Showcased: Sound and Safe. A History of Listening Behind the Wheel

Karin Bijsterveld, Eefje Cleophas, Stefan Krebs, and Gijs Mom are the authors of this book (published by Oxford University Press USA, 2014) that shows how we created auditory privacy in cars, making them feel sound and safe, even though automobiles were highly noisy things at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The book explains how engineers in the automotive industry found pride in making car engines quieter once they realized that noise stood for inefficiency, and follows them in their fight against sounds audible inside the car after the automobile had become a closed vehicle. It tells how noise induced fatigue became an issue once the car became a mass means for touring across the country. It unravels the initial societal concerns about the dangers of the car radio and what it did to the drivers’ attention span. It explores how car drivers listened to their cars’ engines to diagnose car problems, and appreciated radio traffic information for avoiding traffic jams. And it suggests that their disdain for the ever-expanding number of roadside noise barriers made them long for new forms of in-car audio entertainment.

This book also allows you a peep behind the scenes of international standardization committees and automotive test benches. What did and does the automotive industry to secure the sounds characteristic for their makes? Drawing on archives, interviews, beautiful automotive ads, and literature from the fields of cultural history, science and technology studies, sound and sensory studies, this book unveils the history of an everyday phenomenon. It is about the sounds of car engines, tires, wipers, blinkers, warning signals, in-car audio systems and, ultimately, about how we became used to listen while driving.

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