On Cultural Clipping

I've been doing a lot of (bad) music production lately, and it's reintroduced the principle of clipping to me.  Clipping is when the signal goes past the maximum recordable value.  Essentially it's saying "that's as loud as it's gonna get so anything louder will just be this".

Clipping is a very analogue thing.  Say you're adjusting the gain on a mic for a piano.  You want to set it so the loudest the piano will get is at 255 (the CS geek in me makes me use that number).  The volume will always be within the range of 0-255.

But let's say that you want to record a very quiet sound, like a whisper.  You want to change the gain in order to capture the details of the sound.  If you kept the parameters the same, you would just get something between 0 and 1..."no sound" - "very little sound".  There's a whole universe in there that you missed because the instrument you were using to record it wasn't tuned properly.

The inputs we're talking about here is the news hellscape (and mirroring that, the hellscape of the viewers of said news).  It's clipping.  It's always set at 11.

It sounds awful.  So what do we do about clipping?

You can turn down the gain, which in this metaphor means becoming desensitized to events.  The giant con here is that there's tons of beauty that's very small, and you're gonna miss it because you're only reacting to the big things, and you're reacting to them in a muted way.

You can apply a filter.  Every input that matches this criteria gets through.  One problem here is that you have to have collected (and ingested) enough samples of data to know whether the input passes through your filter.  So you default open, letting everything in, until you see that something is bad, and then you examine it to see if you can find some easily-identifiable mark that will shorten this process in the future ("it's on Fox News?  must be bullshit." is one of my personal filters).

In the end, though, I think the best solution would be to change the input.

"We've got our friends at CNN here. Welcome, guys, it's great to have you. You guys love breaking news, and you did it. You broke it. Good work." -- Michelle Wolf

News has evolved.  It used to be a 30 minute thing, once a day.  Then local newscasts came and you had 2 news programs of half an hour each.  Then we got Dateline from the Iranian Hostage crisis (btw call me out if this is wrong).  Then CNN.  Then Fox News.  Then Drudge.  Then, well, everything.  Remember, it's supposed to be: "here are the things that happened today".  Does that feel like what it is?  Do you feel like you've ingested the proper amount of news to be a well-informed citizen?  "But really, are you eatin' tho?"

And we need to stop looking for THE solution.  There is no solution.  There is no act or edict or proclamation that can squelch this deluge.  The answer is far subtler.

Know yourself.  Know when things are miscalibrated.   Tune your knobs so you're getting the best quality you can get.  Don't try to make news; we've got enough of that.  Calm the fuck down.  Reduce the peaks.  Stop clipping.

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