Recently I took my young niece/nephews to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Despite being a local Institution, it was my first trip there since the 1990s. Well my first trip inside, anyway. It is one of my favorite end-point destinations for bike rides, so I am on the grounds regularly during good weather. But I haven't seen the interior in ages.

Museums are in a tough spot these days. Kids are so hard to stimulate and interest now given the overwhelming sensory stimuli available to them at all times. The MSI exhibits were starkly divided between the Old School ones I remember clearly from childhood and the New Stuff full of touchscreens, very loud noises, and lots of flashing lasers. You see the new stuff (not to mention the tablets and phones every child has on hand) and you realize the more traditional exhibits simply doesn't stand a chance. The enormous model train that takes up 1/4 of the main level at MSI was surrounded with parents whose kids couldn't have looked more bored if they were in church.

My favorite exhibit from the olden days also has lost to the ravages of time: the "hear yourself on the phone" thing. I remember being five, ten years old in the 1980s and finding that absolutely mind-blowing. And you would have to wait in line with dozens of other kids (AND ADULTS) to use it. You spoke into the phone for a couple seconds, waited, listened, and burst into giggles with OH MY GOD DO I REALLY SOUND LIKE THAT? and a good time was had by all.

Now of course there is nothing novel or thrilling about people hearing their own recorded voices. The idea that it even could be novel is incomprehensible to anyone under 20.

This visit took place as I am in the process of completing the first episode of Mass for Shut-ins: The Gin and Tacos Podcast. That has involved a lot of time spent recording my own voice and nothing else, then listening critically to the results. The way we perceive how we sound is rarely subjected to a lot of self-criticism, but I promise you it starts to get very weird after you do it for hours in this kind of setting.

For lack of ability to explain it better, it's like looking at part of your body under extreme magnification. You just…notice a lot. You notice things that have been there forever but you have never actually seen. And then you start to think, wow this has been here all along. Other people probably see it; why haven't I seen it before? Then you get paranoid. What else am I not noticing?

Reaching that point signals a good time to take a break.

The most interesting part, if you're recording something solo, is not the tone of your voice. You will very quickly get used to the fact that it sounds how it sounds. It's the speech patterns. I've done some light reading on this (there actually is Theory of what makes a Radio Voice sound appealing) and discovered that I'm a Riser – each complete thought ends with a rising inflection on the final word.

Here's the thing about when you discover something about a speech pattern you have – it's really, really goddamn hard to alter it. In my case I've been talking this way for 39 years.
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Undoing it is like trying to learn how to write with my left hand at this point.

We get used to seeing ourselves in mirrors at an early age. Those of us who are a bit older, presuming we're not entertainment industry professionals, haven't totally gotten used to hearing ourselves though. It has been an enlightening experience to say the least. I wouldn't describe it as life changing, but I didn't begin the process of learning how to podcast expecting that I'd end up subjecting such a basic part of my existence to under-microscope scrutiny.

32 thoughts on “NPF: THE REFLECTING GOD”

  • I heard a recording of myself holding forth on the vapidity of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in a discussion with friends once. I don't remember how it was that it was recorded, but it was, and boy, did I ever sound like an ass. I might have been right, but yikes. I don't hold forth on stuff anymore.

  • Through A Weird Series of Events, I've heard myself recorded speaking more than one language and was surprised how my speech tics in one language don't appear in another. Weird. Also, I agree with Mothra and Ed; how can I sound like THAT?!?!?

  • I am super-psyched for your podcast Ed.

    I like totally can't wait to hear your 80s valley-girl speech patterns adding that extra dimension of emphasis and power to the sturm and drang of your written thoughts. At least it isn't like 'bro-speak' or anything, right?

    Like…Totally. :) J/K

    I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the response you get once you launch your podcast. Good luck.

  • I might have been 7 or 8 when my older brother got a small tape recorder — it not only used actual tape, but the 4-inch reel-to-reel style. Yes, I'm old. I heard my voice played back the first time and hated it. I did everything I could to avoid it happening again, for years and years.

    In grad school, I had an assistantship for which I was going to be doing classroom library-research instruction to freshman-comp students. Some office at the university had a service where they would come video you doing your session and then communications staff would come watch it with you and give you feedback. It was optional. I had misgivings, but put on my game face and did it — I was there to learn, no? It was pretty interesting and I didn't mind much. One thing my feedbacker said was, "I notice you are really sighing a lot." It was true! Every other sentence or so I would pause and take a breath and let out a big sigh. Weird. I think I was able to work on it somewhat. Oddly, I still find a lot of things to sigh about.

