UNESCO, radio and the ‘second orality’ revolution

Storyteller in Marrakesh

The following blog first appeared on BOLDtexter Tim Stimpson’s website.

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by UNESCO’s Giulio Bajona for World Radio Day (13th February). It was for an article about the power and resilience of radio: how it can connect us to our past, help us understand the present, and even be a guide to the future. You can read the whole thing here.

I was particularly struck by the concept of the ‘second orality’ revolution. It posits that human civilisation began with a ‘first orality’ in which collective knowledge was spoken from generation to generation. This faded with the development of writing, larger populations, and a more individual idea of learning. But then came the ‘second orality’, when the invention of radio gave entire nations the ability to listen together.

It made me reflect on how what I do now is only a more sophisticated version of what our ancient ancestors used to do. It made me think of studying Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales at university and how they became so much more comprehensible when spoken; of standing in Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh listening to storytellers as they bewitched groups of young Moroccans with old legends of the desert; of being told how my Great-Grandfather would insist on the whole family gathering around the wireless to listen to The Archers, the show that I write for now.

Somehow it’s reassuring to know the one is part of a tradition that goes back millennia, that storytelling is essential to who we are as human beings, and surely always will be.

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