Everything flickers. The twentieth century became a century of flicker. Electricity flickers. It’s called Alternating Current and has a frequency of sixty cycles per second in the U.S. and fifty cycles in Europe. That means that electric light actually pulses sixty times per second. This is not easily noticed with an old fashioned incandescent bulb, because the filament stays hot and bright enough during the brief moments it is not on. But with LED or fluorescent bulbs I sometimes notice a flickering.
Movies, moving pictures, are actually 24 still frames per second. The silent movies from a century ago were recorded with varying rates from 16 to 23 frames per second and we can easily notice the flicker – although some of that was apparently due to conversion at grossly incorrect frame rates in the 1950s for broadcast television. One could say that two types of flickr are being comined in a DVD. There is the flicker from the framerate of the movie, which combines with the digital sampling snapshots of that analog film.
Digital sound is a series of snapshots. Unlike the constant sound from an analog source, like a turntable or a tape player, digital sound consists of 16 bits sampled many thousands of times per second. Douglas Rushkoff’s quotes a German study in his book “Program or be Programmed” that found that people suffering from depression reacted differently to analog sound and digital sound. Digital sound didn’t have the positive effect that analog sound had. (to John Craig, who asked what I think of “Program or be Programmed”: I like the book. It is not brilliant like Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget”, and for me there is nothing new in Rushkoff’s new book, but it is a concise and fairly complete and easily readable collection of thought regardng the nature of the internet. I bought half a dozen of the hardcovers to give away as xmas gifts.)
When I convinced my friend Terry to stop using paraben in his excellent lotions and potions, I told him that I didn’t think paraben in one product was a problem, but that the cumulative effect of paraben in thousands of products would be (lotions, makeup, even dish detergents and thousands of other products). Well, I think the different types of flicker, none of them much older than a hundred years, might be a similar cumulative problem. Flickering light bulbs and flickering movies, TV and computer screens, and the flicker of digital sound, each may only contribute a little bit, but we are surrounded 24/7 by flicker… via our eyes and our ears. What does that amount of flicker do to a highly evolved nervous system? Might it contribute to the anxiety many people feel? Might it, while not affecting our health, disturb our wellbeing?
Then again, this could just be another crazy notion of mine. I am not a scientist.
I don’t see myself not using digital recording or not watching movies or light bulbs, but I can see myself creating flicker-free times, perhaps eating dinner by candlelight or perhaps occasionally listening to my old turntable (for which I found a new needle at this excellent resource).