The Techno-Historical Acoustic: The Reappearance of Older Sound Technologies in the Contemporary Media Landscape

Megan Fariello

Advisor: Alison Landsberg, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Jessica Scarlata, Denise Albanese

Enterprise Hall, #400
April 23, 2019, 01:30 PM to 03:30 PM


Examining contemporary television and podcasting, this dissertation analyzes a specific and recurring use of sound – what I term the techno-historical acoustic – which signals a temporal disruption caused by the appearance older media forms in contemporary media. In some instances, this disruption is uncanny and alienating, and in others it works to bridge the present and the past, or to reconnect characters who have been separated or alienated from one another. The techno-historical acoustic emerges in conjunction with the presence of older sound technologies in media narratives and is significant because of the ways in which it reclaims older technologies – and the collective social forms of reception they initiated – as productive tools for collective social engagement in the present, in the face of quickly advancing and alienating digital age. This dissertation examines four specific instances of the techno-historical acoustic: first, I consider science-fiction/horror narratives in which the appearance of the techno-historical acoustic – older sound technologies – call attention to the reliability and tangibility of these early media forms and the possibilities therein for communication and connection, suggesting a longing not for the past, but for the collective social forms garnered by these technologies. Second, I examine historical televisual narratives in which the techno-historical acoustic constructs a complex temporal register for the audience in which the technologies of the future – the television and the computer – are to the audience technologies of the past and present. The anxiety they generate for the characters resonate with audience concerns about these technologies in the present – that they will outlast humanity, that they will atomize individuals, and that they ultimately act as barriers to human connection and reduce the possibility of a collective social life. Next, I analyze television series in which women’s subjectivities are shaped by their frustrated interactions with technology, suggesting that the appearance of the techno-historical acoustic in this contemporary moment is tied to a larger, growing anxiety concerning how human subjectivity and connection is entwined with – and in many ways relies on – everyday interaction with technologies. Finally, I consider podcasts which often are themselves an example of the techno-historical acoustic. Podcasting as a medium demonstrates an active reengagement with older sound technologies, and yet instead of generating nostalgia for older media forms, these podcasts, through their use of older sound technologies in combination with digital forms, actually instantiate new forms of collective engagement.