I Watched the World Cup on the Radio

Technology Is Shrinking the World. Is It Also Shrinking Our World Perspective?

August 12, 2014

Partner, NBBJ

@ryanjmullenix

A few weeks ago I listened to the World Cup final. On the radio. In Spanish. And I don’t speak Spanish. I couldn’t find the match on a local sports radio network or on the local news, and for ten minutes I scanned every AM and FM station for an English broadcast, but to no avail. So instead I listened to the enthusiastic announcers in Spanish, straining to discern terms like “pelota” and “Lee-oh-nell Mess-ee” — and of course waiting for that universal cry of “Gooaaallll!”

Later it struck me how revealing it was that the only radio station carrying this event did so in a language other than English. Here is a single event, held only every four years, that truly captures the world’s attention. It’s estimated that more than a billion people tuned in to catch at least a few minutes of the match, a size almost equivalent to the entire population of North and South America combined. The game was being played by a Spanish-speaking country on a continent where Spanish is a major language. I was quickly reminded, by sharing the experience with such a large population on their own terms, how skewed our tiny, often self-centered perspective of the world can be.

What’s more, listening to the radio made me reconsider the role technology plays in our lives.

Does convenience trump experience?

Technology is so incredibly adaptive, geared towards heightening a user’s experience. I too enjoy the “seek-and-be-rewarded” approach of uncovering the hidden attributes of games on everything from an iPhone to an Xbox. However, I get frustrated when such attributes are too buried. There is an almost Pavlovian expectation that discoveries should be convenient, that they should occur within certain time frames, and if they do not, there must be a glitch in the system. Fortunately my exposure to the World Cup wasn’t guided by convenience, and as an outcome, I not only heard the game, I experienced it.

Germany-Soccer_1505x663“Alemania! Alemania!” (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

In closing the information gap, is technology increasing social inequity?

Even with 50 radio stations at my fingertips, I still couldn’t find the match through the simplest — and perhaps cheapest — means. Many Americans were certainly able to catch it on their big screens or in the local sports bar. Yet a bigger question loomed. What about those who can’t afford a television or the expensive cable contract that usually accompanies it? Fortunately, in our country’s shifting demographics, a growing population did have access to the game in a language they fully understood. As a key tenet of technology, access to information is the objective. However, for global equity, mere access itself is imperative.

As the match played on, I felt a sense of camaraderie, an invitation to participate even if I couldn’t entirely understand. All 1 billion of us had access, regardless of ethnicity, race or class. Technology can a wonderful enabler to understand, communicate and address a great spectrum of world issues. Empathy guides us to ensure we are doing it together.

Does technology make us curious enough? In a world of increasing familiarity, does it provide enough wonderment?

Although I was limited to hearing the game, I saw how well the power of sound, not image, can turn the wheels of both imagination and reminiscence. In my mind, a faster-than-life match with super-human athletes played out. And then it recalled for me, as a 7-year-old, listening to baseball with my grandfather. This didn’t come instantly, but rather after I finally ceded control to the “scan” button and allowed myself to let go.

So, who had the best perspective of the game? Even without my dominant sense guiding me, perhaps I did. A barely understandable event — in a sport that isn’t my favorite — did as much to fill my senses as a walk in the park, and through one of our oldest technologies (thank you Nikola Tesla). How did I know when the game was over? Easy. The boisterous repeat of Alemania! Alemania! was a simple yet beautiful cue. And I didn’t even need Google Translate — my French helped me with that one.

Banner image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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