Radical Technology

I’ve been digging through the section on communications in Radical Technology, the 1976 anthology of the magazine Undercurrents.

The global village is no such thing. It is a global castle, in which the barons may chat over their wine, while the serfs outside may overhear a few fragments of merriment.

Our planet does boast some fine communications systems: there are only a few holes left to be darned in the net of radio, TV and telephone which covers the continents. The engineers praise the vast capactiy of their systems. The talk of bits and bauds and erlangs. But their voices merge with those of the advertisers boasting of peak-hour audiences and market penetration.

The fallacy that more information, more communication must be good spreads even into the counterculture. Underground film-makers machine-gun their audiences with random images and subliminal cuts. Alternative newspapers boost their data density by printing each paragraph on multiple undercoats of coloured image.

The “information economy” stresses quantity rather than quality. It values complex data above simple truths. Computers now thrash through megabits of information in order to direct-mail us an advertising circular.

Words were not wasted in the the days when people could only engrave them on stone.

Economic and ecological self-sufficiency are respectively the prerequisites of both national liberation and of global survival. Cultural self-sufficiency must be established as part of the same revolutionary process. If a community is to be free of outside domination it must generate its own crafts, stories, architecture and rituals. This is not an argument for cultural apartheid. But it clearly presupposes radical changes in a global communications system whose greatest achievement to date has been to let ten million Japanse watch Princess Anne’s wedding. One day, the serfs must storm the global castle.

And on using half-inch portable video for community television:

The animator [the producer] should be neutral; act only when invited; help, but not direct, the slection and debate of issues [John] Hopkins adds. The Challenge for Change [a community video group] worker, as he says, becomes a “spark plug for process rather than a creator of product, and could use his previous liability as an outsider to mediate difficulties and bring conflicting parties together.”

Community television looks for consens. It uncovers ‘issues’, records opinions supporting either side, and then tries to resolve them by getting people together to watch the tapes and talk. It hopes for ‘media-tion’.

Video is prolific. Little community voice is left after cutting thirty hours of tape to thirty minutes. Standards rapidly become ‘production’ ones. Is this man interesting? Can this accent be understood? Does this woman help the argument? The editor has to choose.

Half-inch video benefits from the shadow of the BBC and network television. ‘Television’ remains a magic word. IT takes moral courage not to talk to television. Part of the ‘magic of portable television rests in the power handed down from the corporations. Community television must avoid abusing this power.

Broadcast television has established a convention of aggressive questioning. The danger is that community video can quickly become as bland.

The ‘good life’ has become a television commercial. Community must not become a television dialogue.

Community TV offers the technological fix—using the technology of an oppressive society. Like an Arab firing a Sam 7 missile, the video freak depends on high technology. If that is switched off, he is out of business. As long as his ‘freaking out’ is profitable and amusing he can continue. But when it becomes revolutionary he is soon back to the pot of whitewash and a wall.