Economy

"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

 

Smart Radio

Vancouver, British Columbia, 2007

An extract from one of Jonah's letters to a friend.

I can still remember the first time I saw a Smart Radio. It was at a friend's house in Seattle, where Merlyn and I were visiting for the weekend. I said "What's that ?" the moment I saw it. Within months, they were in the stores everywhere.

Radio had always been the poor sister of television. The basic design had hardly changed in 50 years. There were bigger and better speakers, and that frustrating system of digital tuning, but there was never a way to know what was on, or even to record a program for later listening, as you could on TV. Primitive, under-financed, lazy - those were all good words to describe radio in those days.

Smart Radio changed all this for ever, sending a ripple of revolution through the safe, conservative world of radio broadcasting. A Smart Radio has a flip-up screen linked by cable or modem to the Internet, which enables you to check out programs that interest you for a week or a month ahead. The Global Smart Radio home page is just amazing. It lists radio stations in every country in the world, lets you to click on your local broadcast area, click on the stations that interest you, and examine their schedules. Then you click on the programs you want to listen to, and say whether you want to listen to them live, defer the broadcast time or record them for future use. You then just press 'Diary', and the Smart Radio will integrate your choices into a personal listening diary for the week or month ahead. Isn't that something ?

Smart Radio has been like a blast of fresh ocean air zipping across the staid old wavelengths. Suddenly, radio stations are competing for listeners who plan their listening. The number of plays, story-readings, poetry readings, public affairs programs, specialist and minority news programs, science shows, personal growth discussions, competitions, games, novel-readings, history programs and children's programs (etcetera) has increased dramatically, alongside the music which still makes up 50% of the programming. Most shows have back-up web sites, where listeners can discuss the latest developments in chi-anthropics or winter vegetables. There are children's programs, college programs, self-help group support programs, even home-birth support programs. There are also (ahem) adults-only bedtime programs, which are much better than late night television. Merlyn and I often cuddle up in the dark in her incredible bed, to enjoy an erotic bedtime story together. It was never like this when I was young ! There are over-ride switches on all the hot programs which allow parents to put them off-limits to their children, and a licensing arrangement which draws the line between eroticism and abuse - if a station steps over the line they can lose their license for as long as ten years.

I should pause to tell you about my girlfriend Merlyn's bed - Merlyn's famous bed, which she designed and built herself. It is king-size, with a quadraphonic speaker built into each of its four large corner posts. In the headboard, there's a panel which controls the lights, the sound, a television, a fold-away computer screen and a video which can project images onto the wall. With one touch of a button, she can conjure up dawn in the Canadian prairies, a waterfall in Hawaii or a 1930s New York streetscape, complete with jazz. Another compartment in the headboard contains a fold-away unit which has spaces for night cream, tissues, cough sweets, contraceptives, massage oil, a vibrator, a lubricating jelly dispenser and who knows what else. Talk about being prepared ! One of the bedposts has a built-in aromatherapy spritzer which Merlyn uses to scent the air with jasmine, orange blossom or Ylang-Ylang, depending on her mood. And in case this is not enough, each of the lighting units contains coloured light bulbs, allowing Merlyn to create a mauve, pink, red or whatever coloured atmosphere she wants, filled with the scent, music and images she desires. Since Merlyn is my girlfriend, it doesn't take much imagination to know that I've been the fortunate recipient of this ocean of organized pleasure - but we should probably pass over the details ! I can't help thinking how much money she could make if she were to team up with one of the big bed companies, and go into business.

Smart Radio is doing a lot to restore oral culture. Thanks to the new programming, poetry readings, book readings, discussion groups, relationship circles and philosophy cafés are all blooming. Producing a radio show costs less than 1% of what it costs to produce a TV show, and thanks to the targeted advertising, the stations are doing just fine. Most of the best stations are members of the Global Radio Co-operative, where they use an internal currency to trade programs with each other, with the result that even the smallest radio station can attract a good listenership. The new global culture is not the homogenized culture of global commercialism that most people feared - it's a fabulously rich, truly global culture that's simply zinging with diversity.

The internal currency system makes it possible for radio stations from Ladakh to Madagascar to produce quality programs, which they trade for programs from other parts of the world. I was lying in bed with Merlyn the other night with the radio on random search when we picked up a program from a village in southern Germany, which had been translated and was being rebroadcast by a local station in Vancouver. It was a fictional story, set in that village in the year 2085, and it concerned the disappearance of a rare wildflower from the mountains around the village, with lots of philosophical discussion about the nature of matter and consciousness and references to Goethe, Einstein and Kharoun. The problem being by the villagers in the story was that the wildflowers were being stolen for their chemical ingredients, which were being used to manufacture a drug which was being used by the teenagers to access the mystical 7.48 zone, in a quest for mythical powers, which was in turn being blamed for several mysterious deaths in the village. (7.48 cycles per second is the mental frequency waveband thought by some to be the channel along which telesensory transmission works in nature). We were spellbound as we lay curled up together in the darkness of the midnight hours, awaiting the grand finale, when the mayor of the village used the 7.48 drug herself to tune into the wildflowers, and hear what they were feeling as they faced extinction for the sake of communion with nature. When the program ended, I pressed 'save' to store it on disc, so that we could share it with our friends. To think that when I was growing up, most radio channels played the same old boring music, day after day.

In addition to Smart Radio, there is also NoTV. NoTV began life as a public campaign started by a group of concerned parents in Alberta, to wean their children off television and encourage them to rediscover the joys of reading, hobbies and family games. In place of TV, the parents organized choirs, crafts groups, study-circles, story-telling groups, astronomy groups, drama clubs, natural history clubs and epic camping trips. By 2006, there were more than 8,000 specialty WebTV channels, all competing for the attention of the 'Netties', as the media had dubbed the Internet generation. For children under the age of 9, however, it has been reliably demonstrated that watching television or a computer screen for more than two hours a day damages the development of the brain's synaptic connections. Research has shown that the youthful brain needs hands-on activity, involving risk, social interaction and outdoor stimuli in order to develop in a balanced, integrated manner. Passive, single focus activities such as watching television cause parts of the brain to wither on the stem, however good the contents of the show.

NoTV and Smart Radio have been doing much to weaken the stranglehold that television used to have on popular culture, both locally and globally. The media conglomerates that control most of the TV and WebTV outlets have been fighting hard to discredit NoTV, using smear tactics against the movement's leaders and even financing phony science to show that NoTV children were being culturally deprived. They even tried jamming local radio stations, but when the listeners found out what was happening it cost them millions of dollars in damages. The movie companies, by contrast, have not been affected by all this at all; they've been riding the global culture wave with their normal style and panache. They're even using Smart Radio to produce specialty shows where listeners can call in to discuss the more esoteric aspects of specific films, and then meet in local cafés to discuss them in person. Now that's what I call culture.

 

About the author

Guy Dauncey is an author, organizer and sustainable communities consultant who specializes in developing a positive vision of an environmentally sustainable future, and translating that vision into action. He is the author of Stormy Weather : 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, July 2001), and ‘A Sustainable Energy Plan for the US’ (Earth Island Journal, August 2003). He is also the publisher of EcoNews (a monthly newsletter), co-founder of the Victoria Car-Share Cooperative, and a consultant in ecovillage and green building development. He lives in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada.

His website is www.earthfuture.com.