This article explores the different ways in which the capacity to respond has been figured, and reconfigured, through different technologies over the past century and a half. Beginning with a rather harrowing telephone message, sampled by Glaswegian band Aerogramme, in which an anonymous woman pleas into the receiver for help, the discussion seeks to both locate and complicate the so-called human element captured in recordings of the voice. Using Eric Santner's notion of creaturely life as a conceptual lens, this piece argues that the melancholy poetics that often accompanies the subfield of media hauntology are still too anthropocentric, given the continued investment in human exceptionalism (albeit of an abject kind). Rather, the cybernetic interdependence of humans, animals, and machines should be fully acknowledged and appreciated in order to avoid the conflation of pathos with the human—thereby perpetuating Descartes' (other) error, the assumption that animals and/or machines can react but not respond. Finally, the article considers the Voyager Golden Record—a collection of images and audio, curated by NASA in 1977 for the edification of would-be curious extraterrestrials—as the intergalactic equivalent of the phone message that began the piece. That is, as an SOS from a troubled species which has yet to come to terms with the identity crisis provoked by exponential technological mediation.
Dominic Pettman; After the Beep: Answering Machines and Creaturely Life. boundary 2 1 May 2010; 37 (2): 133–153. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2010-006
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