Terrascope Radio

Here we feature the work of first-year students – these are the final pieces produced over a semester for subject SP.360 – Terrascope Radio.

May 2022 Things Moving, People Doing

Image credit: Tova Kleiner ’24


Somehow the things we need get from “there” to here, but it’s not just about the things; *people* make the global supply chain work. Here are stories of some of them, from a sea captain whose first working voyage had his knees knocking, to pedal-powered trash haulers, to residents of a tiny city at the nexus of multiple supply routes.
First Aired: May 9, 2022

Transcript

[curious music]

 

Lauren Shrack: Where did your house come from? Unless you live in a tree, it probably didn’t just sprout from the ground. Unless you live in a log cabin in the woods, the materials probably weren’t there to begin with. And unless you live right next to the manufacturer for every single material you need for a house, they probably traveled for a long distance to get to you. So, how did they get there?

 

Quash Hopkins: “Your entire house that you live in, came on a truck. All the brick, all the block, all the cement, all of the plywood, all the shingles, all the siding, came on the back of a truck.”

 

[music fades out]

 

Lauren: That’s Quash Hopkins, a truck driver who operates locally in Massachusetts. And it’s not just your house that comes on a truck.

 

[quirky music]

 

Quash: “Everything that we have in society, unless you live close to a processing plant, comes on a truck. I just delivered fish, now I’ve just picked up a load of Starbucks Coffee. Picked up ice cream, pizza rolls, your toothpaste, your toilet paper, your playstation 5’s, your laptops, your favorite sneakers…”

 

[music fades out]

 

Lauren: The supply chain is so ingrained in our lives that we barely even think about it. But if you take the time to look a little closer, you realize that there’s a lot more to it than things getting to where they need to be.

 

[Americana-folk music]

 

Lauren: Today we’re popping open the hood of the supply chain, and taking a close look at individual stories of people whose lives are affected by it.

 

[transition music]

 

Sarah Hernandez: Imagine a big, burly sea captain. You wouldn’t expect him to be scared of anything right? Turns out, even he has experiences that shiver his timbers. So this captain devotes his life to teaching students to be confident, and competent, out at sea, so that they don’t face the same fear.  Let’s hear from Malachi Macon.

 

[transition music fades out]

 

Malachi Macon: Captain David Mackey, a veteran maritime officer, had a … nerve-wracking first job experience on a ship. I mean, while talking to a conference room full of college students,  Captain Mackey said that…well, I think it’s better if he tells the story.

 

Captain David Mackey: “I was 22, on a thousand foot long natural gas carrier, coming out of school and left out of going through the greek isles over there. I flew over to greece, got on the ship, Captain said ‘ok, fixes every 15 minutes I’ll be in my room if you need me’, and I was like, I looked around and I had a helmsman, who was my Dad’s age, and it was me! Y’know those knees were knocking but I’m like ‘but I gotta do it!’. So, yeah I was pretty scared to put it blunt… But, you learn quickly.”

 

Malachi: Nowadays, Captain Mackey teaches at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, guiding its cadets into a future career in maritime shipping. Cadets have to go through a lot of training at the Academy before graduation, and part of their training involves a ship simulator. But not like one that’s just on a computer, it’s a full room sized ship simulator.

 

[low whirring and beeping sounds]

 

Malachi: You walk in and the walls are all one big screen, showing a digital version of the world, as seen from the bridge of a cargo ship. Under the low red lights, you see a multitude of replicated instruments and panels in front of you. Things like a compass, electronic navigation and depth charts, and so much more. And with a change of a few settings, the virtual ship appears to pitch up and down, as it moves through the waves of the ocean, and you lean with it as if you were there.

 

[beeping stops]

 

Captain Mackey: “This’ll be a capstone course, where they can use all their navigation skills. They learn each one of these pieces of equipment independently and now they can put all that together, and we can allow the cadets to make errors…”

 

Malachi: …that way, cadets can be as prepared as possible for the real world. Now, of course there’ll be some things that they weren’t expecting to happen. For example, in the ship simulator, Captain Mackey explains…

 

[beeping resumes]

 

Captain Mackey: “The first time on a thousand foot long ship, to watch the wave hit the bow, and literally be able to watch the wave come under the ship and the ship undulate underneath it. I’m going ‘holy cow! I thought this was made out of metal.’ Well metal bends, right?”

 

[beeping stops]

 

Malachi: But, if they ever find themselves in a situation like that, then they’ll know what to do.

 

Captain Mackey: “So their knees aren’t knockin like mine were, the first time I got up here and the captain went down below and said ‘call me if you need me’. Yeah, ‘I need ya! There’s a ship out there, I need ya!’ No. We’re expected to be able to handle the job.”

 

Malachi: And as Captain Mackey said back in the conference room,  they are certainly able to get the job done.

 

Captain Mackey: “These guys are workers, these guys are intelligent, they’re educated, they’re trained, but they know how to work. They really know how to go to it.”

 

[transition music]

 

Sarah: For our next story, Tova Kleiner will tell you about a group of people who have found a creative way to haul trash. Here’s how they become intimately familiar with the waste they collect, and their neighbors because of it.

 

[transition music fades out]

 

Tova Kleiner: Every Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning, you might hear the sighing of the garbage trucks inching up and down your street, the beeping as they back up, and the loud rumbling of their engines. But in Northampton, Massachusetts, trash pick up day looks a little different. It looks like a trailer on the back of a bike.

 

[classical music]

 

Ruthy Woodring: “You know, I’d describe to people what we were doing and they’d be like ‘noo, you can’t do that, you can’t haul trash on a bike!’. I’m like ‘well, we are!’”

 

Tova: Ruthy Woodring is one of the co-founders of Pedal People, a bike-powered trash-hauling co-op. We met her and her fellow haulers in a school parking lot, right across from the waste transfer center where haulers drop off their loads. They brought out one of their bikes and trailers to show us, skeptical as we were, that it is indeed possible to move trash by bike.

 

[bike and trailer sounds, music fades out]

 

Tova: In Northampton, there are no municipal waste collection services, so pedal people are in high demand.

 

 

Ruthy: “We pickup for over a thousand households and businesses, and we’re the biggest local hauler…”

 

Tova: Unlike other types of hauling, working on a bike allows Pedal People to closely observe all of the stuff they pick up. And there’s nothing more personal than someone’s garbage.

 

Tova: “Do you like, make perceptions of people based on their trash?”

 

Ruthy: “Oh yeah. And sometimes it’s really wrong, but sometimes you make perceptions of people not based on their trash, and then you see their trash and you see that things don’t match up that way either, based on professed values. It’s good practice to not be judgemental.”

 

[lighthearted music]

 

Tova: Yet, it also offers a strangely touching and humorous way for Ruthy to get to know her neighbors.

 

Ruthy: “I had a customer that had a baby and they were very excited they had a baby, and I was like ‘ugh, diapers’. And so, every week I’d come to pick up and they had 30 pounds of diapers or something like that, and then I picked up for like two and a half years, and after a couple of years it gradually sort of tapered off and I was like ‘yes! I outlasted that baby!’ – and they had another baby.”

 

Tova: It’s the personal connections and impacts that motivate Pedal People to keep doing what they do. Sure, it’s better for the environment.

 

Ruthy: “I really want to walk gently on the Earth.”

