Orphic Media Practices and the Emptying of ‘Content’

Curator's Note

This media object illustrates the complexity of a particular form of media engagement that could involve any streaming media – a process I’m calling an orphic media practice.

              As detailed by Mack Hagood in his book Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control[1], orphic media aim to remediate the user’s environment rather than deliver information. Noise-canceling headphones, hearing aids, and white noise machines mediate the somatic and affective space of the listener using sounds that are empty of information or, using the language of new media, “content”.

              Orphic media is a useful analytical frame to better understand the practices of layering media and the levels of attention they engage: watching while scrolling, reaction videos of reaction videos, split-screen TikToks of simultaneous unrelated content, and so on. It helps us think beyond the ways in which streaming media vies for our attention but also how it expands new modes of attentional engagement. While orphic media may largely be ‘ambient’ media, an orphic media practice conversely makes media ambient. Sleep podcasts, such as the one reacted to in this video, offer a unique model of inattention in daily media usage - one in which the user listens to a guided meditation, story, or semi-coherent ramble[2] to disengage from it and the device that delivers it.

In media generally, human speech is thought of as a conveyer of meaning, but the sleep podcast lays bare a more fundamental draw: the ambient comfort of the human voice. In the early 1990s, Roger Silverstone used psychodynamic analysis to investigate the pacifying effects of television, including falling asleep in front of them. Streaming media, like the television before it, is an integral part of “the grain of everyday life”[3] and comfort in and of itself: a channel for information, but perhaps more vitally, a diffuser of regulated affect, the promise of latent social connection, predictability, and control.


[1] Hagood, Mack. 2019. Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control. Duke University Press.

[2] “Sleep With Me Podcast Uses Boring Bedtime Stories to Help Insomniacs.” n.d. Accessed January 29, 2021. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/sleep-wit....

[3] Silverstone, Roger. 1994. Television and Everyday Life. London ; New York : Routledge. P. 22, http://archive.org/details/televisioneveryd0000silv.


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