Who Needs Information?

Radio KAOS

Pink Floyd has been with me all my life. My dad was listening to “Animals” when I was born. In the first 17 years of my life, I was involuntarily introduced to all of their other albums. Ever since they helped be overcome the worst moments of homesickness in the U.S. at the age of 18 – in particular “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” – I have started to discover them for myself. Much to the liking of my dad, of course. When I asked last.fm to play me some Pink Floyd-like music the other day, it came up with “Who Needs Information?” by Roger Waters, a solo piece by one of the band members. Listening more closely, I thought it provides a very interesting perspective on communication – and the ever so timely warning that more information won’t solve all the world’s problems.

“Who Needs Information?” was part of Roger Waters’ solo album “Radio KAOS”, recorded in 1987. Much like other works by Waters, it’s a critique of capitalism, cold war imperialism, Reagan, Thatcher, and everything else that made life miserable for the average citizen or worker of those days. Wikipedia has it that the album was dedicated “to all those who find themselves at the violent end of monetarism.”

What’s the story?

The story Waters tells throughout the album is centered very much on communication. The main character is Billy, who’s sitting in a wheelchair. His brother Benny has lost his job as a miner and ends up in jail. Being able to receive radio waves with his brain, Billy starts playing with a cordless phone (1987!), which allows him to hack into all sorts of electronic receivers. The grand finale is that Billy takes control of a military satellite and threatens to destroy the world. Of course, he calls off the explosion in the very last minute, leading all of mankind to realize how silly war and human exploitation are.

Communication plays a very ambivalent role in this. On the one hand, there’s the mass media. Like on many Pink Floyd albums, Waters mixes in samples from television programs, which seem childish and deceptive against the solemn, tragic sounds of the music. Mass media for Waters are part of the problem because they spread fear and hatred, acting on behalf of evil political leaders.

On the other hand, communication seems to be the solution for Waters. Billy has the power to reach out to everybody, to spread his message. But unlike the evil people in charge of mass media, he uses the power of communication in order to save the world. However, he does so based on a making everybody believe that they’re about to die. I’m not sure if that’s ethically acceptable.

All of this is a great example of the ambivalent nature of communication power. Standing on the left of the political spectrum, Waters heavily criticizes mass media and their evil influences on people. But it’s not mass communication itself that he seems to despise. It’s the content spread by the political right. If it was the “right” messages flowing across the airwaves (and today’s fiber optic cables), Waters would be okay with it. But what those “right” messages are depends heavily on ideology.

Who cares?

As I said, I came across this album when last.fm suggested “Who Needs Information?” to me. It’s a great song because it puts into perspective the whole discussion about how important information, access to communication, or lately access to the Internet is. In my interpretation of the lyrics, the song says “If my life is shit, I don’t care about what’s going on out there. Just tell me that things will be alright, that I don’t lose my job, that I can be happy again. I don’t need all this information.”

Who needs information
This high off the ground
Just give me confirmation
We could win a million pounds

Who needs information
When you’re living in constant fear
Just give me confirmation
There’s some way out of here
Some way out of here

One response to “Who Needs Information?

  1. Loved this album, it was the summer of KAOS vs Momentary Lapse (well, fall really). Alwayas enjoyed this album.

    There were a few extra bsides that didn’t make onto the album. “Going to Live in LA”, and “Get Back to Radio”. See if you can dig ’em up.

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