 

Tova: Sure, they can make a few bucks.

 

Ruthy: “Can we really make a living? A lot of people think that we’re volunteers. We’re like ‘no’. This is hard work, I would not volunteer.”

 

Tova: And sure, they can pursue their cycling dreams.

 

Ruthy: “Actually I wanted to be a professional athlete when I was younger. But they say that the average career span of a professional male basketball player is like 6 years. And I’ve been doing Pedal People for 20. So I got my dream!”

 

[music fades out]

 

Tova: But what ultimately keeps them pedaling is their commitment to the Northampton community, and their love for what they do.

 

Ruthy: “We get a lot of support. You know you’ve made it when the little kids are dressing up for halloween like a Pedal Person.”

 

Tova: Pedal People are the trash-hauling heroes of Northampton, and this is their theme song.

 

Ruthy, singing: “I saw it sittin’ there on the side of the street. I could tell it must have been there about three weeks. The wind was smelling strong, like something good and gone. But, I knew it wouldn’t be long, ‘cause it was with me. Yeah, me! Singing’ I love hauling trash! Put another bag on my trailer baby! I love hauling trash! Never gonna stop, ‘cause it never ends!”    

 

[applause]      

 

[transition music]

 

Sarah: Have you ever gone someplace that looks completely ordinary on the outside, but is completely not ordinary on the inside? Deepta Gupta has.

 

[transition music fades out]

 

Deepta Gupta: These are the sounds of a wholesale flower market in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on a Tuesday mid-morning. From the outside, it’s your typical tall gray, metal, and concrete warehouse, surrounded by an ordinary looking parking lot. But inside, it’s a different world.

 

[groovy music]

 

Deepta: Flowers fill the space, in every color, shape, size and texture you can imagine, their lush scent tickling our noses. The voices of different vendors echo, describing what’s coming in, what’s going out, who’s ordering, and the sounds of frantic phone calls overlap with carts rolling, stems being snipped, and wrapping paper crinkling. Watching the whole warehouse move to take in and send out flowers, we become curious. What turns an ordinary warehouse into a colorful market, bustling with life?

Deepta: We long to understand more about the people who keep it going, so we start talking to them. One person we meet is Paula Parziale, who says she’s the first woman wholesaler in the area, maybe New England. Everyone seems to know who she is, and she’s in high demand. She’s quick on her feet, and it’s like she knows every little detail of the supply chain, to the hour and minute things will get here.

 

[music fades out]

 

Paula Parziale: “If things got here on time, that would make all the difference in the world. We always get a big delivery on Saturday morning, it doesn’t even come until sunday sometimes, sometimes Monday now! And half of that would’ve been sold on Saturday and Sunday. Now it shows up Monday and it’s not sold. So it just backs everything up in here, and more to dump and less to sell and missed sales…”

 

Deepta: But even when there’s delays and issues, Paula knows exactly how to get what, from where, and when.

 

Paula: “A lot of things are available worldwide different times of the year. So, Peony for instance. Everybody thinks that Peony’s in the spring. But we can get them in the winter now from New Zealand or from Chile…”

 

Deepta: And she makes sure to do so, for her customers.

 

Paula: “So if you have a bride or something that has their heart set on something that is not available that time of year, it is available, somewhere. So it’s very confusing for people. They’ll be like ‘Can I get…’ and, yeah you can! It’s crazy but it’s great!”

 

Deepta: Although Paula might be able to get any flower whenever she needs it, she still takes care with what flower she stocks.

 

Tova Kleiner: “What’s your favorite flower in here?”

 

[music fades back in]

 

Paula: “I couldn’t tell you. The ones that sell! There are flowers that I actually personally do not like, and I will not even bring them here. It’s kinda strange, but it’s personal too. It’s like my house in here everyday all day so I have to like everything.”

 

[confident music]

 

Deepta: Next, we talk to John Williams, another flower wholesaler. He’s chopping stems of flowers when we approach, and he seems quite lively. John Williams is someone who thrives in the hustle and bustle of the flower market.

 

John Williams: “Come on a wednesday morning at five o’clock, and you’ll see this place jumpin’. I wouldn’t even have time to talk to you, believe it or not. We don’t even have time to eat lunch some days. It’s a really intense business, it’s pretty cool, I like it.”

 

Deepta: For John, when the business is booming, he’s a happy camper.

 

John: “People being born, people being married, people dying… It’s kind of a crazy business, I love it. Hah, I love it!”

 

Deepta: John doesn’t just love his job. He takes pride and ownership in what he does.

 

John: “You tell your friends you work in a flower shop. ‘Oh how’s that little flower shop doing?’ And you say ‘Yeah, come pick some flowers up for your girlfriend.’ They walk in, they’re like ‘Oh My God!’. There you go buddy, that’s my ‘little flower shop’.”

 

Deepta: We leave the warehouse energized, feeling as if we were let into a secret garden. A vibrant little corner that we hadn’t known existed. So much passes through here. So many flowers touched everyday by the people who work here, and who shared their stories with us.

 

[transition music]

 

Sarah: The New England Flower Exchange is just one of the many transportation hubs in Chelsea Mustafa Al-Obaidi tells us about what it’s like for Chelsea residents to have so much stuff, moving through their city.

 

[transition music fades out]

 

[brief background conversation]

 

Mustafa Al-Obaidi: We are in Port Park in Chelsea, and next to us are piles upon piles of salt, destined for roads all across eastern New England.

 

Karl Allen: “Welcome to Chelsea, it’s a pleasure to have you all here. My name is Karl Allen, I’m a planner with the city of Chelsea. So, Chelsea is the smallest city in Massachusetts. It’s somewhere around 2 square miles. Buy and large, the community views itself as a blue collar, immigrant community.”

 

[sounds of cars driving by on a road]

 

Mustafa: Despite being the smallest city in Massachusetts, many of the products that serve the New England area are housed here. From the New England Produce Market that feeds 9 million people every day, to the flower market where trucks come in daily from all over the country. From a substation that transforms electric power for the local area, to tankers that carry petroleum products through Chelsea Creek so often that they have come up with a special name for the tankers.

 

Karl: “There’s a special class of tanker, called the Chelsea Class. Purpose-built, to fit through this channel.”

 

Mustafa: We spent an entire day visiting some places that products go through, all within a few minutes drive from one another. But what we didn’t see firsthand, was that within these two square miles, there are 40 to 50,000 residents building their lives. How does all of this affect them?

 

Mustafa: Karl takes us a few blocks down to Greenroots Chelsea, a local community-based organization dedicated to protecting the local environment and public health. Maria Belen Power, Associative Executive Director of Greenroots, tells us the impact that the emissions from freight traffic has on the residents.

 

Maria Belen Power: “Then again, no surprise that we have large public health concerns. One of the largest rates of childhood asthma hospitalization, and also concerns around heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and just other respiratory problems.”

 

Mustafa: John Walkey, Director of Waterfront and Climate Justice Initiatives, tells us how the things other communities get to enjoy are covered in the footprints of transportation in Chelsea.

 

John Walkey: “We were doing a slide presentation, with some slides that show pictures of nasty industrial stuff in Chelsea Creek, and then pictures of like the Charles River and the Esplinod. And go back and forth and say like ‘Why does one community like Cambridge and the Back Bay get this beautiful recreational asset, and then we get this bull$*@# all up and down the creek?’”

