Clubhouse, podcasts and the irresistible rise of the new digital orality

As a spin-off of the Domus interview, the Almare artistic collective explains the rise of social media based on voice chats and of audio on the web in general, which, not so long ago, seemed to be the undisputed reign of images.

It has been about a month since Elon Musk tweeted “On Clubhouse tonight” to announce an audio chat on the new app, sending its value soaring. A success also due to the seductive exclusivity in the access mode - each member has only 3 available invitations - or the disappearance of the content used, which is a bit reminiscent of the early days of Snapchat – it all comes back, does not it? Teenagers send each other pictures and adults make public relations in exclusive virtual lounges that they can attend while driving, cleaning the house, doing the elliptical or even working. Moreover, the ease of use has already been fundamental to the success of podcasts (which initially involved downloading to personal audio players), that can be listened to while doing other activities. A desire to optimise time and perhaps a widespread inability to tolerate boredom, particularly during these difficult times. In the last year, we have all been more exposed to the hostile company of ourselves, but also to the presence of the people we share our domestic space with.

And so audio content, strictly using headphones, can be a way of cutting off the world. These listening modes trigger an ambivalence in the notion of private space which, as Dorothea herself says, “is always accessible and not even worth fighting against, indeed, others even offend me with their sounds that invade my intimacy [...] and so the audience whispers to my ear, it gets stuck in my ear, it privatises itself, it gives me the illusion of being there for me [...] and when it does, the rest has to fall silent”.

In the world of podcasts and, in general, in this headphone listening, there is a kind of simultaneity between hearing and acting, which is only granted to audio

In the world of podcasts and, in general, in this headphone listening, there is a kind of simultaneity between hearing and acting, which is only granted to audio: you can listen - get information – do not waste time, while doing something else. It is difficult for this to happen in the domain of images, which literally want you to stick to them. And we are not talking about music –let alone muzak: in this moment of interrupted sociality, there seems to be an urgency to listen to the human voice. Someone other than ourselves who narrates, explains, speaks. A sort of new typical orality – or aurality – of the ancient aoidos. 

Finally, podcasts – or any format that conveys information through audio and not video – are on the whole economical, one might almost say ecological, since the flow of data over the air is less. This is a very broad topic, so we will stay tuned.

Almare is a collective dedicated to contemporary languages that use sound as a means of expression.
Opening Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

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