Distributed Cognition of Ear-Microphone

I really like watching the performance of dance music. And we can always find an interesting fact on the stage that when a group sings the same sound, some singers use hand-microphones while others use ear-microphone.

hand-microphone AND ear-microphone

Here I want to attach a performance to prove this interesting finding. You can see from this performance, only the main vocal uses hand-microphone while other sub vocals and rappers use ear-microphone. You can clearly find the differences between hand-microphone and ear-microphone. You can hear the breath of the main vocal and the sound is louder and deeper. When the main vocal sings his part, he seldom has some dance movement, and he can stay there and sing. If he has dance movement which needs hand, he can only uses his left hand with his right hand occupied by the hand-microphone. His group members stand behind him as dancing partners. However, for dancing performance, it requires much more for those who uses ear-microphone. When they sing their part, they need to dance and sing at the same time. Since their keys are not as high as main vocal, they can make it. With the cooperation of hand-microphone and ear-microphone, this famous performance ‘NEVER’ with more than 12 million views has been presented to audience.

According to Latour, ear-microphone as a kind of technology, is delegated by singers the work of holding the microphones and freeing both of their hands on the stage. This can reflect that social relations can shape technical relations while technical relations can also shape social relations. Ear-microphone as the tool and technology are designed by people and be delegated the responsibility of helping the singers holding the microphones all the time on the stage. It is invented because of the chase for better performance of society and its invention can help improve the visual and auditory effect and guarantee better performance to the audience. This effect of delegation is positive and active.

According to Zhang and Patel in the article ‘Distributed Cognition, Representation and Affordance’, It is the interwoven processing of internal and external information that generates much of a person’s intelligent behavior. Here I want to mainly analysis the external information of the ear-microphone. The existence and usage of ear-microphone is closely related to social-technical system and the external representations are the shapes and positions of the symbols, the spatial relations of partial products, which can be perceptually inspected from the environment. The ear-microphone is linked to audience, singers, medium, culture and environment. From the perspective of audience, the existence of ear-microphone has several advantages and necessity.

  • First, it can make sure the better performance effect. For idol groups who sing dance music mostly, dance and sing are both necessary. The usage of ear-microphone free both the hands of the singers and the whole team can cooperate to perform better dance.
  • Second, it can make sure the better auditory effect. If the singers use hand-microphone, the distance between microphone and mouse is variable. Consequently, the sound which is captured by microphone and sampled and quantized and then turned into analog is different for hand-microphone. However, the ear-microphone guarantees the fixed distance between microphone and mouse so that it can make sure the voice heard by audience is stable all the time. This difference is especially noticeable when the singers need to rotate on the stage. Normally the speeds of hand and head are different. So, under this circumstance, the sound is easy to become unstable and either too high or too low. The usage of ear-microphone can avoid this circumstance as much as possible and give the audience a better sense of listening to the singers.
  • Third, it can make sure the better visual effect. If the singers hold the hand-microphone for a long time, half of his or her facial expression will be covered. On the stage, the infection and resonance with the audience is relevant to dance, song, and, facial expression. Compared to hand-microphone, the size of ear-microphone is very small and it is often designed with inconspicuous color such as black and carnation. So that the existence of ear-microphone can make sure that the singers or groups’ stage performance is transmitted to the audience to the greatest extent, which can arouse the resonance of the audience.

From the perspective of singers, the existence of ear-microphone can free the singers more. Since the weight of hand-microphone is not light, the usage of ear-microphone can lighten the load on their hands and guarantee the better stage performance. From the perspective of medium, voice is one of the ways of information transmission. However, the usage of ear-microphone doesn’t have advantages compared to hand-microphone because the sound is much more energetic, louder and deeper with hand-microphone. Consequently, since the main vocal doesn’t have much dance movement, he still chooses the hand-microphone which has the better sound effect and it can make sure his voice is transmitted to the greatest extent. From the perspective of social cultural environment, if most people prefer dance music, the advantages of ear-microphone are significant because it can combine songs and dances and guarantee better performance effect. If most people and fans prefer lyric songs which do not need much dance, the hand-microphone is still very important in the music market.


1.Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation. Common knowledge3(2), 29-64.

2.Latour, B. (1990). Technology is society made durable. The Sociological Review38(1_suppl), 103-131.

3.Zhang, J., & Patel, V. L. (2008). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Cognition Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds16, 137-144.