One of the subjects I read at university was radio communication. I found it intriguing and beguiling that these ‘waves’ can exist all around us, even travelling through us, carrying information at the speed of light from somewhere far away to somewhere else equally far away.
A long-distance romance
Perhaps this fascination stems from an early age when my dad put an old valve radio in my bedroom and keenly tuned it to Radio Luxembourg. I’m unsure why because my childhood took place at least a decade after the original pirate radio era. In a darkened bedroom I could tune the dial of this radio not from frequency to frequency but from city to city: one stop on the dial was Paris, farther along were Berlin and Vienna. I could virtually and telescopically move my ears across Europe – and listen to rubbish pop music.
You just can’t keep a good radio wave down
I think what fascinates me most about radio is that unlike the modern internet, which carries entertainment, news, even secret communications via physical connections, radio carries them invisibly down streets, through buildings, over the countryside, sending them cascading over and around mountains, across the sea and even traversing continents. Not even the void of space can curtail radio – these waves can cut through the topsoil as it magnetically follows the earth’s curvature, or we can throw them into the upper atmosphere and bounce them along the ionosphere. It’s as if radio waves occupy another plane of existence which we can pierce with an antenna and listen to what spills out. As a five-year-old I may not have visited Berlin but thanks to radio waves I could listen to whatever Berliners were listening to, carried by an invisible wave moving at the speed of light across the Baltic Sea, then the North Sea, as if weather didn’t matter.
But in the age of the internet, who still tunes their way along a radio dial?
Which begs the question, where is the great cross-section of curiosity to be found on the internet? What is the internet version of a radio’s frequency dial?
A world without borders
The internet has given us a virtual world where distances no longer matter. The effect has been to remove borders and even separation-by-language and to instead group us by interest.
We still stand behind flags, even if these are no longer national flags.
So my candidate for the internet’s tuning dial is StackExchange.
StackExchange started back in 2008 with StackOverflow, a Q&A site for software developers which distinguished itself from a morass of other similar sites by introducing gamification – and who doesn’t like keeping score?
StackExchange has now spread to over 150 Q&A sites and for me, this is where you find the captivating cross-section of internet users’ curiosity.
An example which readers of this blog might appreciate comes from English Language Learners where Dragut asks
“Can “Nightmare” be seen?
I know what nightmare means, it is bad dream during sleeping. I would like know how we experience it. Do we see it, my sentence make sense?”
Of course, not everyone’s at the same level as Dragut. StackExchange also offers the more advanced English Language & Usage StackExchange where we find someone called NBZ asking
“How is y’all’dn’t’ve pronounced
According to Wikipedia, y’all’dn’t’ve is a valid contraction.”
These Q&A ‘exchanges’ aren’t restricted to languages: some of the more diverse sites cover the topics Genealogy & Family History, Gardening & Landscaping, Woodworking, Lego and, yes, there is a Biblical Hermeneutics site – current hot question: Where does Paul write that God is longsuffering?
Personally, I’d have hyphenated “longsuffering”, but this is the variety which spills forth in a world without borders, where someone can answer the most obscure of questions at any time of the day or night – regardless of the weather over the North Sea.
Image via wallpaper43.wordpress.com: Old Radio Dial (CC0)