  • I'm often alarmed by how my voice sounds over the phone, or on a recording. The self awareness over that, and my nasal Michigan accent, have always kept me from doing very much with podcasting or broadcast. Picking up on other people's verbal ticks has made my painfully aware of my own. Sometimes, especially when answering a call, I'll drop into what my wife calls the "Phone Voice", where I drop the accent and go with a deeper tone. But the sheer amount of concentration it takes, ensures that I drop back into old habits the moment I stop paying attention.

  • Even as a kid, I was very sensitive to stuff that pandered to me. At 12 I felt disdainful of books I could understand easily. At 18 I remember being angry at museums that installed new light-up placards. Previously you just read the placard next to the thing you wanted to learn about; around 1990, a few museums replaced the placards with black rectangles, each with a lightbulb behind it. You pressed a red button to light the bulb so the lettering in the black would be illuminated, then you could read it. That unnecessary step made me so mad. "They seem to think pressing a button is going to make it fun for me! And that I need it to be fun like that! They seem to think I'm an idiot who didn't care what the facts were when they were just ink on cardstock!" I hated that what had been a place to learn and grow — a place I was visiting with a feeling that it was an occasion I had to rise to — suddenly felt it needed to pander to me; these museums seemed to be declaring that they needed to rise to meet me. That seemed (to Kid Me) a terrible inversion of what culture and science should be. (And I still mainly agree, though Adult Me recognizes the battle is mainly lost, and is laughing like hell at what an old stiff Kid Me could be.)

    Recently I visited the Museum of Ice Cream. Very few facts about ice cream; no real art; they barely even credited the ice cream companies who contributed. Every exhibit existed almost solely as an opportunity to make your Instagram feed look better.

    tl;dr — museums should be less accessible, not more.

  • Eventually you'll start to hear your breathing patterns, sniffles, and even humming appliances in the background. Then you'll get really good at editing those portions out.

  • Since puberty, oh so long ago, I've carried a radio voice, but hearing it even at a young age, I thought, that sneering drawl can't be me.
    Don't listen these days so don't know if conscious effort has made me more mellifluous (and bearable) or not. Probably not.
    Keep it up with the written and spoken word, Ed. Your fan club roots and cheers.

  • I went back to the MSI after about a two decade absence, and I was shocked by how utterly dated almost everything was, but the most jaw dropping part was that admission was 25 bucks a head. Did the city sell it off to a Saudi consortium or something? What the everloving fuck could cost so much?

  • I took a presentations class for work a long time ago. They recorded us while we were presenting so afterwards we could see and hear for ourselves just how well we each were doing. I was shocked to hear (and see) that I sounded (and looked) very much like my younger brother on the video tape! I still have that tape, and play it once in a while when I feel like being spooked…

    I'm taking a friend up to see NASM's Udvar-Hazy annex near Dulles next month. He's never been, while I've been there three times myself. As an aviation enthusiast I never get tired of visiting that place; the kids can have their simulated stuff, the real thing still inspires me more.

  • It's something like 190 aircraft so there is a lot to see. When you go look for the Sikorsky JRS-1 from Pearl Harbor. It's the only Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941 airplane Smithsonian has but there are a number of light planes from that day in Hawaii still, I believe. Also look for the Sopwith Camel down the row from the Wright 1908 Military Flyer. It is one of 7 Camels in the world. It is also the only one left built in the Sopwith factory. The rest were license built or from kitted up parts/assemblies.

  • On one of my family's rare swings into the US, we went to the Smithsonian. I was about 6. I cried when we left because I wanted to stay and see! all! the! things! One of the exhibits that really made an impression on me was the guy who died in the 1700s, was buried in the basement, and the periodic flooding and other basement conditions turned his body into soap. Six-year-old me thought this was the most astounding thing ever. They also had the wooly mammoth and other things that just fascinated me. I took my own kids, 30-some years later, and they couldn't have cared less. They were (and still are) bored by museums, I think because walking around reading cards is just not their scene. This disappoints me.

  • My eventual career as a computer engineer had a definite start:
    in about 1963, my family visited the Museum of Science and Industry, and Dad and I spent half an hour at an automated interactive kiosk that taught the concepts of binary arithmetic, and we kept at it until we could answer all the questions correctly.

