Thesis ID: CBB001561079

From Enthusiasm to Practice: Users, Systems, and Technology in High-End Audio (2009)


Downes, Kieran (Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Kaiser, David

Publication Date: 2009
Edition Details: Advisor: Kaiser, David
Physical Details: 414 pp.
Language: English

This is a story about technology, users, and music. It is about an approach to the design, manipulation, and arrangement of technologies in small-scale systems to achieve particular aesthetic goals--goals that are at once subjective and contingent. These goals emerge from enthusiasm for technology, for system-building, and for music among members of a community of users, and the promise of the emotional rewards derived from these elements in combination. It is a story about how enthusiasm and passion become practice, and how particular technologies, system-building activities, listening, debating, innovating, and interacting form that practice. Using both historical and ethnographic research methods, including fieldwork and oral history interviews, this dissertation is focused on how and why user communities mobilize around particular technologies and socio-technical systems. In particular, it concerns how users' aesthetic sensibilities and enthusiasm for technology can shape both technologies themselves and the processes of technological innovation. These issues are explored through a study of the small but enthusiastic high-end audio community in the United States. These users express needs, desires, and aesthetic motivations towards technology that set them apart from mainstream consumers, but also reveal important and under-recognized aspects of human relationships with technology more broadly. Covering the emergence and growth of high-end audio from the early 1970s to 2000, I trace some of the major technology transitions during this period and their associated social elements, including the shift from vacuum tube to solid-state electronics in the 1970s, and from analog vinyl records to digital compact discs in the 1980s. I show how this community came to understand technology, science, and their own social behavior through powerful emotional and aesthetic responses to music and the technologies used to reproduce music in the home. I further show how focusing on technology's users can recast assumptions about the ingredients and conditions necessary to foster technological innovation. (Copies available exclusively from MIT Libraries, Rm. 14-0551, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. Ph. 617-253-5668; Fax 617-253-1690.)


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 70/08 (2010). Pub. no. AAT 0821951.

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Authors & Contributors
Bijsterveld, Karin
Weber, Heike
Wittje, Roland
Frost, Gary Lewis
Schwach, Vera
Beranek, Leo L.
The Senses and Society
Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology
Technology and Culture
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Chinese Journal for the History of Science and Technology
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
MIT Press
World Scientific
The MIT Press
Columbia University
Engineering, audio
Senses and sensation; perception
Fessenden, Reginald Aubrey
Beranek, Leo
Ma, Dayou
Ye, Qisun
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
United States
Soviet Union
European Sound Studies Association

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