Today, in a BBC news article and in a BBC Radio 4 programme, the concept of sodcasting was being discussed. Sodcasting is described by The Urban Dictionary as “The act of playing music through the speaker on a mobile phone, usually on public transport. Commonly practised by young people wearing polyester, branded sportswear with dubious musical taste.”
The article in BBC asked one main question: why do people engage in sodcasting? But I would like to turn the question around, and ask: why is sodcasting so upsetting for so many people?
In my thesis, I wrote about the fact that the development of new technologies have interacted with the shifting of boundaries between public and private space, and music listening can be understood as a way to construct private space and mark territories in everyday life. Frith (2002) argues that the use of music to construct a private space has developed through the emergence of radios in homes. Radios were the first technological listening device that started blurring the boundaries between public and private space, by bringing elements of the public into a private realm. This development led to people being able to switch their attention between background and foreground music. People were able to construct a private space within a larger public space through being able to screen out background sounds and focus attention to foreground sounds.
Yet, although we are skilled at screening out music in many environments today (in restaurants, shops or at home or in the car with the radio in the background), we can still find imposed music extremely annoying. The reason for this could be understood though our current understanding of music’s effects, according to Frith, which is conceptualised in terms of individual psychology. Frith (2002) suggests that our understanding of the effects of music in modern societies is related to what he calls “the articulation of self” (p.45), and that this understanding of music’s power could help to explain why involuntary listening can be experienced as annoying:
It is because music is now used to mark out private territory that it can also ‘invade’ it; it is because music has become so deeply implicated in people’s personas that it can be ‘misused’; and it is because music is now so widely employed as an emotional tool that its misuse is genuinely upsetting. (Frith 2002, p.46)
Involuntary listening can create irritation because it is connected to emotional uses of music as well as marking of private space; if a territory can be marked, then it can also be invaded.
The idea of music as invading someone’s territory has been discussed in connection to music and oppression. Cloonan & Johnson (2002) have suggested that music-related oppression may be anything from “discomfort which is incidental to the intended function of the music, to the deliberate deployment of music as an instrument of pain” (p.28). Cloonan & Johnson argues that in today’s modern societies there is “increasingly portable noise in increasingly densely packed spaces” (p.31). This then becomes a potential site for conflicts, as the auditory boundaries are more flexible than visual boundaries:
More often, it is sound itself that is used to oppress, to take up public space at the expense of others. Sound thus becomes an invasion of personal space. (p.29)
Cloonan & Johnson point out that the key issue is the sense of invasion of personal territory, rather than the loudness of the music per se.
By listening in certain ways, irresponsibly for example, the listener lacks civility and therefore burdens others with the burden of their self (Höflich, 2006). By not invading other people’s territories, they are spared interaction with the listener by not having to hear their personally selected music.
But why is it so irritating to have your personal space invaded, and why is it seen as bad manners? Duncan (1984) argues that manners can have a reflexive character. Manners can indicate how one wants to be treated oneself. Therefore, Duncan argues that “anger over ill manners of others arises out of the belief that not following our manners is a way of telling us that we are not really important in the eyes of the transgressor” (p.267). Imposing music onto others on an bus is seen as inappropriate. Thus in considering other people on a bus by modifying listening behaviour, listeners communicate to the people around them that they are important and respected. If someone feels they are having their own personal space invaded, they may feel as if the other person does not consider them to be important.
Public spaces are often used for information or advertisement, but are also associated with social interaction, rather than personal expression (Eriksson et al., 2007). Using a public space for a private purpose can therefore be seen as anti-social, and an increasing number of rules have been applied to public spaces (for safety and in order to control these spaces) (ibid). Perhaps this may be one of the reasons for why people use personal technologies in public spaces, as a way to avoid the rules, surveillance and imposed control. Disappearing into one’s own world of music in a public space may mean that one can reclaim the sense of control that has been lost.
Another perspective on the use of personal technologies in public spaces is that it is a manifestation of the individualisation that has characterised the 20th and early 21st century, in which individuals to an increasing extent have to construct their own lives (Bauman, 2001; Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2001).
Interestingly, in my own research into music listening behaviour in offices, employees were very conscious not to sodcast. Instead, they practiced what I called ‘responsible listening’ – they made sure they did not impose their own music onto colleagues, as doing so was seen as very rude and inconsiderate.
For references, click here.