Andy on the Road

14 July 2010

Digital Drugs

Filed under: audio,huh.,music,seriesoftubes,snarkbutter — Andy @ 6:35 pm

(an early version of aural drugs)

This has been quite a week for us law nerds, especially those of us that like to talk copyright or the First Amendment. I mean, there’s substantive due process challenges to obscenity doctrine, the Second Circuit striking down FCC regulations on expletives, porn producers arguing fair use against record industry copyright claims (and Warner seemingly confessing to group boycott in the same case), challenges to a a Massachusetts law attempting to regulate online speech targeted to minors, the Tenenbaum opinion on constitutionality of copyright damages — and what, of all these things, gets me worked up enough to post something?

This freakin’ story: kids are listening to music on headphones to get high.

Digital Drugs, people!  It’s a brave new world.

Apparently, some people believe that bland, sinusoidal music can somehow trigger something in your brain which gives you a hallucinogenic high.  Wired cites this Oklahoma City television station’s report, but other examples can be found here, here, here, and here.  Parents and school officials are worried about kids using these, or using these as a gateway to using real drugs, or something.  (What I find especially fascinating: not a single one of these articles has found a single person who is willing to admit that any of these things actually work.)

I’ve just discovered this phenomenon today, but it’s been around for a while. The Pirate Bay has a torrent of some “i-doser” software from January 2007. The leading company pushing this stuff was founded in 2005.  Yahoo Answers has an appropriately snarky entry on the subject, also from 2007.  And really this is based largely on a hybrid of Binaural recording technique and psychoacoustics – two fields as old as stereo recording itself, and used by recording engineers as humble and hobbyist as I.

We all know the power of music, and I by no means intend to understate the fine work of Oliver Sacks and the fundamental impact music can have on our psychology.  But these school officials are making it out to be like some sort of dark evil being forced on our nation’s youth.  Perhaps these reporters and school officials have been away from their teenage years too long, so I’m going to put something out there as food for thought: ever think they’re doing this just because it gets a rise out of figures of authority? And all those kids online posting their reaction: ever stop to wonder if they’re over-exaggerating for attention?  This is the aural equivalent of an Ouija board or playing Bloody Mary or smoking a banana peel.  Anyone who claims that listening to i-doser music has similar effects to smoking marijuana has clearly done neither.  My outrage is directed at anyone who made a buck off of this by claiming it can do something which it clearly can’t.

Quite seriously, my biggest worry about all of this is the overreacting and ill-informed school board who goes off and bans headphones in school, out of fear that the kid might be i-dosing.  I would hate to see i-dosing be this generation’s PMRC or ban on Rock-and-or-Roll music.  I can certainly understand the pedagogical concern of having faking dosers disrupting classrooms, but I hope school boards stop and think of all the “indoor” kids listening to Belle and Sebastian, waiting for their chance to be poetry majors and instantly cool.

Anyone out there had any experience with this stuff they’d like to share?

(Just so you all know, I wrote this piece while listening to a bunch of “i-doser” songs, which did nothing for me, so I switched to the Spacemen 3.)

Update: Apparently NPR’s All Things Considered and I are on the same binaural wavelength tonight. Here’s their interview with Helane Wahbeh of Oregon Health and Science University, dispelling the binaural high rumor.

1 Comment

  1. Keep the kids away from Stars of the Lid!

    Comment by goodbyeangel — 16 July 2010 @ 7:13 pm

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