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the intimacy of audio

I gave a semi-impromptu presentation/discussion yesterday at Podcamp Montreal* on “The Intimacy of Audio.”

I’ve always felt that audio is the most intimate communication medium, and in the session yesterday I wanted to explore the idea of intimacy further. In particular, I wonder how we can build and use technology to help people become more closely connected with the things that are important to them, rather than just feeding more information faster and better. Much of my experience of technology seems to detract from my life rather than add to it (though of course I get great value too). I’m a slave to my computer and the web, and so much of it is distraction from things I find important.

That is why I like podcasts – because they let me get *away* from technology, and into a place where I can be more intimately connected with ideas and thoughts and emotions. Good podcasts (and good radio and good audiobooks) make me think in ways that I can’t when I am sitting in front of the computer, checking RSS feeds and answering emails. They’re also great when cooking, or driving long distances.

With LibriVox, I think, we’ve used technology to help people find this intimacy, by helping volunteers read texts that are important to them in a closer and deeper way. That people like me get to listen occasionally is a wonderful side-benefit.

In discussing the “intimacy of audio,” I played a really moving piece from Scarborough Dude’s Dicksnjanes podcast, about the death of a young boy from the neighbourhood. Here’s the excerpt (mp3-slightly edited). And here is the full episode.

We had a great talk afterwards, with comments from CC Chapman, Mitch Joel, Julien, Steph, Yanik, Patrick, and a host of other people whose names and/or URLs I don’t know (if you were one, please let me know).

There are a few other bits of audio that have really moved me, and that I thought of playing for the gang, but didn’t:

(Though my podcasting listening habits tend more to public radio/professional stuff, three out of four of the most moving audio bits I’ve heard were from DIY podcasts – not surprising, I guess, but significant).

In preparation for the presentation, I asked for some suggestions from the LibriVox community of the most moving bits of audio from that collection, which I didn’t have the chance to play. Here are some of the suggestions:

Any other suggestions for audio tearjerkers on the web?

I wonder what it is about audio that can deliver such intimacy in ways that text and video can’t? Why is the Scarbdude piece so moving? And, how can “we” do more to help make technology address our need for intimacy – creating it, connecting with it – rather than just flooding us with more information and efficient ways to organize things?

*And by the way, a huge congrats to Michelle, Sylvain, Laurent, Laurent, Julien, Bob, Jean-François, Harold and Mitch for putting together what everyone I talked to says was the best podcamp they’ve attended.


  1. felix trepanier felix trepanier 2008-09-22

    I was lucky enough to be one of the attendee. Even though I’m not a podcaster, I love music and audio in general. The piece that you played and the discussion that followed was a revelation to me. So much dept, so many layers inside an audio track. Thanks!

  2. Hugh Hugh 2008-09-22

    glad you enjoyed the discussion … I wish I had followed thru on my thought of rearranging the chairs. I felt stupid up there like a “teacher.” …but yes there is a hell of a lot in an audio track…

  3. sacha sacha 2008-09-23

    Hugh, i was there too. Great moment. Great sharing of emotions, great discussion afterward, and don’t worry for not having rearranged the chairs, people eventually did it themselves…
    What you did this week-end was (for me) the perfect exemple of unconference: you’re not sure of what to expect, but you end up with the great feeling of having been part of nothing less than history in the making.
    many many thanks.
    Oh, by the way, it also made me discover the librivox initiative… thanks for that too.

    And in order to try to answer your question, I think audio is so moving because when you hear a voice your imagination takes over. Warm voices make you feel warm inside, passionate voices makes you share the passion etc… Voice is alive and unique, words are the same for everybody… but that’s a whole new discussion you’re starting…

  4. Hugh Hugh 2008-09-23

    Wow, thanks for the kind words!

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