On the nature of the disembodied voice in the network

Week 2 of a 4 week [attempt at a] vow of silence

Happy to report silence for 4.5 days out of 7: almost there. Still sometimes surprise myself when I speak. It’s as if some emotional responses are tied so closely to speaking it’s not thought about at all. I’m trying very hard to countermand this. Surprise, tiredness, or elation are not good excuses.

Family: are finally used to it but it has taken a whole 2 weeks, some of which involved threats. Helps that I’ve started using props to give absolute context – more on this in a mo. Nieces and nephews have started calling me ‘Uncle Cortana‘, they’re a good lot. They’ve also figured out that it’s just as easy to text me and get a reply as it is to call or speak…unlike the elder members of my family who just aren’t texting types.

My family are the kind of working-class family that talk endlessly. About everything – everything has to be shouted about so it’s understood just how deeply they feel about it. I love them to pieces for it but have noticed it makes us all a little unnecessarily snappy. Now that I don’t talk, I feel much kinder. Props help: I probably seem quite comic – juggling eggs to ask how many they’d like, answering numeric questions with flourishes of the hand, or using my phone to speak for me if it needs a long answer. Initially I’d thought that writing out notes would be enough but they don’t like it at all.

I now have a series of flashcards with capitalized words:

  • BREAKFAST?
  • WALK.
  • SHOWER.
  • WORKING.
  • TEA?
  • NEED MY HELP?

They laughed at these initially but have become used to them and answer in long monologues as if I’d asked them for a complicated diatribe on the nature of ‘What is breakfast, exactly? What does it mean to you?’

The Disembodied Voice: Of course, now that I have no voice – and have almost stopped speaking accidentally – I’m more and more aware of my tone of voice online or via text message.

  • Text msgs – unlike before this month, my first impulse is to answer in a Bergsonian Intuition with the most direct thing. This is often one or two words. This also makes me, as the Urban Dictionary would have it, a “one reply bitch” – yes, I hate the term too but it does illuminate how people see those responses. I then, checking myself, elongate the texts into a sometimes silly, sometimes frilly thing to accommodate others. I may stop doing this…
  • Online – scathing. Wholly scathing. Blood filled bile wants to fling itself from my fingers at the internet. I am holding back the scathing tone in online tweets, writings, whatever more and more and far more than usual. This is an oddity as in all else I feel calmer. One to be investigated further and perhaps means an adjustment of net usage.

These don’t answer the question of the disembodied voice, though.

There’s a lot of critical & creative writing & research about the notion of “The Disembodied Voice” online. When I’m not writing or focusing on reading necessary for said writing, I’ve been reading as much Feminist Theory around it and tech advancements as I can find. There’s one particular software, VocaliD, that’s intriguing.

My gut tells me there is no disembodied voice.

Not one. Cortana speaks from the body of your Microsoft Phone, Siri from your Apple. Even the most basic of TTS synthesis is based on a recording of a human, embodied voice stored in a database – or if you’re using a programmed analogue synthesizer, then its voice sits inside the body of that synthesizer. If we want to go smaller, it sits in the body of the database or the chip. By the way, if you want an interesting read on how our Cortanas and Siris and Sallis are built, head here – great & relevant non-tech quote from that is “As humans, we learn to speak before we learn to write”. Unless we suddenly develop the ability to understand what radiowaves or hydrogen atoms are saying with solely the human body [which, in turn, might constitute embodiment] – all things things have a housing, an embodied origin. So my gut feeling is, there’s not one disembodied voice out there.

But my gut’s been wrong before.

This is the question that plagues me most when I think about mutism and the network: is data silent?

Sure, the hard drives and servers which house the are not. Pure information, however, could be. Sure, it “speaks” of its content. Symbols, however, need not. And if data is a representation of our writing, our voice, then it is at once representative but also wholly new and a possibly quantum, disembodied voice. What of the data that AI-software creates?

All things being interconnected, will data sing?

The investigation continues.

Further notes: calmer in almost all things – except the internet – and am very happy to take time off of what I’m doing. When last writing a novel, I’d grumble a little any time I was interrupted but not being able to grumble actually makes me feel appreciative of the expanse of time I have. Not “Shooting our mouths off” makes us less annoying, who knew.

Awareness of my mouth – I can’t believe how much more aware I am of my mouth. It’s insane. Every minute change. The only time it’s not sending my hyper-sensitive signals is when I’m deep into a chapter and thinking like my character but, even then sometimes, I’ll be jolted out of it. Unexpected, funny, enjoyable.

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