Music in the household paper at DE All Hands


Tuck Leong, senior Design RA and Pete Wright Design lead presented their Music in the Household Paper at the Digital Economy All Hands Meeting in November.

Much has been written about how the digital economy can transform people’s lives; change the relationships among individuals and society through the growing and constantly changing ecosystem of ICTs and applications. Digital music, as one of the key cogs of the digital economy is a useful lens through which we can understand such transformations. For example, people can now consume music in diverse ways. Besides computers, people can also use portable devices such as mp3 players or their phones to listen to music. Social media and Web 2.0 in general have also accelerated music’s diffusion and access through various online channels. Besides consumption, these technologies afford people opportunities to interact with digital music in different ways: to archive, share, collaborate around, or even to make music.

Households are sites where such interactions with music are on the rise. As a setting whereby individuals cohabit under the same roof, the household is “the next bigger thing on the social map after an individual”. This makes it a useful micro-site to examine the transformative effects of music. After all, music is “part of the basis of our social experience; it is a resource in actual formation of social reality” and can influence how we construct and order our social lives. Under certain circumstances, music can foster social cohesion [4]. On occasions, music in the home can be a source of tension or conflict, for example over the ‘appropriate’ use of media technologies [8], or the jockeying to control sonic spaces in order to assert one’s identity and sense of self [10]. In families, adolescents badge their identities through musical tastes, often to distinguish themselves from the rest of the family. Self-exclusion can arise, withdrawing from the family’s social life in private consumption through headphones or behind bedroom doors. Given this, the aim of this work is to understand how sociality within a household can be transformed by music, especially within the current digital economy and its technological infrastructure.

While music could act as a catalyst, acting as a topic to break the ice,  in a lot of instances, music itself recedes to the peripheral, acting ‘quietly’ as the social glue, a lubricant, or to reinforce rituals. Current technologies are found to afford people greater choices and means to discover, access, consume and share music. Social interactions with music within households can be more spontaneous and through connectivity, often extends beyond the physical constraints of the home. What is also apparent is people’s innate motivation to use these technologies creatively to press music into the social.

Thus, this work reveals some potential trajectories when considering the design and development of future technologies of the digital economy. One trajectory could be the development of more seamful means for people to interact with music in households so as to encourage and support sociality. Systems that support curiosity and exploration may allow people to easily get a sense of others in the household through music, such as through overhearing, capacity to blend music from various people or even the ability to broadcast individual music playlists. Technologies for sharing could also explore more meaningful ways of music gifting. Through such explorations that hope to be able to intervene fruitfully to create a more participative and collaborative digital economy; one that is experienced as being more meaningful and fulfilling for the individual and with others.

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