Book Review: MP3

If you’re looking for a quick read about the history of MP3s, MP3: The Meaning of a Format by Jonathan Sterne is probably not for you.  If you’re looking for a very, very in depth look about the history of  audio formats, then you certainly will want to check out MP3: The Meaning of a Format.

I didn’t realize that the history of MP3 could be so thorough! I remember when my dad came home from work one day and asked me if I ever heard of MP3s. I had no idea what he was talking about – quite content with the AMAZING .wav files I had – and even more fascinated with the .midi files I had of Hanson songs!  Each one took up 1 of my floppy disks and I was constantly asking my parents to buy me more and more disks because they didn’t want me to keep any of my Hanson pictures on their computer. (I can’t really blame them – I think back in the late 90s I could have EASILY filled the hard drive with this stuff!)

It’s kind of crazy to think how different things were just 15 years ago – and try to imagine what things will be like 15 years from now.  Especially since it seems like even  MP3s are slowly being phased out with MP4s making their way through and other lossless files becoming more prominent as well.

This book was really interesting, though admittedly, not the easiest book to get through.  It’s pretty intense at times so definitely make sure that you have the time set aside and the mind set to be reading this.  If you do – then I think you will find that it is very interesting and fulfilling!

I received a free e-copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in order to write this review.


About the Book

MP3: The Meaning of a Format recounts the hundred-year history of the world’s most common format for recorded audio. Understanding the historical meaning of the MP3 format entails rethinking the place of digital technologies in the larger universe of twentieth-century communication history, from hearing research conducted by the telephone industry in the 1910s, through the mid-century development of perceptual coding (the technology underlying the MP3), to the format’s promiscuous social life since the mid 1990s.

MP3s are products of compression, a process that removes sounds unlikely to be heard from recordings. Although media history is often characterized as a progression toward greater definition, fidelity, and truthfulness, MP3: The Meaning of a Format illuminates the crucial role of compression in the development of modern media and sound culture. Taking the history of compression as his point of departure, Jonathan Sterne investigates the relationship between sound, silence, sense, and noise; the commodity status of recorded sound and the economic role of piracy; and the importance of standards in the governance of our emerging media culture. He demonstrates that formats, standards, and infrastructures-and the need for content to fit inside them-are every bit as central to communication as the boxes we call “media.”

Jonathan Sterne is Associate Professor in Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, also published by Duke University Press, and editor of The Sound Studies Reader (forthcoming).

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