Digital senses

I have recently finished reading Sterne’s ‘The hystiograpgy of cyberculture’ and was intrigued by some of the thought-provoking suggestions that he offered. When I think of a cyborg I picture a half human/half machine hybrid that has all the personal qualities of a person blended with the enhanced offerings of robotics.

What initially I didn’t think of was the way in which technology can enhance our senses. I appreciate that the focus of Sterne’s piece was of the making of history and the timeline of technological integration, and he clearly states that he is merely using sound as an example to re-enforce his point – however I think his analogy is worthy of reflection.

I recently attended a conference on assistive technologies and one of the keynote speakers, Gareth Ford Williams – Head of Accessibility for the BBC – described the public broadcaster’s efforts to enhance their radio transmissions towards a modernised and futuristic sounding “3D Radio”. In short, they are adopting technology to manipulate our brain’s interpretation of sound to create a better than life experience and to immerse people in transmission rather than passively listening.

3D Radio Video (Kelly 2016):

The same can be said for virtual reality. Our sense of sight is being manipulated to take us to places that we couldn’t otherwise go. 3D technologies allow us to explore internal organs in their functioning form and explore geographical location outwits our reach.  I would suggest that mechanical enhances the physical, virtual enhances the spiritual.

But  to what extent to the physical and spiritual need to be enhanced for us to concede that whether we like it or not, technological advances are becoming an integral part of our every day lives and society? Perhaps we have reached the glass ceiling of humanity where we have reached our potential but see and crave the need for more.

I have also been considering the histiography of cyberculture that Sterne proceeds to investigate. He mentions transition from analogue to digital – To that I’d add digital immigrants to digital natives, human to cyborg, offline to online and physical to virtual.


Kelly, S. (2016). The head giving you 3D VR sound. Retrieved: 26 January 2017.

3 Replies to “Digital senses”

  1. Slightly ironic that in an accessibility conference they were showcasing a technology that is inaccessible to me due my monoaural hearing problems. Still, I don’t begrudge people their new toys.

    What I found interesting was the idea of how usage is making this a viable technology. Binaural recording has been available for quite some time now, I remember learning about it 12 years ago in music college. What’s perhaps making this more viable for the BBC is mobile technologies and people listening through headphones rather than off single speaker radios. There would have been no point to binaural sound if most people were still listening off old transistor radios.


    I think spiritual is a very loaded term to use. It risks attributing virtual reality technologies with a quasi-religious dimension. Possibly implying transcendence and the erasure of the body. Something that Hayles argues against in How We Became Posthuman (another of the extra readings for this block). Totally fine to use the word spiritual if that is what you intend to imply. An alternative without the religious overtones would be subjective, maybe.

    The list of transitions can also be interpreted in a problematic way. Transition implies that we go from one state to another whilst with all the pairs you give the two examples continue to exist and interact together.

    I also have a bee in my bonnet about the idea of digital natives and immigrants. Check out The ‘digital native’ in context: tensions
    associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting, Vol. 38, No. 1, February 2012, pp. 63–80 , Oxford review of education by Charles Crook

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post.

      That’s a good point about the 3D radio – thinking back it was odd that it was showcased at an accessibility event. However it was a good example of the point I was trying to make in how our senses can be manipulated to become more virtual.

      I also didn’t mean to make any reference whatsoever to religion. I meant spiritual as in the mind and soul as apposed to physical attributes – but I guess I could have used a different word.

      Thanks for the suggested reading too – I’ll be sure to read it.


  2. Hello Stuart, Daniel – I’ve enjoyed reading your conversation here.

    I’m glad that Sterne is including in the reading for the EDC course because I do think that sound is often under-considered, particularly in comparison to the visual. In fact I think this is reflected in what you have both said here, the sense that sound isn’t always fully attended to or investigated or though-through. Possibly of interest, you might have seen from Jeremy’s video introduction at the beginning of week 3 that we are keen to invite pieces of music in response to some of the ideas we are exploring here: perhaps you might suggest a song in response to Sterne, for instance?

    ‘I have also been considering the histiography of cyberculture that Sterne proceeds to investigate. He mentions transition from analogue to digital – To that I’d add digital immigrants to digital natives, human to cyborg, offline to online and physical to virtual.’

    I don’t always think that talking in terms of transitions around technology is always very helpful. I can see why it’s convenient or helpful to do this in order to recognise change, however I think there’s the danger of suggesting clear cut binaries, whereas in reality I think we see a more complicated (and maybe untidy) co-existence of digital and analogue, online and offline, and so on. That said, I recently read that Norway was about to switch off FM radio in favour of digital so maybe things are a little more clear cut in some places after all!

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