For almost 60 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.
Noise-canceling headphones, tinnitus maskers, LPs that play ocean sounds, nature-sound mobile apps, and in-ear smart technologies illuminate how the true purpose of media is not information transmission, but rather the control of how we engage our environment. These devices give users the freedom to remain unaffected in the changeable and distracting spaces of contemporary capitalism, revealing 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 our efforts to shield ourselves can also decrease our tolerance for sonic and social difference.
This according to Hush: Media and sonic self-control by Mack Hagood (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).
Below, the Beats by Dre/Kaepernick commercial.