9.317 media meditations

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sun, 26 Nov 1995 20:45:44 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 317.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (41)
Subject: when is radio not radio?

Recently I had the honour and pleasure to participate in a centennary
celebration of Marconi's invention of radio (i.e. radio telegraphy). This
being Toronto, the nature of communications media was itself a topic. A
recurrent question about radio in particular was, how will it be affected by
digital technology and the seeming convergence of all electronic media?

One expert, especially impressed by the possibilities of digitalized radio,
was quite certain that we would soon be able to break radio free from linear
time and offer downloadable, highly segmented radio broadcasts. While he was
saying all this, I in turn was thinking about how much I valued radio in its
current form. As I type these words, having pondered his for the last few
days, I am listening to a jazz programme on a wonderful local station, and I
am still thinking how well radio does the job that it is now doing. I grew
up with radio, more than television, and while I was confined to bed as a
boy (for a year, with rheumatic fever), radio, local and short-wave, was
primary matter out of which I constructed my imaginative world. When I
objected to the radio expert's views, he expressed fellow-feeling but
informed me that the bulk of the young radio-listening public shows every
sign of wanting highly segmented, digitally downloadable, personally
rearrangable broadcasts. In other words, he called me an old fogey. Perhaps
this is so, but having devoted the last decade to Ovid's Metamorphoses, I
think I have as keen an appreciation for discontinuous, fragmented narrative
as anyone. The real question here, it seems to me, is one we have tossed
around on Humanist many times, but which seems not to fade: what is the
nature of a given technological artifact, such as radio or the several forms
of computer-mediated communications, and how do we figure out what this is?

Of course the radio expert wants to do new things in his own field, and no
doubt he will at least make the attempt. Perhaps he is right, and perhaps he
will succeed in turning his radio station into a digital emporium -- and
perhaps I will like the result. But does it not make sense that we should be
paying attention to what a given technology seems to do well, what poorly,
so that we can understand it and so make best use of it?

Take, for example, online publishing. It's quite clear that current
mechanisms are rather poor for imitating the conventional book or journal.
This seems to me to indicate that the genius of the Web lies in a rather
different direction, and that we would be foolish not to put our efforts
into figuring out what we might do with this genius rather than against it.



Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities
Departments of Classical Studies and Italian Studies (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca