I've been meaning to post this great piece that Alexis Madrigal of the The Atlantic wrote a few weeks ago. In exploring the mechanics of the dial-up modem sound, Madrigal goes on an almost Proustian journey through his own memory and personal relationship with technology. It's the Anton Ego scene from Ratatouille, but for sound instead of taste. And it's a reminder that whether technology makes life easier or more complicated, computers and electronics are so intertwined in our daily lives they can't help but become important anchors and touchstones in our memories. That's also the thinking behind the Museum of Endangered Sounds, a long-term project to accumulate and archive the sounds made famous by obsolete technologies. From the digitized voice of a Speak & Spell to the dulcet chime of Windows 95 starting up (six seconds of musical perfection, courtesy of Brian Eno), it's quite a nostalgia trip. My friend Avram Piltch at Laptop Magazine also recently posted a good list of 13 tech sounds that you just don't hear anymore.
One additional revelation of Madrigal's story stuck out for me: "what you're hearing is how a network designed to send the noises made by your muscles as they pushed around air came to transmit anything, or the almost-anything that can be coded in 0s and 1s." The marriage of analog and digital was a necessity in the early days of computing as digital technologies were bootstrapped to the world's analog infrastructure. And while that tie is largely phased out today, we still see interesting uses of analog tech--the Square credit card reader that plugs into the headphone jack of an iOS device, for example. Analog hasn't faded away but it is definitely more inconspicuous. And what's left of analog's aural cues is often found in the realm of skeuomorphism--the artificial "ka-ching" of a modern cash register or the soothing static of HBO's opening bumper.
Update: Speaking of Square's reader, here's an awesome video of a reel-to-reel audio tape being played through a modified Square mag stripe reader. Analog lives!