Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I will find the exact version soon, but the mind has been on the quote "It is one thing to build castles in the air, it is an entirely different thing to attempt to live in them."

I was reading this in the oddly prophetic book "Amusing Ourselves to Death," by the late Neil Postman. I was assigned this in college and it's been one of the books I've probably read at least once a year since.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I work in media - radio to be precise. 100 years ago, my profession didn't exist. Radio was in its infancy with its first voice broadcast over a year away. My line of work has been around less than a century. Many of my friends work in professions that have been around for far longer - music, law, teaching, child care, church ministry, and the like.

To be honest, this is a little unsettling. For most of modern history, the media as we know it didn't exist. Yes, books and scrolls existed long before movable type. However, the ability to read was required, something not all the commoners had. At the same time, an orator could speak his mind, however the range of his voice was the limit of his immediate reach. Around 150 years ago, this limit was broken with the invention of telegraph wire, and destroyed by the 1900s with radio. Now, with the ability to talk to anyone around the world is limited by only the speed of light and the speed of sound. It takes about 1/4th of a second for the station I work with to beam its programming up to a satellite and come back to us in our receivers.

However, is this a good thing? Neil Postman writes about this idea, but refuses to give easy answers. The idea that we are, in many cases, talking to no one specific is both romantic and depressing at the same time. How do you address no one and everyone? Much of radio (notably Christian radio) has the romantic view that "if just one person" is listening, it is worth it. Then again, for a station that runs on donations, that may or may not be true.

Still, the current mentality of radio demands we keep it going all day, all night, if we have listeners or not. In a modern city, radio must be 24/7, whether they have the content to fill 24 hours or not. The question is rarely "How do we fit everything we want to do and say into 24 hours?" but instead is "How do we fill 24 hours of programming?" This is why you turn on many stations and hear repeats of talk shows at 1am and infomericals early morning weekends.

Like technologies before and after, radio gave a person power and freedom they could not have imagined just a few years before. Within a short time, the romantic ideals of the new medium gave way to the mundane realities.


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