Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 20, 2009

The Human Voice in Cyberspace: Enriching Virtual Communities

Talk … talk … talk

As a species, we human beings are unique in that we verbalize — a lot.

Some might say too much.

But, as I used to tell my students, the mouth is the centre of the universe. It is where nurturing of the newborn begins. It is love idealized. The kiss, as my hero Cyrano de Bergerac said, “… is the rose-coloured dot on the i of the verb aimer [to love]”. He was a man of many carefully chosen words. He knew how to use his voice in the most exquisite ways.

And of course, the mouth is the source of language and the human voice.

I taught the play Cyrano de Bergerac for many years, and often thought that the following key speech by the man himself could apply to the radio arts at their very best — especially the part about making the sharp truth ring.

I carry my adornments on my soul.
I do not dress up like a popinjay;
But inwardly, I keep my daintiness.
I do not bear with me, by any chance,
An insult not yet washed away — a conscience
Yellow with unpurged bile — an honour frayed
To rags, a set of scruples.
I go caparisoned in gems unseen,
Trailing white plumes of freedom, garlanded
With my good name — no figure of a man,
But a soul clothed in shining armor, hung
With deeds for decorations, twirling — thus —
A bristling wit, and swinging at my side
Courage, and on the stones of this old town
Making the sharp truth ring, like golden spurs!

I can hear it now

When I was kid, back in the Middle Ages, we had the full set of 78 RPM records of Edward R. Murrow’s I Can Hear It Now. To some extent I credit him with inspiring in me a kind of virtual travel, or perhaps time travel is a better descriptor. Like many of the great radio artists, he excelled in what came to be known as Communications Arts.

There are many forms of human communication — let’s not underestimate the power of non-verbal or body language — but there is nothing that matches the unique and distinct individual human voice, with its tonality, modulations, rhythms, cadence, sweet sounds and sorrows, depth of feeling, and it’s infinite ability to convey meaning and meaningfulness through words.

Above all, the human voice is personality and persona.

An interconnected world

Like most of the world, I am addicted to email. In a way we are much like previous generations, the Victorians for example, for whom letters were vital and daily resources through which they remained connected to their world.

But as creative a medium as email can be, there still is nothing as fully human as the voice. And that is why I have always loved radio, as well as the 21st-century contemporary forms of that “wireless” Marconi medium. I am especially fond of Internet voice dialogues via technologies such as Skype.

Part of the reason that I still often prefer radio to other media is because of its imaginative powers. When you listen to radio, talk radio especially, you are not distracted nor seduced my visual imagery. You tend to be more focused and more engaged because you have to listen consciously.

The imaginative medium

Briefly stated, talk radio requires that you use your imagination and that you visualize. The human voice on the radio also stimulates the part of your brain that conceptualizes. Radio makes you think. I realize that radio is often used by people, and all kinds of social and commercial institutions, simply as background sound; but that’s not really radio in the communicative sense. More often than not, it’s just random sound. And sometimes I have grave doubts about a lot of print travel journalism I see (print or non-print); especially some of the hyperglossy inflight magazines in which the “destination pieces” are shills for the on-board products.

Radio arts

Radio is a relatively simple technology, given the communications technology we have seen evolve in the latter part of the 20th and the 21st centuries; but the art of radio is far from simple.

Anyone who has been the subject of a radio interview will tell you how difficult it can be to speak coherently and articulately while at the same time communicating a message that speaks to the issue. In this regard it is not unlike travel writing.

Although some radio interviewers come by the art naturally (a good set of pipes helps), the skills take time and experience to develop. Timing, rhythm, and sensing the person behind the voice of the interview subject are just some of the elements of good voice communication, especially on radio.

The ways and means of broadcasting the human voice may have proliferated in the digital world, but it is the human voice that remains the fundamental instrument for communicating thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

And in my view, radio is highly underestimated as a medium for travel journalism, especially in today’s world where text, images, and a host of hyperlinks can serve as handmaidens to an in-depth and content-rich radio interview.

To wit…

Online talk radio stations: something for everyone

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