    If you have really little kids, San Jose's Children's Discovery Museum is a wonderful place to spend a day. If they're a bit bigger, SF's Exploratorium. If they have any STEM affinity, the Lawrence Hall of Science above Berkeley is splendid, and offers great summer "camp" programs. Growing up in rural Iowa, I'd have given my eyeteeth for occasional access to any of those three.

  • My least favorite experience at the Museum of Science and Industry was with my boyfriend (now husband) when we took a tour of the U-boat exhibit and a bunch of skinheads from Germany showed up. Husband is German himself, so he resolved not to speak a single word the entire time, lest anybody associate him with these types. I always liked that exhibit, though. Looks pretty much exactly like the one in "Das Boot."

  • I think museums are caught in a Catch-22; they need to charge enough money to maintain the place amid falling visitor numbers, but the rates are high enough that your typical family can't afford to go except for very rarely.

  • "…Other people probably see it; why haven't I seen it before? Then you get paranoid. What else am I not noticing?…"

    Ear hair. You probably have 10 years, but it'll be there.

  • MSI offers periodic free days that allow cash-challenged folks to attend, but visitors still get nailed with parking. Still a pretty good deal, compared to what it costs to go to the movies and have some popcorn.

    Definitely saw the shocking difference last time I was there between new and old exhibits and increased the noise level (visual and auditory) of the new ones. Old tech doesn't fascinate like new tech until it becomes old enough to be a time capsule. The U-boat exhibit is the best example.

    Could be that public response to the traditional museum can no longer be relied upon in the electronics/communications age. Attention is pulled every which way continuously and thus flits around like gnats. Also, kids these days (TM) — and adults — are infrequently instructed how to behave in public and so act boorishly and insensitively. The whole experience is not what it used to be, but that's a foolhardy expectation in the first place.

  • @Iron City

    I'll keep an eye out for the JRS-1; I've seen the Sopwith Camel. I've heard a newly restored Curtiss Helldiver I want to see has gone on display, and I'll check to see if they've finished reassembling the He-219 yet. But there are always new surprises every time I go; the place already needs more display space.

  • @ katydid 1/20/18 8AM

    If you liked that part of the Smithsonian, if you are ever in Philly I recommend the Mutter Museum of the Philadelphia College of Physicians. They, too, have a Soap Woman along with the "World Famous" Mega-Colon and, I believe, the Worlds largest collection of human skulls.
    It is a unique experience.

  • @Seniorscrub; thanks for the referral–Philly's not so very far away. In the mumble mumble mumble years since I was 6 years old, I've found other things fascinating, too, but I'm sure I'd find the Mutter Museum to be well worth the time.

    Side note; is anyone else as pissed-off as I am that the stories about the gov't shutdown all seem to be outraged that the national parks are closed? Not that our gov't is, you know, SHUT DOWN?

  • Flying Squirrel says:

    My siblings, cousins and I would walk to that museum (alone!) while visiting grandparents every summer. Those 5-10 visits changed my life; among other things, it is probably why I became an engineer. At $25, wouldn't have happened. F'ing idiot society.

    Among the exhibits I recall are the see-through washing machine and, cutting edge, how much faster a touch tone phone could be dialed when we got them. I guess those are gone, huh? I went to the Boston Museum of Science recently for the first time. Tried like hell to learn stuff, and gave up after a few hours. Smithsonian complex in DC is one of the best things in this country; Washington doesn't deserve it.

  • I'm a teacher and frequently record myself with classes, either for assessments of myself or assessments of their performance, and I really don't like the way my own voice sounds. Never have. But I haven't gotten any complaints from the groups.
    I grew up in the Chicago area before cable or computers. A trip to the Museum of Science & Industry was always a high point. I loved everything about it, even the stuff I had no interest in (like the room full of food and their nutritional values). I loved the train, Paul Bunyan, the spiral Circus Exhibit ending with the trippy movie, the walk-through heart, whisper gallery, old main street, the airplanes hanging from the ceiling, hall of Christmas trees in December, etc. and it was free entry. I was pretty disappointed when I brought my family there how much had changed, but that was my own nostalgia. We're going again this year and I'm still looking forward to it now that I'm more prepared that things actually changed in the last 40 years.

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