(AA) ++ It's Good to Talk

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Mon, 19 Aug 1996 21:19:16 +0200

FREEDOM 17th August 1996

Extract from FREEDOM (Anarchist fortnightly)
sample edition of FREEDOM available from:

In Angel Alley
84b, Whitechapel High St.,
E1 7QX

The basic element of all human
communication, indeed of human 'progress',
is language and the spoken word. It is the
means by which individuals, families, social
groups and whole societies pass on their culture
and experiences. Yet today the spoken word
in its original 'face to face' setting has been
eclipsed by the development of first the written
word, then the printed word, subsequently the
mass media of radio and television and now
computerised communication via modems,
e-mail and the Internet.
One hundred years ago the political and
economic elites did enjoy enormous
advantages in the means of communication
available to them. They had the support of
mass-circulation daily papers, of the
established Church and of the machinery of
government both local and national. Despite
this there was then less of a gap between their
means of communication and the political
parties, groups and critics who opposed them
than there is today. There was still a culture of
reading, of attending public meetings and of
listening to factory gate and street corner
soap-box speakers of which today Hyde Park
Corner on a Sunday is but a sad remnant.
Political parties and groups of the left could
still rely on the political paper, pamphlet and
public meeting as an ef`fective way of reaching
ordinary people with their ideas and of
communicating to significant numbers of people.
John Quail in his book The Slow Burning Fuse
relates how anarchists attending a
demonstration in London during the 1890s
were able to distribute l00,000 copies of a
leaflet to the people present that day.
Today anarchists are attempting to break out
of the communications ghetto of small-
circulation newspapers, journals and book
production. Anarchists are attempting to
communicate more effectively to bring
anarchist ideas before a wider puhlic. Thcy are
doing this through the use of` local, regional,
national and international publications, by
involvement in community and pirate radio,
and even, in a few examples, by anarchist
radio and tele-video productions. Freedom
now has a home page on the Internet, and Kick
It Over, the Canadian anarchist journal, is
available via e-mail. Therefore the latest
edition of The Raven on Communication (2)
'The Net', edited by Neil Birrell, is a timely
contribution to the debate on how we can most
effectively communicate, both with each
other and with the wider world. Birrell has put
together an interesting compilation of articles,
some short, some lengthy, concentrating on
the debate between the technophile and
teehnophobe viewpoints. This is a debate
currently much in vogue. Recently in the after-
math of the arrest of the USA's Unabomber,
both BBC2 and Channel 4 carried documenta-
ries about the neo-luddite Unabomer's actions
and manifesto. On the Channel 4 programme
American anarchist and self-proclaimed
luddite Kirkpatriek Sale was seen smashing a
eomputer with a sledgehammer. This edition
of The Raven attempts to address the 'pro' and
'anti' positions in the information technology
debate in a more balanced manner. As the
editorial states: "The meaning of technology
is more and more contested in radical
movements. The arehetypal positions are
those of technophilia and technophobia ... It
seems that an understanding of technology
must draw from the best elements of both
tendencies whilst rejecting the black and white
opposition they each pose. This 'zine collects
together four articles whieh fall in the middle
ground where most of us choose to live ..."

There are, in fact, fifteen articles in all,
ranging from the fiercely polemical
denuncialion of Cyber-Slavery by The
Anarchist Media Institute, to longer pieces
such as Karl Young' s interesting essay
'Disturbing History'. This looks at the history
of communication, firstly in the development
of written communications noting how the
early usage and evolution of writing moved
from a communal and colleetive form with
reading aloud in groups to a more
individualistie and personal form involving
reading silently. He argues that this expansion
of individual reading, by creating a potential
market, paved the way for the later rapid
spread and success of the printed word with
the invention of the printing press. Perhaps
this is comparable with the way the 'big
screen' of the cinema paved the way for the
success of the small screen of the television.
Young goes on to argue that the mass
acceptance of the television made the subse-
quent adaptation to computer-based work and
computer-based communications that much
easier. Young also looks ahead to the
computer-based technologies which may one
day largely replace the printed word of book
and newspaper. This is not just a matter of
CD-ROMs, but includes electronic display
devices much the same size and shape as a
book, but capable of varying the work
displayed, size of type, etc. All very futuristic,
but as the character Shevek in Ursula K. Le
Guin's Dispossessed said when commenting
on the use of a new form of communication:
"What will you say'?"
Pehaps Birrell should have widened the
scope of this edition when covering the
technology of communication to include the
obsolete which is still in daily use'? Despite all
the above technical progress, therc are still
groups in this countly, such as the British
Printing Society, who keep alive the craft of
letterpress printing, who have several
thousand member enthusiasts and who
maintain, restore and use various flat-bed
platen and rotary letterpresses to produce
pamphlets, books and commercial work.
One aspect of desk top publishing, word
processing and computer tcxt processing
many people are unaware of is that
terminology from the letterpress days is still
in use. Many of the type fonts are the same;
there is still use of the old 'point' sizes of
typeface even when setting text on a desk top
publishing computer screcn. The technology
may have moved on, but it has taken some of
the old expressions and jargon with it. This has
happened in other areas of technical progress,
and is one of the mechanisms which help
humans adapt to changc.

The articles about Radio Contrabanda and
the Paris-based Radio Libertaire make
hopel`ul reading. Where else in the world can
anarchists reach 30,000 people on a daily basis,
with news, politics, culture, anarchist ideas
and discussion? One million people are aware
of Radio Libertaire's existence. Anarchists in
this country should follow their example. The
degree of organisation is impressive and
involves eighty teams of workers producing
programmes for a radio station which in
twelve years of operation has now put out
100,000 hours of broadcasting. Other articles
discussing radio included 'A. Presenter's'
account of problems of local elites censoring
programme content in local radio.
In his article on radio Joseph Toscano related
his view of the Australian radio scene and the
'hate jocks' who have promoted a far-right
political agenda, much the same as the
'talk-radio' presenters in America. He also
offers some ideas on how to use local radio for
anarchist purposes.
One important omission from this edition of
The Raven is the work of The Great Atlantic
Radio Conspiracy, the American-based group
who have produced many programmes on
anarchist themes for American community
radio and whose taped programmes have been
widely available.
However, Birrell does include an article by
Gary Moffat which was first publishcd in Kick
it Over, whose title, 'The More Information
the Less Knowledge ' reveals Moffat' s
position in the technophile-technophobe
debate. His essay, though, is a useful reminder
that while information technologies convey
information, they do not necessarily teach the
ability to acquire knowledge. To quote
Moffat: "Computers have mesmerised a lot of
people, palticularly young people, and many
who wouldn't be caught dead reading a book
spend hours daily in front of` their computer
screens ... Computers are great in making facts
available, but do little or nothing to provide
the experience, creativity and imagination
needed by our intellects in order to assin1ilate
knowledge". This is an intercsting edition of
The Raven and, to use some plain English, buy
it and read it.=20

Jonathan Simcock

The Raven 32 on Communication (2) - The 'Net'
Freedom Press, 96 pages, =A33.00 (available post-free