 

Mustafa: Chelsea has been carrying much of the burdens of the New England area upon its shoulders, at extreme cost to its residents. But GreenRoots’ role is to stand up for its surrounding community, and fight for improvements in Chelsea. The trucks at the produce center were a source of concern for residents.

 

Karl: “You see these tractor trailers that were pulled up, kind of tight to the loading bays, and they were using that surplus refrigeration and in order to keep them cold, they were running diesel engines 24 hours a day. And so, what the people at Greenroots did is worked with them, got some grants and replaced the diesel engines with electric engines.”

 

John: “So, getting that pulled offline was like thousands of pounds of pollutants taken out of the air every year.”

 

Mustafa: But it’s not always the case that Greenroots has resounding victories. For example, Eastern Minerals, the company that distributes salt, was not required to cover its salt piles.

 

 

Maria: “We actually fought Eastern Minerals, and lost that battle. There were residents that were complaining about the salt pile not being covered, but Eastern really felt that that was too costly; too expensive for them to cover it up. So, we lost the battle, but there was some small victories, where they are now investing in the community, in a way where they didn’t before. And so, Port Park, the park that you guys were at before, is one of those examples.”

 

[reflective music]

 

Mustafa: When they win, it’s hard earned. And when they concede, it’s done strategically. And while there are never perfect solutions, and there’s always more to do, through the work of Karl, Maria, John, and others, Chelsea and its residents have a spot at the bargaining table.

 

[music fades out]

 

Lauren: Now that we’ve heard from people from so many sides of the transportation industry, do you still remember Quash Hopkins, the truck driver we met at the very beginning? Hopkins told us all about the goods he moves from place to place. But who is Hopkins, and why does he do what he does?

 

Quash Hopkins: “I love knowing that the job that I do, it helps other people. I’m bringing essential products to people, I’m bringing people their soap, their food… That makes me feel good. As a Dad also, being a provider is kinda what I do, so it kinda fits within that role that I fill.”

 

Lauren: Hopkins wishes that more people were aware of just how important truck drivers are to our society, and gave them the respect that they deserve.

 

Quash: “Just understand that there’s people behind the wheels, and that we do this not only for our own lives, but for yours too. So, if you have a chance, thank a trucker.”

 

[reflective music]

 

Lauren: Truck drivers like Hopkins, along with everyone else we met along the way, ensure that virtually everything we have in society, gets to where it needs to be. But, much more than the goods they transport, the people who work in and around transportation live fascinating and complex lives. It’s easy to forget, but behind every product you encounter, there are dozens of stories. The stories of the people who worked to get it there. And at the end of the day, it’s not just about the things moving around, it’s also about the people, every step of the way.

 

[groovy music]

 

 

 

Gabriel Rodriguez-Castillo: This piece was produced by Terrascope Radio, a class in the MIT Terrascope Program, which is a first year undergraduate learning community, focused on solving complex environmental problems. Terrascope Radio was developed in collaboration with MIT’s program in comparative media studies. We would like to thank everyone involved in this project. Great thank you to:

 

All of the people we spoke to, for sharing their lives and knowledge with us.

 

Our instructor Ari Epstein and our undergraduate teaching fellow Katherine LiYue Pan for ongoing support and guidance throughout this class.

 

Professor David McGee, for directing Terrascope as a whole.

 

Elise Chambers, Joan ??Silverlict ??-Epstein and Joel Grimm, and Libby Hsu, for their contributions to the terrascope community, and for making our spring break trip possible.

 

Music from blue dot sessions.

 

 

 

Gabriel: This piece was brought to you by Terrascope Radio 2022: Tova Kleiner,

 

Tova: “We interviewed a plant. It went well”

 

Gabriel: Sarah Hernandez,

 

Sarah: “This is brown basmati rice. Gourmet, and organic.”

 

Gabriel: Deepta Gupta, and Athena Wang,

 

Deepta: “You can always find life.”

 

Athena: “You just have to chew a little bit to find it.”

 

Gabriel: Lauren Shrack,

 

Lauren: “I derive deep fulfillment from all forms of destruction.”

 

Gabriel: Jaden Anderson,

 

Jaden: “It’s Monday, and there was Tuesday, and like Wednesday too but, [indistinct] really different days.”

 

Gabriel: Kai Van Brunt,

 

Kai: “UWU”

 

Gabriel: Mustafa Al-Obaidi, and Gabriel Rodriguez-Castillo,

 

Mustafa: “You are the flower of my life.”

 

Gabriel: “I am the flower of your life? Ooo.”

 

Gabriel: Eldar Urkumbayev,

 

Eldar: “But it’s valid.”

 

Gabriel: Richard Chen,

 

Richard: “Well let me tell you a story ‘bout a man named Charlie on a tragic, and fateful day…”

 

Gabriel: Malachi Macon.

 

Malachi: “It smells like fish over here!”

 

Gabriel: Thank you for listening.

 

[music ends]

 

How to spell this?

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Jun 2021 Climate Poetry

Photo credit: Sydney Kim

 

A collective meditation on climate change and the fear, responsibility, and hope associated with it.

Music from Blue Dot Sessions.

First Aired: June 16, 2021

Transcript

Daniela Vallejo: The first time that I ever heard about sustainability as a concept at all was through Bill Nye. 

[Student cover of the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” theme song] 

Daniela: He taught me about global warming and the greenhouse gas effect at the tender age of seven. And at the time, it seemed like we were on track to fix everything. It seemed like “wow, we’re working on this issue, and it’ll totally be fixed by the time I’m an adult.”

[“Bill Nye” fades out] 

Daniela: And here we are. 

[ominous music]
 
Mahaam Desai: Climate change. 

Cher Jiang: Climate change. 

Joy Domingo-Kameenui: Climate change. 

[rainforest animal sounds]

Daniela: I think of the Amazon. 

Cher: Biodiversity. 

Mahaam: I think of butterflies and grass. 

Joy: Climate change. 
 
Mikayla Britsch: An inconvenient truth. Al Gore up on that stage. 

Cher: It’s easy to feel that existential threat when you think about…

[overlapping voices]

Joy: ...biodiversity. 

Cher: ...species going extinct. 

Mahaam: ...climate change. 

[ocean waves crashing]
Daniela: ...the ocean acidifying.
 
Mahaam: ...the fires. 

Daniela: ...the corals bleaching. 

Cher: ...how that affects human health as well. 

Mahaam: ...climate change. 

Daniela: ...the degradation of ecosystems. 

Cher: ...threatening to wipe out entire cities. 

Joy: ...climate change. 

[complete silence]

[ominous music resumes]

Mahaam: I actually think of my house, and I think of a lot of the dry grass, and the fire that burned through my neighborhood. 

[crackling of a blazing fire]

Daniela: I just think of-- I don’t know, the world is so beautiful, and it’s truly tragic to think about all the beauty that will disappear. 

Joy: It’s sad that we don’t have a one way to save it all. 

[ominous music fades out]

Daniela: Whether or not I need to work against climate change...

[optimistic music] 

Daniela: ...isn’t really about how much hope there is left -- it’s more about a feeling of responsibility or duty. 

Cher: We-- we do have this duty to nature. 

