Why Are Audio People “A Special Breed Of Cat?” (May 1972)

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By Norman H. Crowhurst

As MANY readers of AUDIO know, I have been associated with this field for some 40 years. During that time I have often asked myself, "Is there something unique about people in this profession, different from other branches of engineering, or from other professions and, if so, why?"

They Are?

Several hundred readers of AUDIO are also on my special mailing list, that I started a few years ago, because so many people wrote to me anyway. The thing that amazes me, since I started this, is something I suspected, but refused to believe, before that. Most, if not all, of these people, have common interests outside of audio (besides sex)! Do other professions find this? Or other branches of this one? Here's one thought. We are living in an age of socialization, in which the value of the individual is submerged in something vaguely referred to as "the good of society." Audio people, without exception it seems, value the individual; they are individualists.

Since I left college, I have had two professions, engineering and education. If you take the education profession collectively, and compare it with audio, in the attitudes of the people who comprise each, they are poles apart. Most educators struggle hard to deny individuality. Their idea of scientific method regards each child as a human unit, like every other human unit, subject only to what his environment makes him.

The concession they make to individuality is a professed endeavor to help each individual to achieve his maximum personal potential. But the method of maximization leaves much to be desired. We hear of personalized or individualized instruction. All that ever means in the educator's vocabulary is that each student is allowed to learn the same stuff at his own rate.

If you speak of matching the presentation to individual personality needs, you are beyond most educators' comprehension right there. If they have any idea what you mean, they will tell you it's impractical and beyond their capability, without billions of dollars, enough to provide every student with several personal teachers exclusively for … and even more billions for highly … training! True, not all educators hold this kind of view, although the majority do. But find one who has the kind of view that you and I have, and who can do what we are talking about in the classroom, and odds on, this one will have an interest in or some affiliation with the audio field, too.

This is what I have been discovering during the past year. So it cuts both ways. Audio people are unique. You can spot them, without having them previously identified! Frankly, I resisted this conclusion for a long while. I thought to myself, "But every professional group has its own camaraderie that sets it apart from the rest, if only by the professional jargon they use." Over the years, I have had the opportunity to mix with various groups, and whether my momentary realm is social, religious, or political, the audio people keep popping out. The conclusion is irresistible.

So what makes them different? And a more important question follows this one.


For the moment, let's take a look at what may be regarded as the opposite side of the coin, which also puzzled me for quite a while. A person who has been deprived of his hearing is quite different in his attitudes toward others, from a person deprived of some other sense, such as sight. (Incidentally, I am surprised how many audio people are also camera buffs. But back to the question.) Psychologists explain that there is a reason why deaf people have a more difficult problem "adjusting" than blind people do. Deaf people are deprived of far more elemental a piece of communication with their fellow human beings. They have less opportunity, by far, to interact with the rest of us.

Reverse this coin and you have the opposite fact. Audio people are, more than any other group, concerned with the creation of human interactions.

Without realizing it, they are probably more concerned as a group than are psychologists and psychiatrists. And if you want a group of professionals whose viewpoints cover the waterfront, try the Psychology Department! Audio people have initiative, to an extent not found in other professions.

They are more stimulated. You have to go a long way to find a psychologist as stimulated to find his own answers as audio people commonly are. For the most part, a psychologist seeks to identify his patient's ills against some prescribed chart of patterns. This patient has this or that syndrome.

Where To?

At this stage in history, society, led mainly by educators, is taking a curious turn. Technology is providing "answers" like never before in human history, that promise to liberate us from the chores of life, so we can devote our energies to creativity-thinking up ideas that we can use machines to implement for us. Yet educators seek to compartmentize as never before, with vocational education, career education, and so forth.

Their effort is concentrating on training toward specific skills and jobs, many of which will be obsolete by the time students graduate. The so-called "3-Rs" of yesteryear were certainly inadequate for today's world. But the way education has moved from those rote-learned subjects has been the wrong way, proving even more destructive of any creativity that students may possess.

The possible exception to this generalization is to be found in art and music classes. That is good, but it represents only one form of creativity-expression.

Creativity, in the sense of generating ideas, is something about which educators know little or nothing. Find one who does and odds on, he's an audio man.

For What?

There is a cry for leaders, to help straighten up the mess. Today a leader is defined as one who can read well and find the answers he needs in books. The kind of leaders that stood out in bygone years do not seem to exist any more.

The nearest thing to a born leader today is an audio man (or woman--I'm not sexist!). Because of the capacity to which I have referred in the foregoing, audio people are singularly suited for some of the major tasks ahead.

The educational profession, as well as various industries and occupational groups, are really hep on AV--audiovisual. With that industry's devotion to providing service, we have varieties of AV coming out our ears! There has been no lack of creativity in producing the hardware to make AV available to anyone who wants it.

But what about the software? That, we tend to think, crediting others with as much common sense as we have ourselves (which is an admirable trait), is best left to the experts in the field for which it is required. So what do we find happening? AV being used merely to "translate" good (and sometimes not so good) text and reference books into a new medium. Nothing more! The various wonders that AV creativity has produced in the hardware department offer opportunities for creativity never before dreamed of, in the software department too. Not just to indoctrinate or instruct, in the limited specifics that have become customary in every branch of education, but to get the recipients thinking creatively, moving ahead into the new role that human beings can occupy now that technology will do all the chores.


Today, in other fields, the emphasis has moved to service. You go to a distant city and all kinds of service are laid on for you, from secretaries to automobiles. All you have to do is sign for them-and pay later. Why cannot audio people move in that direction? We have the brains and initiative. Let's not be bashful, because we have always occupied a sort of back seat, turning knobs when the stars wanted them turned.

Let us analyze what makes creativity. Isn't it based on individual thinking? Notice that all the subheads for this article are questions? Properly used questions open minds, get them active.

I say "properly used," because I have said this same thing to educators and then watched what happened. So they too use questions. Instead of saying "Pick up your pencil, Johnny!" they say "Wouldn't it be a good idea to pick up your pencil?" Thus Johnny is encouraged to think that picking up the pencil was his idea! The important difference in the usage of questions is that the ones that open minds do not have obvious answers.

They promote thought. Do not be afraid of asking too "big" a question. If the first question is too big, so the listener doesn't know where to begin thinking about the answer, follow it with another question that will direct him a little, such as, "Where would you look for that answer?" Now, perhaps, you will be asking me where you can find out how to do the things I am hinting at here. Where will you look for the answer? How about starting by finding out what's inside your own head?

(Audio magazine, May 1972)

Also see:

The Next Ten Years: 1972-1982 (Some Prognostications From Leaders of the Audio Industry) (May 1972)

Men of Hi-Fi (May 1972)

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Updated: Friday, 2019-03-01 8:54 PST