Time to unplug the human microphone

As the Balinese Monkey Chant beautifully demonstrates, timing is everything.

Without timing, we not only lose the ability to dance and make music, but we even impair our ability to speak.

The human microphone had its moment — but it was brief.

Once it passed from being an ingenious adaptation to a prohibition on the use of bullhorns in Ziccotti Park and then became an inflexible emblem of collectivity, it had outlived its usefulness.

Two days ago, Arundhati Roy addressed the People’s University at Judson Memorial Church in New York. The hall was electrically illuminated and, as one would expect in any church, had its own built-in sound system. The podium at which Roy stood had positions for electrically-powered microphones. Even so, in honor of what has quickly become a seemingly sacrosanct form, Roy had to conform to the dictates of the movement and slice her speech into the bite size portions that the human microphone requires.

Roy: Thank you Judson Church, and thank you all for being here.
Audience: Thank you Judson Church, and thank you all for being here.

Roy: Yesterday morning the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but —
Audience: Yesterday morning the police cleared Zuccotti Park…

Roy: but today the people are back.
Audience: but today the people are back.

Roy: The police should know that this protest…
Audience: The police should know that this protest…

Roy: is not a battle for territory.
Audience: is not a battle for territory.

Roy: We are not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there.
Audience: We are not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there.

Roy: We are fighting for justice.
Audience: We are fighting for justice.

Roy: Justice, not just for the people of the United States, but —
Audience: Justice, not just for the people of the United States…

Roy: but for everybody.
Audience: but for everybody.

Roy: What you have achieved since September 17…
Audience: What you have achieved since September 17…

Roy: when the Occupy movement began in the U.S…
Audience: when the Occupy movement began in the U.S…

Roy: is to introduce a new imagination…
Audience: is to introduce a new imagination…

Roy: a new political language…
Audience: a new political language…

Roy: into the heart of empire.
Audience: into the heart of empire.

Roy: You have reintroduced…
Audience: You have reintroduced…

Roy: the right to dream…
Audience: the right to dream…

Roy: in a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies…
Audience: in a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies…

Roy: mesmerised into equating mindless consumerism…
Audience: mesmerised into equating mindless consumerism…

Roy: with happiness and fulfilment.
Audience: with happiness and fulfilment.

Roy: As a writer, let me tell you…
Audience: As a writer, let me tell you…

Roy: this is an immense achievement.
Audience: this is an immense achievement.

Roy: And I cannot thank you enough.
Audience: And I cannot thank you enough.

And that was just the introduction.

Just imagine if 48 years ago Martin Luther King Jr had found himself in front of a human microphone stretching down the National Mall in Washington DC. He could have been amplified through the voices of 200,000 people.

But in such repetition, where would the musicality, the cadence, the passion and the perfect timing have been, as his words got squeezed through the mangle of the human microphone?

We each have our own voice and what we utter are much more than strings of words. Our words have rhythm, pitch, and volume as with our tongue and breath we fashion time and express feeling. A carefully chosen pause, a deeply drawn breath, a rising voice — these are not mere embellishments to our words but the very things that make our language human.

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Comments

  1. Is this for real??? I don’t doubt the vision, but is this implying where the human element is at? If this is so, then the present human race is doomed. Perhaps it’s a prelude to what the future holds!


  2. thank you – paul

    having heard this very bright, well informed woman speak
    the contrast drawn is all the more illustrative

    the wave system might work for simple jingo
    but not for more subtle, real communication

    yeah, it’s a jungle out there
    but not that kind