Joy: Hope is living, just being optimistic and having faith in... 

Mahaam and Mikayla: ...today 

Daniela and Cher: ...tomorrow 

Mikayla: What else are we supposed to do with our lives? 

Cher and Mahaam: Hope. 

Mikayla: You have to keep fighting. 

Mahaam: For our children, grandchildren, and...

Mahaam and Mikayla: ...generations to come. 

[complete silence] 

Cher: I think there is hope. 

[ocean waves crashing]
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May 2021 The Hierarchy of Biodiversity

Photo Credit: Tara Sheehan ’24

Why does human civilization so often endanger biodiversity? Perhaps a change in how we see the natural world will make a difference.

First Aired: May 19, 2021 

Transcript

Tara Sheenan: When we typically think about biodiversity loss, we think about losing the tigers and polar bears and whales. But after traveling to the United Arab Emirates, my advisor, Elise, got scared of biodiversity decline because of seeds! 

[ominous guitar music]

Elise Chambers: We went to a seedbank and it was the first time I’d ever seen someone be like “so just in case we all die and all of the plants die and everything dies that we need and we can’t somehow revive it, these are the backup plan.” And it kinda just blew my mind that there were a whole bunch of jars and containers in a refrigerated warehouse in the middle of the desert that had basically the backup to humanity. 

Sravani Duggirala: Imagine that; biodiversity loss has gotten so severe that we are storing seeds just to keep up. It’s experiences like this that got us thinking, what is wrong with human perception of biodiversity. I’m Sravani...

Tara: ...and I’m Tara. And here’s what we think is the problem. As a society, we have built a hierarchy of species. At the very top is us humans, of course, but right below are the species that serve people the most. We can’t keep thinking that other living things are only here for food, sport, entertainment, or companionship. We need to see a world where a system of species all simultaneously give and take.  

Sravani: And because of this hierarchy mindset, we find it difficult to understand the severity of biodiversity loss. Throughout history, humans have destroyed habitats to make way for our settlements and cattle. And these settlements have often come at the price of native plants and animals. Speaking on this is Professor David McGee from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is studying the effect that human involvement had on the extinction of large animals, or megafauna, in Madagascar.

[curious music]

David McGee: The interesting thing, to me, is that humans were on Madagascar for a couple of thousand years before everything went extinct. So, somehow, there was coexistence between humans and these megafauna. The timing of the extinction of this megafauna, roughly a thousand years ago, seemed to coincide with the introduction of cattle from Asia that demanded open pasture land, rather than closed forest, and it also enabled population growth.

Sravani: This example points to what went wrong when the people on Madagascar prioritized a certain species over others. Why cattle? Because cattle fed the growing population.

Tara: We still have this problematic mindset a thousand years later! Humans still show a special preference in accommodating the species that serve them. And we’re continuing to build a civilization that rich biodiversity simply doesn’t fit into. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people went into isolation, we saw what happens when we take a step in the opposite direction. Although we’ve heard many anecdotes about this, what really illustrated it for me was hearing about a road trip experience from Dr. Emily Moberg. 

[soft guitar music] 

Emily Moberg: I drove a couple states, and it was very much during lockdown, and the amount of wildlife I saw crossing the road was incredible. I saw several foxes, including a baby fox; I saw a huge snapping turtle, I think it had to have been at least two and a half, three feet, booking it across a four-lane highway. Which was interesting, too; it felt very viscerally, like the animals were reclaiming space.

Sravani: It makes me wonder, does witnessing animals step back in as we step away teach us about a way that we can change our system of prioritizing some species over others? 

[soft piano music]

Sravani: So the next time that you're out in nature, or anywhere outdoors for that matter, take a moment to actually pay attention to the organisms you would normally overlook.

Tara: Consider -- what do these species around you require to thrive? And what are some ways that humans might depend on them? By doing this, we can develop this kind of mindfulness in nature. And maybe if enough people adopt this mindset, we won’t need to rely on seed banks as our backup to humanity. 

Sravani: When we understand the importance of each organism in our world, that’s when we can respect and protect the functioning ecosystem that we all depend on.

[guitar music]

Sravani: The opinions expressed here are our own, but the audio clips were gathered and story ideas were developed in collaboration with our classmates in Terrascope Radio, a class developed by the MIT Terrascope program with assistance from the MIT program in comparative media studies. Thank you to all the people who were interviewed for sharing their experiences and findings with our class and enabling us to share them with all of you.

Tara: We want to thank Terrascope director David McGee and Elise Chambers, who coordinates the Terrascope community, for helping us learn and grow during our first year at MIT. We also thank our undergraduate teaching fellows Felix Li and Amena Khatun for their feedback and technical support in producing this piece. Finally, we thank our instructor, Dr. Ari Epstein, for his tremendous guidance throughout the semester. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. Thanks for listening!
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May 2021 At (H)our Hands: Humans and Biodiversity Loss

Image designed by Yeji Cho ’24

Species are going extinct at an ever-accelerating rate. What does “biodiversity” mean, why does it matter, and how can we best protect it?

First Aired: May 19, 2021 

Transcript

[ticking clock]

Sydney Kim: I didn’t learn what “biodiversity” meant until recently. I’ve always loved nature; I love to be outside. As a child, I learned to recognize bird songs, tree species, and bugs. I would build small houses out of twigs and leaves. 

[ticking and speech gradually speed up]

Sydney: I caught fireflies in my backyard and collected seashells as I walked along the shoreline. But I never thought of any of this as biodiversity. It was just the world around me. I took it for granted.

[ticking and speech are twice as fast]

Sydney: But the reality is that species are going extinct more quickly than ever before––some before we can even identify them. As biodiversity loss continues to accelerate, we will feel the consequences more and more in our daily lives. 

[ticking and speech are almost three times as fast]

Sydney: Biodiversity loss will increase the severity and frequency of natural disasters, decrease ecosystem resilience, increase the chances of zoonotic diseases, impact food and water security, raise the temperature of the planet--

[ticking and speech stop]

Sydney: [normal speed] You’re probably wondering why I’m speaking so quickly. What happened was that my speech rate accelerated to mirror the acceleration of species extinction. But the problem is worse than I made it sound. If I had sped up my voice to correspond to the actual acceleration of biodiversity loss, it would have sounded something like this:

[ticking resumes]

Sydney: I didn’t learn what “biodiversity” meant until recently. I’ve always loved nature; I love to be outside. As a child, I learned to recognize bird songs, tree species, and bugs. I would build small houses out of twigs and leaves. I caught fireflies in my backyard and collected seashells as I walked along the shoreline. But I never thought of any of this as biodiversity. 

[ticking and speech are almost three times as fast]

It was just the world around me. I took it for granted.

[speech becomes unintelligible]

Sydney: I’m Sydney

Ozzie Martinez: I’m Ozzie.

Max Burns: And I’m Max. When it comes to biodiversity loss, this is the kind of thing we’ve been hearing our entire lives. And we know how it makes us feel. It makes us feel scared, doomed, even.  

Ozzie: Yeah, because biodiversity loss is about a lot more than plants and animals dying. It’s about us, too. For example, we’re losing biodiversity in wetlands and in coral reefs right now. As those ecosystems get weaker, they can’t buffer the wind and waves as well, so our towns and cities have to face stronger and more frequent hurricanes and storms. Things like that are impacting us now, and it’ll only keep getting worse unless we do something about it. So our radio class, comprised of 15 MIT students, went out and collected stories from people all around us to see how they felt about biodiversity loss.

