Brendan Chilcutt wants to preserve the aural history of technology. Since 2012, he’s been recording and uploading the clicking, whirring, and beeping sounds of outdated devices to a website called the Museum of Endangered Sounds. It’s a fascinating project: While most museums preserve physical artifacts, Chilcutt is more interested in preserving experiences—what it felt (or sounded) like to use those devices. Chilcutt's Museum calls attention to the fact that as technologies change, our sensory experience of the world around us changes too, in near-imperceptible ways.
"Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine. Imagine generations of children unacquainted with the chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray tube TV,” Chilcutt writes. “And when the entire world has adopted devices with sleek, silent touch interfaces, where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that. And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I'm gone?”
Though the sound samples on display at the Museum of Endangered Sounds date back to the early 20th century (for example, there are rotary phones, typewriters, and record players to be heard), it seems like the most attention has been paid to the 1980s and '90s. There's some logic to that decision: Technology changed so rapidly during that era that many of its sounds feel genuinely ephemeral. Most of us probably still remember the sound of connecting to a dial-up Internet service, but how many recall the upbeat theme music of Microsoft Encarta's MindMaze game or can still hum Nokia's once-iconic first ring tone? Thanks to Chilcutt, they're readily available once again.