I have no idea whether it is actually a Chinese curse, but “may you live in
interesting times” has a special significance for people who write about cul-
ture, communication, and modernity. It seems that writers who consider
these phenomena together always conclude that they live in interesting—
or at least disorienting—times. One result of this pose is a striking polem-
ical similarity between claims for modernity and its supplement, postmoder-
nity. Marx and Engels famously wrote of modernity in 1848, “All that is
solid melts into air.” Jean-François Lyotard would echo back their senti-
ments in 1979 as proof of a postmodern condition.1
Today, a whole procession of commentators hails emergent digital stor-
age and transmission technologies as indices of a new age of subjectivity.
Too many authors to name spent some time in the 1990s taking advantage
of the concurrence of proliferating digital technologies in the First World
and the approaching turn of the millennium. They adopted the millennial
rhetoric that accompanied both phenomena to declare that, once again,
we really are undergoing another historical transformation of the subject.
Those of us interested in the history of the senses have been called with an
especial intensity to take heed of new digital technologies and their pur-
ported promise to transform the sensory landscape. I could reasonably con-
clude The Audible Past in this millennial fashion—noting that the digital
recording and transmission of sound is part of a new set of transformations
today. I could go further and argue that, because we are moving into a new
sonic age, the salient features of the previous age have come into clearer re-
lief, that we can finally write histories of our audible pasts. But that would
Conclusion: Audible Futures
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