For almost sixty years, media technologies have promised users the ability to create sonic safe spaces for themselves—from bedside white noise machines to Beats by Dre's “Hear What You Want” ad campaign, in which Colin Kaepernick's headphones protect him from taunting crowds. In Hush, Mack Hagood draws evidence from noise-canceling headphones, tinnitus maskers, LPs that play ocean sounds, nature-sound mobile apps, and in-ear smart technologies to argue the true purpose of media is not information transmission, but rather the control of how we engage our environment. These devices, which Hagood calls orphic media, give users the freedom to remain unaffected in the changeable and distracting spaces of contemporary capitalism and reveal how racial, gendered, ableist, and class ideologies shape our desire to block unwanted sounds. In a noisy world of haters, trolls, and information overload, guarded listening can be a necessity for self-care, but Hagood argues our efforts to shield ourselves can also decrease our tolerance for sonic and social difference. Challenging our self-defeating attempts to be free of one another, he rethinks media theory, sound studies, and the very definition of media.
Introduction. Hearing What We Want 1
Part I. Suppression 29
1. Tinnitus and Its Aural Remedies 31
Part II. Masking 73
2. Sleep-Mates and Sound Screens: Sound, Speed, and Circulation in Postwar America 75
3. The Ultimate Seashore: Environments and the Nature of Technology 116
4. A Quiet Storm: Orphic Apps and Infocentrism 148
Part III. Cancellation 175
5. Bose QuietComfort and the Mobile Production of Personal Space 177
6. Beats by Dre: Race and the Sonic Interface 198
Conclusion. Wanting What We Hear 220
“Mack Hagood retunes the field of sound studies, boosting the prominence of environmental and ambient sounds—rain, heartbeats, the hum and whir of white noise—that can now be mobilized as electronic tools. Hagood offers a series of riveting case studies for what he calls orphic media, which ‘fight sound with sound’ to sculpt personal space. The first book to foreground these astonishingly pervasive technologies of sonic self-control, Hush inserts sound into critical debates about affect, ‘filter bubbles,’ and productivity apps. By the end of the book you wonder how sound could have previously been so overlooked in these arenas.”
“Steering a path between ethnography and history, Hush considers the strange status of sounds to be heard but not listened to. Throughout, Mack Hagood wonders at the affective power of sound as a presence or absence and as a tool for listeners as they negotiate their embedded existence in the world with the social demand to be autonomous, self-managing subjects. Hush is challenging and imaginative; read it and you will learn to think differently about sound, noise, silence, and meaning.”
“A fascinating study of our efforts to control sound and, through it, our emotional and political lives. As Mack Hagood shows, the sonic and the social are never far apart and are best thought together.”
"Hagood points out that we now often talk about personal freedom in terms of what we don’t have to listen to, and he focusses, in the book, on our efforts to navigate sonic nuisances, and also the paradox of combating sound with more sound, in a world that has become loud enough to damage our health. . . . The stakes of Hush might seem small . . . But, once you begin to think about the relationship between the sound waves that constantly pass through us and the potential loss of self, you become more attuned to all the beckoning noises of modern life."
The New Yorker
"Hush is provocative and insightful."
"Hagood leaves us rethinking media theory, sound studies, and the definition of media."
John F. Barber
"Hush is an important addition to the emerging field of sound studies. . . . Scholars of sound studies, digital media, broadcast media, disability studies, and those interested in the intersection of gender and race with media will find this book insightful."
Jennifer Hyland Wang
Journal of Radio & Audio Media