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Speed Listening by Blind Readers and the History of Audio Time Compression

Date and Time: 
Monday, May 16, 2016. 04:15 PM - 06:15 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Boardroom
Techniques of Mediation
Meeting Description: 
About the speaker:
Mara Mills is Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, working at the intersection of disability studies and media studies.  Her first book (On the Phone: Deafness and Communication Engineering, under contract with Duke University Press) argues the significance of phonetics and deaf education to the emergence of “communication engineering” in early twentieth-century telephony; this concept and set of practices later gave rise to information theory, digital coding, and cybernetics. Her second book project, Print Disability and New Reading Formats (under contract with the University of Minnesota Press for the Manifold print/digital hybrid series), examines the reformatting of print over the course of the past century by blind and other print disabled readers, with a focus on Talking Books and electronic reading machines. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the DAAD, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the IEEE.
Talking Books for blind readers spurred the commercialization of mainstream audiobooks after World War II, but the two formats soon diverged in terms of reading strategies. This talk will discuss the cultural imperative for aural speed reading that drove early time-stretching innovations in the magnetic tape era, allowing playback rate to be changed without affecting pitch.
The “Techniques of Mediation” research workshop explores how technologies of inscription, mediation, information, and archives create the social world, by examining a wide range of historical and contemporary assemblages of people, machines, and organizations that have shaped complex diagrams of power and of social life.  The workshop approaches this question through new theoretical understandings of the concept of mediation. The 20th-century legacy that privileged epistemology confined mediation to the status of an inert and transparent subsidiary of representation and interpretation, and has left mediation’s material presence and its capacity of enactment largely unexplored. From index cards to databases, from the alphabet to ASCII, and from the abacus to the algorithm, the workshop will explore concrete cases of mediation’s effectivity, and by doing so expand our assessment of mediation to the status of technically – and materially – determinate processes of world-making and knowledge production.