Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Minds

Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Minds

Article excerpt

'Do you remember listening to the radio for the very first time?'

asked David Hendy at the beginning of his thought-provoking series of late-night essays on Radio 3 (which you should still be able to catch on Listen Again).

His question was not intended to conjure up memories like my own glimpse back to the draughty kitchen of the vicarage where I grew up when Uncle Mac announced on Children's Favourites my brother's request for 'Greensleeves'. But that moment when for the first time you became aware you were listening to an ethereal voice emanating from a man-made Bakelite box in the corner of the room. It's the moment when you crossed over and became truly one with the band of dedicated converts to the magic of radio;

when you finally succumbed to the mystery of wireless technology, to the realisation that your imagination has been taken over by someone sitting in a soundproof studio thousands of miles away (and if you're a young boy like Hendy twiddling the knobs to make ethereal connections with radio stations in Hilversum, Moscow, Tirana).

Hendy, in his five essays (produced by Matt Thompson and evocatively entitled 'The Ethereal Mind', 'The Cultivated Mind', 'The Anxious Mind', 'The Fallible Mind', 'The Superficial Mind'), has been probing the impact of the new technologies on our neural pathways. Did we change as thinking human beings once Marconi had sent his first message by wireless across the Atlantic in 1901? Was this a groundbreaking leap forward in Darwinian evolution? And are we witnessing another such extraordinary transformation with the invention of the internet?

Are we in fact rewiring our minds?

It's incredibly hard to think back to a world without Chris Evans, Sarah Walker and John Humphrys; to news that takes a week to reach us, and being able to hear only the music that we can make ourselves.

Were we any different then? What did the first listeners to the Home Service make of W.B. Yeats reading to them his poem, 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' as if he was sitting with them in the front parlour? Did the world suddenly become a less lonely place, a more rational and peaceful community, lulled into acquiescence by the strings of the Palm Court Orchestra and the harmonious melodies of Sing Something Simple?

The wireless revolution, argues Hendy, is as significant as Gutenberg and the development of mass printing. …

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