Fortunately, we have abundant text and audio resources at our disposal. We have the freedom to retreat to serious radio programming, to pull into the interior of our mind, to engage. The sanctity of audio allows for an intellectual intimacy that can be as nourishing as we allow it to be. None of these technological parameters ensure that a great percentage of radio programming will live up to the medium’s potential-there’s as much titillating mindlessness available on the radio dial as there is via the television remote or the Web browser. But it does set the bar high enough that an ambitious few will inevitably scale great heights. I am chopping vegetables in my kitchen and listening to the first explanation of schizophrenia that has ever really made sense to me; now I am driving in my car listening to a very interesting conversation about beach erosion; now I am in the shower, really learning something about myths in Ireland. It’s not just the quality of the information that’s resonating with me; it’s also the conduit. At its best, radio is at once formal and intimate, thoughtful and spiritual, visually confining and cerebrally expansive.
At CNNfn, I noticed that as I spoke informally with the production assistant, we mostly did not look at each other. We’d glance over frequently to make eye contact, to reinforce some point or some tonal cue. But most of the conversation itself was happening irrespective of the visuals-in spite of the visuals. We were intentionally avoiding a situation where our eyes would constantly be fed. On TV a moment before, it had been just the opposite. All conversation was made with lasting eye contact, perhaps the best clue of all that it wasn’t a conversation but a visual simulacrum-a video painting-of a conversation.
About an hour after i left the CNN building, I was in a radio studio on 56th Street near Sixth Avenue, participating in a wonderful public radio show called “The Connection,” hosted by Christopher Lydon. For about an hour, a handful of people on the show shared observations and ideas, spoke with their eyes metaphorically closed, making a psychic connection. Real thoughts were formed, articulated, considered. As I listened to thoughtful guests and the callers who responded to them, I wondered: Is any technology more “interactive”? It wasn’t a perfect hour. I stumbled a bit, said some things I wished I’d said better. But it was still a terrific conversation. Callers thanked the host for another marvelous program, and you could hear that they meant it. People weren’t just listening because they had time to kill. They were engaged. This wasn’t entertainment; it was nourishment.
After the show, I stuck around the studio for a few precious minutes to let the ideas settle a bit, and to steal just one more moment of calm.