City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

14 Cities: City of Glasses

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Part of the 14 Cities series:

'"The pervasive deployment of sunglasses and white headphones had become a feature of the urban experience in the early 2000s.

At first glance, citizens during the 2020s seemed to have much in common. The glasses seemed a little bulkier, and had apparently integrated the headphones, but otherwise the streets were still full of people wandering around cocooned within the frames of their glasses and immersed in their own soundscapes.

Yet on other side of the glass, Sydney in 2025 is quite different. In fact, there are so many Sydneys in 2025 as to render the idea of one Sydney ridiculous. The city is experienced as an immersive projection, with data overlaid onto the physical fabric to the extent that only the most desirable built elements remain visible at all. All other items are cloaked by the glasses, just as all urban noise is filtered by the headphones. These remove unwelcome noise whilst heightening others, all set against a soundtrack of music, displaced ambient sounds, and a stream of commentary from other users.

Investment in the visual design layers of physical structures had plummeted as people began to inhabit other spaces in these places, overlaying their own architectures.

And yet, a few had recently started wandering the streets unadorned, eyes wide open, ears cocked, experiencing what was left of the unmediated city …"

Notes: This is somewhat ironic for someone who's been immersed in music and the urban experience for a long time. However, this is as much about the current hubbub around augmented reality — which I think is a little over-blown, even if the technology holds much promise — as it is about pervasive white Apple headphones. Either way, I'm interested in how we value the physical urban experience, which for me should not be exchanged for mediated or augmented experiences, even if we can heighten certain aspects of our appreciation via the latter. The title is a lame pun on Paul Auster's City of Glass that didn't really work.


One response to “14 Cities: City of Glasses”

  1. Kurt Avatar

    Hi Dan,
    What do you mean by ‘mediated’, exactly? I can’t imagine an unmediated urban experience — aren’t all our encounters with the city mediated in some form or other? I think we always come into places with some set of mediated expectations/images/imaginaries about what they are like. These mediations might come from digital overlays, from newspapers stories we read, from stories we heard, from gossip, from previous experiences in that place, etc etc..
    I guess I think this broader concept of mediation might actually help to break down some of the hype about augmented reality which you mention in your notes, by helping us put new forms of mediation in conversation with existing ones…


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