Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Radio, Audience, and Exploration

John Dankosky, host of Where We Live, WNPR 90.5

Writing is lonely work. But it is not always solitary.  Despite the isolation that I sometimes feel pounding out text on my laptop, I work in the presence of an audience, or rather, a perceived audience. The perceived audience is a tough crowd usually, tougher than the real one. It is with me as I write this — sitting at the oak table at the Eastham Public Library– watching me.

My perceived audience is made up of three groups: academics who work on the same subject as me (I know their names and see their faces), academics who work in the same or overlapping disciplines (hazier) and everybody else: non-specialists who are interested in the Arctic, or exploration, or who typed in the wrong search term on Google.

In graduate school, I paid attention to the first two groups. In particular, I tried to interpret the reactions of the specialists. Nothing that I wrote, at that point, seemed likely to find its way into the hands of lay readers, so I didn’t trouble myself with them.

Mapping out a graduate essay was like planning a war game: anticipating threats and finding tactical responses. I became adept at different weapon systems. My arsenal included the obscure, the arcane, and the highly theoretical.

Planning papers in graduate school.

This has changed over the last decade as I have started writing and lecturing for a broader audience. The lay audience that once sat at the back of the room has edged closer to the front.  This is not simply because they make up a larger percentage of my readership.

It is because they ask the best questions.

For example, last week I was a guest on WNPR’s Where We Live show about exploration.  No one who produced or called in to the show was a specialist or an academic. Nor was the host, John Dankosky, an exploration expert (although he’s a whip-smart journalist).

In the studio

Yet the questions were tough and incisive. “At the beginning of the 21st century, what’s left to explore?” “Do Americans have a special relationship with exploration?”

Dankosky raised one of the best questions after the show was over.  “Why do politicians defend human space flight as a jobs program for engineers and astronauts? Aren’t these the windfalls of discovery rather than the heart? Would we defend money given to artists through National Endowments for the Arts as a great way to employ artists?

A very good question.

You can listen to the full show here.

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2 Comments»

  Thony C. wrote @

…non-specialists who are interested in the Arctic, or exploration, or who enjoy reading good writing.

  Michael Robinson wrote @

Thanks Thony!


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