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Fending Off The Tyranny of Tools

“Distracting Ourselves to Death” isn’t just a metaphor anymore

3 min read
Opening illustration for Technically Speaking opinion
Illustration: Edmon de Haro
Now, you may wonder if in the process of outsourcing my thinking I am losing my individuality. Not so. My preferences are more narrow and individualistic than ever. It’s merely my autonomy that I’m losing.

—David Brooks, The New York Times

If you program, you will occasionally need some useful bit of code from an online source such as Stack Overflow. You might then have noticed something interesting: If you simply copy and paste the code, you don’t remember it and often have to repeat the process later on. However, if you type the code yourself, then you are much more likely to remember it. You get what I call a “fingertip feel” for the text that somehow enables your brain to internalize it better. You invoke what the architect Juhani Pallasmaa refers to as thethinking hand, and you enhance the tool-user bond, that sense of connection that comes with the conscious use of any tool.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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