Last week, I wrote about “All the Minutes”, an online installation created back in 2014 by Amsterdam-based graphic designer and computer programmer Jonathan Puckey that offered a fascinating way to feel connected with the rest of humanity as we all hunker down in our homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Two years later, though, Puckey came up with an even more dazzling creation that accomplishes the same feat in a radically different way.
Behold Radio Garden.
If “All the Minutes” suggested a social-media-based attempt to universalize our daily lives by doing away with geographical borders, “Radio Garden” goes the opposite direction. Created by Puckey and the interactive design studio Moniker, the installation is the result of a commission from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision to supplement a research project named Transnational Radio Encounters. For this creation, users logging onto the website encounter a 3D virtual globe that they can spin, using their mouses or laptop trackpads to zero in on particular areas of the world…and tune into their local radio stations.
The appeal of such a website amid this global pandemic is obvious—here’s a way to travel the world without having to leave our homes. This is surely one way to fulfill the inherent promise of the World Wide Web to give us all an opportunity to check out faraway lands virtually. And by concentrating about 8,000 radio streams into one handy interactive site, Puckey’s creation certainly cuts out the extra steps one might need to Google a city’s local radio stations and hunt them down themselves.
But the beauty of “Radio Garden” runs even deeper than the surface touristic attractions. Here, borders of time and geography do matter—we’re tuning into these stations as they’re broadcasting live in their local time. By inviting us to listen in on these radio broadcasts, however, Puckey is giving listeners all over the world the opportunity to break down such barriers in our own minds, offering us windows into life in areas far away from ours. Judging by how many foreign nations host radio stations that feature either English-language news broadcasts or English-language pop and rock music, one is also reminded of how some forms of communication naturally transcend borders.
Such openness to unfamiliar cultures that “Radio Garden” encourages in receptive users is crucial during a time when some of our political leaders are hellbent on emphasizing cultural divides, encouraging xenophobia under the guise of nationalism and protectionism. To be sure, eavesdropping on another country’s radio stations is hardly the same as visiting that country in person and getting to know it intimately. At the very least, though, Puckey’s installation allows us to gather some ideas of what to look forward to when we’re finally able to get out and travel again.
Not that Puckey himself necessarily sees his own astonishing project in a political light. “It’s not a political statement,” he said to The Guardian back in 2016. “But it can be used as a tool to start these kinds of discussions.” Here’s hoping these discussions will continue once the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over.