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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Digitizing Desire: A History of the Codification of Pleasure

In the summer of 1938, Theodore Adorno set out for America to head the music department of the Princeton Radio Project. Upon his arrival, Adorno was proudly shown the centerpiece of the radio project’s empirical analyses: the Stanton-Lazarsfeld Analyzer. Designed by social scientist Paul Lazarsfeld and CBS executive Frank Stanton, the Analyzer included a green “like” and a red “dislike” button. As music was piped into the different rooms of the project, volunteers of different age, race and class were instructed to press the red or green button every few seconds depending on whether they liked what they were hearing at that moment or not. Codifying the analog rhythm of music into binary pulses of like and dislike, the Analyzer was digitizing desire.

Be it the measurement of happiness according to Twitter tweets, Facebook likes (but not dislikes) or the ubiquitous internet star rating of everything from blockbuster films to vacuum cleaners, our wants and pleasures are constantly being translated into a stream of digitized ones and zeroes. Tracing the origins of today’s digitization of desire,  the paper I will be presenting in October uses the Princeton Radio Project to explore how groundbreaking intellectual and cultural developments such as behavioral psychology, neoclassical economics and consumer capitalism played a crucial role in creating the rating-obsessed world we live in today.  

I’d be happy to receive any comments (or a star rating 1 thru 5) and look forward to meeting you all soon!

Graduate student in Harvard University's American Studies program

1 comment:

  1. Eli - are you planning to make any connections with culture of student-oriented rating of higher ed? Are online book reviews the new peer review? Do you think professional academics are uniquely impacted by this trend? I'm looking forward to your talk!