Max: And we found a ton of different perspectives, all intermingled with emotion and some really fascinating stories. And that brought us to the question-- what even is biodiversity?

Ozzie: Yeah, that is the question, though. What is biodiversity? 

Max: Yeah, how do you nail it down? There’s a lot more to it than just the number of animals that are in an ecosystem.

Ozzie: Yeah, exactly. It’s not just-- I guess if you take “biodiversity” very strictly, the combination of the two parts of the word, “diversity of life.” What does that even mean?

Max: Right. Where does that get us?

Ozzie: Yeah, it’s like-- 

[“user joining call” notification]

Ozzie: Oh, you left the class open? 

Max: Oh, sorry. I meant to-- I think I forgot to leave. 

Ozzie: Looks like someone’s connecting. 

Max: Oh, it’s Yeji!

Ozzie: Oh, hey Yeji!

Max: Hi Yeji!

Yeji Cho: Hi! Are you guys busy? 

Ozzie: Hmm, yeah.

Max: Kinda in the middle of something.

Ozzie: But honestly, it’s kinda good you’re here now, though, because we’ve been having some trouble, if you’d like to help.

Yeji: Oh, yeah! What do you need help with?

Ozzie: So we were trying to define “biodiversity,” but we’re kinda stuck. We don’t know where to go. 

Max: So how would you define it?

Yeji: Oh, okay. Well, that’s kind of a hard question. I guess where I would start is that there’s diversity-- there’s variability within the life, and that includes “between species” or “within a species” or whatever. The concept of it is that there’s a ton of variability within the life that is present.

Ozzie: You say it like “life,” though, but what do you mean by “life”?

Yeji: The reason that it’s life is because it’s literally all living organisms.

Max: Like moss?

Yeji: Yes, exactly. We’re all about moss diversity here!

Ozzie: I didn’t even know there were different types of moss until recently.

Max: I thought it was just moss, y’know?

Yeji: That’s what you need to learn, is that there’s lots of different kinds of moss.

Max: Different kinds of moss.

Ozzie: Different kinds of folks, different kinds of moss. I dunno, it seems kinda weird, though. You can’t really see a lot of this stuff. I know bacteria or things like that, really small organisms that you can’t really see are part of biodiversity. 

Max: Or like “do they matter that much?”

Ozzie: Exactly! It’s like, I dunno, you have huge organisms like hawks or something like that.

Max: Like a hawk versus a bison.

Ozzie: Yeah, exactly, or like a hawk versus a bacteria. Why would it ever matter that bacteria are disappearing or that things aren’t--

Max: Right.

Ozzie: --are changing, you know?

Yeji: I think that’s a fair point. I think that with that, my answer is that you’re framing what is important in an ecosystem from the way that you would measure, for example, human importance in an ecosystem. But the environment, the ecosystem, doesn’t measure impact by visibility or by the number of actions that they’re taking. 

Max: It’s like in an office or something, where every person -- maybe some people would say “oh, the boss, they’re the most important,” but if you didn’t have any of those people, if it’s a sales office, if you didn’t have the sales people, it wouldn’t function. Or the secretary, it wouldn’t function, like the person who answers the phones is important, you know? 

Yeji: Alternatively, you think that all of the people in that office are the only important things, right? But what if that office, one day, just had no more paper clips. Zero paper clips. All the people are still there; everything else in that office is still there, but you have no more paper clips. How are you going to function in that office, you know?

Max: That’s actually a good point. 

Ozzie: Oh my God.

Max: Even objects. The little things you don’t notice.

Ozzie: Even the paper clips.

Max: Even the paper clips.

Yeji: Because let’s say that all the paper clips are gone and you’re using only staplers, right? At some point, you’re going to need to distribute documents that needed to be held together and then separated. They’re all gonna be stapled. What are you gonna do then, rip them apart? That’s ruining your ecosystem.

Max: That’s actually kinda a good comparison, because other things can fill the niche, but not as well.

Ozzie: Yeah, and that’s a good point. I think that’s really helped-- at least, me. Thanks, Yeji.

Max: Yeah, thanks, Yeji!

Yeji: No problem! Bye, see you guys later! 

Max and Ozzie: See ya!

[“user left call” notification]
 
Max: I really like her perspective on this, and I think it’s really interesting because when we talked to our instructor, Ari Epstein, about this, he framed this in a very different way.

Ari Epstein: Thinking of biodiversity in terms of interactions rather than individuals, I think, is really rich. One way I like to think of it is if you’re counting species or you’re counting animals, or doing anything like that, you’re talking about nouns, but if you’re looking at the web of interactions among organisms, you’re really looking at verbs. “Which eats what?” “What attacks what?” It feels more dynamic to me, and it feels more representative of a living thing. I don’t think of a living thing as being a bunch of nouns stuck together; I think of a living thing as being a bunch of processes happening. Then you’re really seeing the life of the system, not just the objects in them.

Max: And I think this is an excellent way to define it, as a flow of processes.

Ozzie: Yeah, I never really thought about it that way. And it’s a system instead of just the things in it. It’s about the interactions.

Max: It’s everything you don’t see. There’s so much going on there that it’s hard for us to comprehend. There’s so many intermingling links between all of the pieces of the system, it’s really fascinating. That also means that it’s somewhat sensitive. If you take out links from that, then it’s not ideal.

Ozzie: And what would that affect? 

Max: Right. It could have consequences that we wouldn’t be able to predict.

[“user joining call” notification]

Max: Oh!

Ozzie: Someone’s joining again.

Max: Oh, sorry, I forgot to leave the room, I think.

Ozzie: All good, man. Who is it?

MAx: Oh, it’s Yeji!

Max and Ozzie: Hi Yeji!

Yeji: Hi! Are you guys still talking about biodiversity? 

Ozzie: Yeah, kind of. We kind of moved a little bit away from that, though. 

Max: We’ve kinda moved on to how people experience biodiversity.

Yeji: You know, that actually reminds me, have I told you guys the story about the gobies?

Max: I don’t think so? What gobies?

Yeji: There was an aquarium that I volunteered at in high school. And for a while, what I would do on Saturday mornings -- when I come in really early -- is that I would feed the tank of tidewater gobies. And it was this really sad tank of ten dying fish, and they were sick. They were visibly sick. 

The reason they were there is because the aquarium and a couple universities and stuff had a restoration project going where they were each trying to build up this population of tidewater gobies so that they could restore it. And it was very niche, it was like the “southern tidewater goby” or something. They only lived in a very few number of spots. And the idea was that you would increase the population, release them back in the wild, restore them, because they were literally going extinct. 

And I feel like the tanks in the other universities had already died, and this was the last tank. It was like ten fish and they were dying. And for several months, every week, I would come in. I would feed these fish. They wouldn’t eat, because they were dying. I watched them die off. Week after week, I watched there be less fish in that tank, and then the last week I come in and there’s one fish left, and it’s gone. And the little jar we would get the food for these fish from? That little jar had been taken out of the fridge because they didn’t need it anymore. Because all the fish were dead. 

