How is the Internet changing our understanding of the voice, and of the relationship between speech and identity? This project looks at how we communicate, construct identities and circulate biographical narratives in the era of podcasting, video streams, Skype and Siri.
I am interested in how voices work to ‘place’ web users both geographically and socioculturally, and in how associations, shibboleths and ‘language ideologies’ attach to particular accents and modes of speaking. I am also interested in how platforms like YouTube and Fiverr allow certain speakers to realize the value of their voices by monetizing recordings or bidding for voiceover work. Such platforms suggest how contemporary identity work is bound up with forms of immaterial and affective labour, and are fostering emergent understandings of the voice as an asset, one the entrepreneurial individual can perhaps parlay into profit, fame or reward as a singer, sportscaster or impressionist – or via new speech genres such as the ‘ASMR’ video and the videogame roleplay.
As computers themselves begin to hear and speak, I also want to highlight the ways in which notionally neutral voice recognition and voice synthesis technologies – from OK Google and Microsoft’s Cortana to software used to settle asylum claims – propagate particular understandings of identity.
Going beyond sound, I will argue that digital technologies are changing the relationship between text and speech – and, in so doing, altering our understanding of what it means to have a voice. This will involve looking at nascent ‘searchable speech’ technologies, at new styles of writing that seek to ape the immediacy of spoken communication, at software designed to analyse and reproduce an individual’s prose style or authorial ‘voice’ and at modes of online expression based on dubbing, ventriloquism and prosopopeia.