrote. He made a simple observation, and it struck me as worth reflecting on, even now at the end of my day. Others felt the same, and it bounced around twitter before landing in Laurian Gridinoc's blog, where he writes some quite interesting things about it.
And what was this idea?
Given how important headphones are to the modern workplace, it's weird that more apps don't have soundtracks.
I spent 2010 playing with sound, especially in the context of the web. I gave many talks and demos about web audio. One of the most important changes that occurred in me as a result of this was the realization that I don't pay enough attention to sound as way of extending my ability to communicate ideas. Every time I gave a talk that included sound and music, the effect on the crowd, and on me, was remarkable. Only because my subject matter was sound itself was I brave enough to do this. I'm working on becoming brave enough to do it even when it isn't.
I'm also influenced by my interest in birds and birding, and the desire to map my experience of nature onto the experience of technology. When I go out looking for birds, I can cope with many overlapping sounds at once, some near, some far, and they provide clues and cues as opposed to content. I imagine something not unlike Brian Eno's ambient music (cf. Music for Airports), where sound is meant to be something you don't concentrate on, but part of the experience of the space.
I've wondered if there is a place for sound on the web that is different from music or sound effects. As Laurian discusses, a way to get more information about the content of a page before you encounter it, much as you gain information about a field or woods by the sounds you hear (and those you don't). Especially as we use mobile devices more, and have less access to the entirety of a page. What do I need to know about the rest of the page beneath my current position? Is it worth scrolling down? Is the page filled with comments (the sound of a crowd in the distance), for example.
One of the things I liked most about playing Machinarium over the Christmas break was the music, the ambient sounds, and the sound effects. They cared about it so much that they made the soundtrack available as a separate download. It's also why I like OmnWritter. I hope more apps get soundtracks. I hope the web does, too.