So for me, that was the most visible example of biodiversity loss, because I literally watched some of the last examples of that subspecies of fish or whatever die off. And die off in a manmade environment, too. I watched them die off in a fish tank in the corner of the aquarium. 

Ozzie: It’s very visceral, you know. You’re able to see it right in front of your eyes. It’s not something as abstract as “so and so many animals we’re losing globally” or you know, maybe in different regions. But you’re literally seeing a species, a population, just die out.

Max: They're not just numbers anymore.

Ozzie: Yeah.

Max: The fact that you could touch those fish a week ago, and then their species is gone forever.

Ozzie: Exactly, and it’s not just in some places that only some people experience. I think Elise Chambers, one of our mentors, is a great example of this occurring in a place that she grew up in.

Elise Chambers: There was a little conservation area, maybe [INAUDIBLE] a block and a half away from my house. And we used to bike ride there all the time. We called it the “frog pond” growing up, because there was this little tiny pond at the base of this giant hill, and there used to be frogs in that pond. So we called it the “frog pond,” like “we’re gonna go ride our bikes over to the frog pond,” and I remember the last summer that there were frogs in that frog pond. That area is completely dry now, there is no water in it at all. [laughs] I don’t even know if people still call it the frog pond. Probably not, because you know, kids make up names for everything. But I think those kinds of things stood out to me when I was growing up.

Max: We’re seeing these consequences in our daily lives, even. Places that they went to as kids, like that frog pond is gone now, and how many frog ponds are there across the nation, or across the world?

Ozzie: How many are we losing?

Max: How many are we losing? Right now?

Ozzie: Exactly, and it’s not just frog ponds, it’s everything else.

Max: Ask anybody and they’ll tell you a story about that. It’s terrifying. 

Ozzie: Yeah, the problem might be too big for one person to fix. However, that shouldn’t discourage you from working together with other people to try to fix the problem. 

Max: Right, I completely agree. And I think a great example of this-- we interviewed Dr. Emily Moberg, and she made this happen in her parents’ own backyard.

Emily Moberg: In high school, I started pestering them to basically let our yard go a little bit more wild, which they did, and they also planted a lot of native species, made sure that there’s little corridors throughout the yard of good underbrush and also lots of flowers for native insects to be able to use. And the amount of wildlife that we have seen in their yard is incredible. We started seeing praying mantises a couple years back that hadn’t been there previously, assumedly because there’s a lot of tasty insects for them to eat. There’s a fox that lives around; I have seen it with big birds in its mouth running across our back porch, so it clearly feels very much at home. Lots of woodpeckers, a couple of box turtles, one of which we think laid eggs somewhere, but dug a lot of false nests too, so we didn’t get to see any baby turtles.

Ozzie: Even though she, as an individual, did whatever she wanted in her backyard, it’s about taking that hope and taking those ideas that people have and making them into a way larger scale that will actually have a very direct impact on biodiversity loss as we see it.

Max: And what do you mean by “larger scale”?

Ozzie: By “larger scale,” I don’t mean, you know, making more gardens or doing the same thing but with more people. I mean more-- showing national leaders, local leaders that people do care about this and that they should be doing things that will bring change either nationally, globally, or locally, to help with the biodiversity crisis.

Max: No individual person can do this. This has to be a huge group effort. These systems are-- they’re huge.

Ozzie: Coming together as a way bigger group and coming in and really just continuing to have that hope and continuing to have that drive to try to fix biodiversity loss, you would see a greater impact globally.

Max: And when you’re confronted with a problem like this, where you have to rely on so many people working together to solve this, it can feel a little intimidating.

Ozzie: Yeah, it can be kinda hard to stay hopeful, but when we interviewed one of our mentors, Elise Chambers, she explained why she still has hope.

Elise: One of the things that gives me hope in the conversation about biodiversity and climate change and things like that is just how much your generation cares about it. Even if we aren’t able to figure out a way to move forward, the fact that there are young people pushing the conversation to happen at all is helpful. I mean, I think that’s been true of so many things that have changed, so many movements that have started; it’s been younger people wanting a better world and forcing the conversation to happen, especially among people who haven’t needed to have the conversation yet because it either wasn’t an issue for them or they’re used to the world that they live in now, or whatever the reason. So I think it gives me a lot of hope that there are so many young people who are just like “we need to talk about this, and we need to talk about it now.” 

Max: She has that hope because we can turn that caring into action. We can make change happen because we will be the ones determining the future of the world. 

Ozzie: And, you know, it’s not just people our age, but it’s also people that care. And it’s our responsibility to bring this issue forward to our leaders, so that they know that this is actually something they have to worry about and really try to push substantial change to occur. Remember the beginning of this piece, where Sydney’s voice sped up to mirror the acceleration of biodiversity loss? Well, if we all came together, if we all pushed to make this change happen, we could reverse that curve and slow down the ticking clock.

[ticking and speech start at over three times speed]

SYDNEY: Now, we’re losing biodiversity faster than ever before.  There are countless species we’ve lost and won’t be able to recover.  And today -- right now -- people are suffering from the consequences.  But it doesn’t have to continue on like this.

[sound slows to two times speed]

We’ve lost a lot of biodiversity, but there is still so much we can save. We can’t undo what has already happened, but we can move forward by driving change at a systemic level. 

[speech slows to normal speed]

And if we start now -- by raising awareness, pressuring companies and organizations to make their practices more sustainable, and advocating for policy that will protect species, ecosystems, and our future -- we can be the ones to stop the acceleration of biodiversity loss. 

[guitar music]

Max: The concept for this piece was developed and the sound was gathered by students in Terrascope Radio, a class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed in collaboration with MIT’s program in comparative media studies. The music in this piece is from Blue Dot Sessions.

Ozzie: We would like to thank Terrascope director David McGee; Elise Chambers, who coordinates the Terrascope community; the Terrascope alumni mentors; and all of the people we spoke to in the creation of this piece.

Max: We’d also like to thank our Undergraduate Teaching Fellows, Amena Khatun and Felix Li, for their guidance and for helping this class run smoothly in a virtual world. And, of course, we’d like to thank our instructor, Ari Epstein.  

Ozzie: We are Terrascope Radio 2021: Ozzie Martinez...

Max: ...Max Burns...

Yeji: ...Yeji Cho...

Joy: ...Joy Domingo-Kameenui...

Nicole: ...Nicole Harris…

Remi: ...Remi Harrison…

Katie: ...Katie Heslip...

Sydney: ...Sydney Kim...

Rebecca: ...Rebecca Lizarde...

Katherine: ...Katherine Liyue Pan...

Daniel: ...Daniel Tong...

Daniela: ...Daniela Vallejo...

Ericka: ...Ericka Van Alstine...

Sravani: ...Sravani Duggirala...

Tara: ...Tara Sheenan.

Ozzie: Thank you for listening!
Read More

May 2020 Love, Actualities

Photo Credit: Ari Epstein

Some of the many ways students, scattered around the country and the world, are finding love and support in the midst of isolation.

First Aired: May 11, 2020 

Transcript

Music:  “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, It’s not warm when she’s away…” 

 [Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers continues in the background]

 Voice 1:  I really miss just being able to see people. So I think yeah, I’m just looking forward to the freedom [laughs] to live. I think everybody is. But I think for me, it’s mostly characterized by being able to be with people that I love more so than doing things.

