Postscript: The Roots of the Speed Project

The following is a bit of intellectual autobiography I wrote while throat-clearing before my recent mission statement. It may be of interest to other writers and scholars.

I’ve successfully carried my interest in technology and its social impacts from academic social science into journalism, but I’ve only rarely managed to combine the skillsets of my two careers – the precision and care of the academic, and the verve and directness of the journalist. This project on speed will be my first sustained attempt to do that. It’s also an evolution of my intellectual interests nearly 20 years in the making.

When I was working on my PhD, my interests were mainly in the cultural impacts of the content of communication. My very earliest writing was criticism of books (as an English major) and music (as a music critic, my first writing job). So in my advanced studies, I was largely doing a kind of heightened literary-music criticism, deconstructing the cultural subtext of music videos and the like.

It was only slowly, over the course of five or six years, that my interest shifted to the technological underpinnings of communication. I entered academia with two points of reference for this, having lived through both the digital revolution in the music industry, and the controversies over sampling and copyright in the silver age of hip hop. Both of these issues, which came from my interest in music, pointed towards the direct link between technology and way of life.

It wasn’t until the very end of my abbreviated academic career, then, that I really explored this thought-space, in a deep analysis of automobile sound, power, and race, which I’m not embarrassed to say is now officially award-winning. I was still writing about music, but music as it is generated by a shuddering paper cone, carried by a complex motored machine, the content and mechanism working together to shape the daily lives of the human beings who had created them.

And from there – maybe because I’ve become a boring nearly-middle-aged man – the music faded away and I was left staring at just the machine, and the roads it traveled, and the political machinations behind those roads, and the echoing impacts on man, of the creation of the road and the machine by man.

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