Sunday, February 17, 2013

Remembering Pre-Media

What was it like before the media arose? To get a feel for that I just think back to the times when I was too young to read the printed version effectively. The time when I could came when I was already an adult, had left home, had joined the Army, felt myself out “in the world,” and bought myself a subscription to Time magazine.

Before that time the world seemed oddly greater—because the part I knew about was relatively small. It reached me through living people: parents, nursemaids, teachers, other children. Yes, radio was already present then. It had an odd, a funny sound. Adults sometimes gathered around it and listened to that sound with anxious faces. It was war time. Martial music would come in the wake of such troubling news.

Before papers, before radio? Outdoor markets and civic squares substituted for the media. People had to go outside and meet with others—or someone came by, hurriedly passed “it” on, and then one had to rush out to the square to see, to hear. As for what might be going down in far away Tibet—and whether or not some army was invading it—that sort of thing was way beyond perception.

I learned of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination from a young nurse in a hospital waiting room. I was the only person there, half nodding off as I waited for Brigitte who was giving birth. The nurse was shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes. Hers were right in front of mine. “They shot him,” she said in agitation. “They shot him.” And she was gone. I had to discover what she meant on my own. That was a tiny return to the pre-media days. But, of course, she’d heard it on the radio—and rushed out to take the news to whomever she could reach.

Even since my childhood, which already had that squeaky radio and those slow periodic papers actually worth reading—papers that printed special editions when something really big was happening—the world has been completely transformed. Distance has invaded our Now. Our bodies, optimized to deal with rather small environments—while our spirits can range to infinity—are now subjected to stimuli from all across the globe, in images, sounds, and in written form. We react to all of the alarms as if they were here, on top of us—but they are far away. They cloud our mood, they distract, they shanghai our reflexes and emotions. The media bring news of explosions and of mayhem—but do not match these with still landscapes that, in Tibet as indeed everywhere, are also part of the environment. Monstrous distortions. I applaud those who are beginning to filter out all the news unfit to know because we cannot do the least bit of a thing about them.
The image is an Amplion AR 19 Dragon Radio Horn Speaker shown here.


  1. "Adults gathered around [the radio] with anxious faces..." I too remember such gatherings well. The volume of the radio was always turned down very low, but I could hear the Boom, Boom, Boom,
    Boooooom! Only much later did I learn this was London's Big Ben announcing the News Reports.

  2. There is something that feels not entirely human scale about the flow of "news" these days. It is as if we're not built to be bombarded constantly with incoming sensations, and, in fact, we aren't. It is as much to do with the quantity as with the overly hyper nature of that news, I'm afraid. All of which supports the idea of staying on a strict diet when it comes to the consumption of "news" in this day and age!

    And your memories of news during the war remind me of many movies I have seen about WWII or which took place during WWII. A very different feel to news in those days.


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