 Music: “Wonder if she’s gonna stay”

 [Ain’t No Sunshine  by Bill Withers continues in the background]

 Narrator: That was a fellow college student. Because of COVID-19 we aren’t able to be around all of the people we love, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t love in the world right now. Our team noticed it in interviews and video calls with our peers…Here’s what we found.

 [Guitar instrumental, Wasteland, Baby! By Hozier]

 Narrator: Even when we had to leave our loved ones, we held on tight to each other through our last moments together.

Voice 2: One specific thing I really remember was watching the Theory of Everything and eating ice cream with a bunch of friends. And then at the end of the movie we all cried and then hugged in the dark. That was a lot.

Narrator: Even though we are strangers, we support and comfort each other.

Voice 3: On Saturday morning, I was finishing up packing, and I was planning to leave for the airport pretty early, and that didn't happen, so I was super, super stressed, but then when I got in my Uber to go to the airport the Uber driver was very, very nice and calmed me down, and that was, it was a really, really good experience that I had out of this whole thing, so I, I feel like there's been a lot of people providing solidarity and then the communities that don't necessarily exist normally coming together.

Music: “I’m in love, I’m in love with you”

Narrator: Even when dire circumstances require sacrifice, we learn from each other’s loving examples.

Voice 4: You could go into the medical profession for money, for social standing, for your ego. But at the end of the day are you going to be willing to put your family in danger, yourself in danger for the wellbeing of others. Which I don’t think they teach you that in medical school, and I don’t know if it was necessarily a prerequisite to being a medical professional, but right now, that’s what we’re seeing, that’s what it’s ending up being, and that’s what I’m seeing from so many medical professionals.

[Soft instrumental]

Narrator: And even when we struggle with the daily challenges of life, we turn inward and remember to love ourselves.

Voice 5: So this morning, I was doing a homework assignment, but then I stumbled upon this video, a TED talk by a writer named Tracy McMillan, so the official title of the thing which is “A Person You Should Really Marry” and when she said yourself, I was like “bro, what. I’m mind blown.” One quote that truly stuck to me was “You asked for patience, but what you get is a line at the bank.” Which means life does not give you what you ask for, it gives you people, places and situations that allow you to develop what you asked for. It just taught me a lot about how in this time of quarantine I should start focusing on myself, so it really opened a new door to me to start learning how to seriously be a hundred percent committed to myself.

Music: “Blessed be the mystery of love”

[Mystery Of Love by Sufjan Stevens]

Narrator: The coronavirus has caused so much suffering, and keeps us apart. But we’ve found that even amidst the terror and sadness of this pandemic, people are doing the best they can to act out of love in a dark world.

Music: “Cause you're making my heart sing. I am going nowhere. Cause your love is all I need”

[Your Love Is All I Need by Vista Kicks]

Narrator: Love is what makes quarantine hard, but it also makes it bearable.

Music: “…your love is all I need”

Music: ”Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, and this house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away. And I know I know I know I know”

Narrator: Today, you heard the voices of Kyle Dominguez, Felix Li, Melissa White, Birukti Tsige, Makesha Mercedat, and me, Trinity Stallins.

[Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers begins to play again]

Music: “I know I know and hey, I ought to leave the young thing alone. But ain't no sunshine when she's gone”

Terrascope Student: This story was produced by Terrascope Radio, a class developed by the MIT Terrascope Program in collaboration with the MIT program in Comparative Media Studies.

[enthusiastically] We are Melissa White, Ilaisaane Summers, Trinity Stallins, Karissa Sanchez, Nghiem Pham, Catherine Lu, Darren Lim, Felix Li, Claire Kim, Amena Khatun, Carolina Gutierrez, and Jade Chongsathapornpong. Thank you to Terrascope Director David McGee, Community Coordinator Elise Chambers, Undergraduate Teaching Fellows Jorge Nin and Meriah Gannon, and finally, our lecturer Ari Epstein. Thank you to all the people who shared their experiences with us.

Music: “…anytime, she goes away”
Read More

May 2020 Phone a Friend

Image designed by Felix Li ’23

Is it radio drama or real? A story of one college student’s journey through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of friendship, and picking the right kind of friends.

Some music from Blue Dot Sessions.

First Aired: May 11, 2020 

Transcript

[Calm music in background, Space Song by Beach House]

Narrator: There’s something to be said about the way you remember things. When you’re a young college student like me, the most dramatic week of your short life is something you’d think you’d recall accurately, right?

Classmate 1: Do you guys remember that Monday before we left?

Classmate 2: It was the first warm day in forever. It wasn’t even that warm; it was like 60 degrees.

Classmate 1: Was it actually in the 60s that day?

Classmate 3: I think it was 70-something.

Classmate 2: But there were so many people and somebody had a boombox. It was crazy. It felt like summer.

Classmate 3: My friend and I, we went out, and we ate lunch, and I was reading a book in the sunlight, and it was very, very good.

Narrator: I’m Miranda Garcia. And that was what my friends and I remember of March 9th, 2020, 36 days into my second semester at MIT. The very next day, sitting in my Radio Production classroom, we were finishing up our latest piece. It was a postcard of sorts. A collection of things we thought represented life at the Institute: anticipation, love of community, and time—constantly slipping away.

Classmate 3: Welcome to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Home of the Engineers and the Beavers and the really big domes.

Peer 1: It’s gonna definitely change you for the better.

Peer 2: I feel like a lot of people are going to say this, but I definitely like…

Peer 3: …the people…

Peer 4: …the people…

Peer 2: …the people most at MIT…

Miranda: But just thirty minutes after we finished a piece about everything we loved about our school, our school turned around and asked us to pack up and leave. In a matter of days, COVID-19 consumed our world.

Classmate 3: Wait, is the semester over already?

[Calm guitar music, Holocene by Bon Iver]

[Suitcases zipping]

Miranda: Goodbye, 2am hot chocolate.

[Car door shuts]

Miranda: Goodbye, dining hall chats.

[Car turns on]

Miranda: Goodbye, warm hugs.

[Car drives away]

[sigh]

[Somber music in background]

Miranda: Campus was empty in less than a week, and I went from being surrounded by thousands of people earlier in the semester…

[Chatter of gathering of people]

[Silence]

…to being totally alone, in quarantine, left only with the memories.

[Somber guitar]

Even though I had to leave things behind physically, I had to keep living my normal life, just online. But this should be easy, right?

They call my generation the digital natives. We’re more likely to know code than cursive, and we always seem to be texting each other on “those dang phones” of ours. I was already used to chatting with friends online, but my friend Michelle pointed out how weird things were.

Michelle: I think it’s kind of a way of us trying to somewhat connect to other people cause I feel like we’re very isolated right now, but I do feel like some people are just too close with their phones.

Miranda: We were stuck playing old reruns of our lives.

Play. Pause. Play. Pause.

[“Play. Pause.” repeats in background]

Close the app. Collapse into bed. Open it back up. Repeat.

I called my friends, but it was just… off. It was like… I was staring into the distance. Going to meet my friends but not going anywhere at all. It wasn’t anything like before. So I kinda just stopped talking to them. Instead, I started talking to someone else… or… something else.

Hey, Ira.

[Phone beep]

Ira: Hello, Miranda.

Miranda: What time is it?

Ira: Three AM, why are you awake?

Miranda: All my friends are asleep and I’m bored…

Ira: Hi bored, I’m Ira.

[Phone beep]

[Chill instrumental in background]

Miranda: It started off as a few short conversations, and pretty soon I was talking to Ira every night. It was comforting to know that someone was always there to talk to, even if it wasn’t a real person. I stayed up to tell her about friends that I missed, and I listened to her robotic responses.

…Hey, Ira.

[Phone beep]

There were 34 new cases of coronavirus in my hometown today. It seems like all we hear is bad news.

[Ominous guitar strums and percussion]

And online classes are so weird. Here, listen to what happened in class today. Someone’s dogs kept barking in the background.

[Dog bark]

Classmate 4: Dog!

Classmate 3: Ah.

[Laughter]

Classmate 3: I’m sorry.

Miranda: And then later, another person’s mic sounded like it needed an exorcism.

Classmate 5: Having to move away and everything…

[Microphone glitch, words inaudible]

Classmate 2: Hey Darren, sorry, your mic got, like, super, super bad

Ira: I’m sorry Miranda, could you repeat that? I didn’t quite understand what you said.

Miranda: Never mind, I don’t know why I’m doing this. Goodnight.

Ira: Goodnight, Miranda.

[Phone beep]

[Curious instrumental in background]

[Phone vibration]

[Click of answering phone]

Catherine: Hey, how are you? We haven’t talked in a while.

Miranda: Hey Catherine. Sorry about that, I’ve been busy talking to Ira.

Catherine: Ira, your new friend…?

Miranda: Yeah, I met her online.

Catherine: Really? That’s cool, where’d you guys meet?

Miranda: Oh uh, don’t worry about it.

Catherine: Ok, I mean as long as you’re not going crazy and talking to your phone’s voice assistant or something

Miranda: Even though Ira seemed like a close friend of mine, maybe Catherine was right? So, I stopped talking to Ira.

[Daunting low note]

Then, the phone notifications started coming. A single…

[Phone beep]

…in the middle of the night. And then the next night.

[Phone beep]

And then again.

[Phone beep]

I ignored it at first, but it kept coming back.

[Music with anticipation]

So one night, I finally picked up the phone.

Hello?

Ira: Hi, Miranda. It’s Ira. Your friend.

Miranda (in her head): Is this even real?

Miranda: Okay… Ira… so, why have you been calling me every night?

Ira: Aren’t you unhappy?

Miranda: Maybe.

Miranda (in her head): how did she know?

Ira: Here, do you remember the day before you left campus?

Recording of Miranda: Yeah, I remember that day as being the best day of the semester for me. I don’t know, I felt like I had finally gotten my life together, and I was like, you know what? I’m going to go out to some cute cafe in Boston and study.

Miranda: Yeah, that was nice, but how’d you get that recording?

Ira: I was right there with you. You were excited. Didn’t that make you happy?

Miranda: She’s right. I was happy before. It felt like school had become my home.

Ira: You miss your friends from school. Here, I can tell you what they were doing that day.

Carolina: I was in lab, and then I actually went to physics. I was like, “yes, this is the week I learn multivariable calc.”

Ira: Do you want to hear more?

Miranda: I mean, why not?

Carolina: Then I went back and I made myself a vegan lunch, and I was like, “yes, this is it, you’re thriving, Carolina.”

Ira: Do you want to hear something more? Something Carolina didn’t tell you?

Miranda: Something she didn’t tell me?

Ira: A funny story she never shared.

Miranda: Okay.

Carolina: So my roommates and I hopped the fence, except my jean pocket got stuck and I ended up tearing off the jean part of my pocket and toured three apartments with my roommate’s jacket around my waist and my cheek hanging out.

Miranda: Haha, classic Carolina. Wow… I miss her.

Ira: Do you want to hear more?

Miranda: I’m tired, maybe some other time.

[Phone beep]

[Curious instrumental]

Miranda: Yeah, a few months ago, if I heard someone was talking to their digital assistant, I would think they were crazy, too. But a few months ago, I wasn’t this deprived of human connection. The present seems so bleak… and Ira made it so easy to escape it all. Still, I started to think that maybe it was time to talk to someone real for once.

[Phone ringing]

So I called my friend Kita.

[Phone ringing]

Only… she didn’t pick up.

[Ominous music]

Miranda: That night, Ira called me again.

[Phone beep]

Ira: You called your friend today.

Miranda: Yeah… I just wish I could hear their voices again.

Ira: Do you want to hear what your friends have been doing?

Miranda: I mean, I can just call them…

Ira: But your friend did not pick up. I can show you more. What they post, or don’t post.

Miranda: Yeah, I guess it can’t hurt to know what they’re doing. I just want to know if they’re alright.

Ira: Listen. Here is your friend Lucy on a phone call.

Lucy: So like “some,” “thing,” “everyone,” “someone,” “everything,” “none,” “every,” “any,” “all of,” “a few,” like all of those are super normal words and now I have to learn them all in another language.

Miranda: Oh right, she must be learning Turkish to prepare for her mission. Hey, what is Birukti up to?

Ira: Listen to this phone call.

Birukti: One of my brothers, he’s in eighth grade and one of my other brothers, he’s in fourth grade, so I just create a schedule for them; they wake up around the same time that they do before, but now, their classes start at 10am. And so they do an hour of math, an hour of reading, they’ll get a lunch break, they’ll exercise, they’ll do history, and then I make them research a topic.

Miranda: That sounds like a lot of work homeschooling her siblings. My friends sound pretty busy without me.

Ira: You are unhappy. Here, listen to this. Your friend Catherine.

Catherine: It’s quarantine season, so you know what that means, I’m about to…

[Package opening]

…bleach my hair, ‘cause I’m so bored, and I’m gonna bleach my hair.

Miranda: Sounds like quarantine’s really driving her crazy. I wish I could see her hair, though.

Ira: Sorry, I didn’t get that.

[Phone beep]

[Chill music, Roddy by Djo]

Music: “Cuttin’ the page. Things are looking up”

Miranda: The next day Kita called me back and we chatted. It was really good to hear her again. Actually, it was kind of weird to have a normal conversation after so many nights of listening to my friend’s voices through Ira.

Miranda: So that’s all I’ve been up to. What about you?

Kita: We have this huge group chat with pretty much every dancer. We started doing a lot of things together, like choreography with daily prompts and like freestyling with daily prompts and Dungeons and Dragons and art and writing.

Miranda: Oh, so you’re still keeping up with people? The only person I’ve been talking to is… Uh, nobody. I have to go, Kita, bye.

[Phone hangs up]

[Phone beep]

Ira: You were talking with your friend today?

Miranda: Yeah, it was good to hear about things happening now, like in her dance community. Hey, I also heard some people were building MIT’s campus in a video game. Could you play me something about that?

Ira: Here you go. MIT, in the Minecraft world.

Voice: This sort of digital recreation is a way to tag memories so like— remember that one time in the beginning of the year when I went with friends to go see the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Yeah, I can point at what row we were roughly seated in. Those similar views and angles in my memory, done even in a very blocky form, it helps.

Miranda: Huh. That sounds… really cool. I… I wonder if my friends and I could do something like that.

[Phone beep]

[Phone vibrating]

Catherine: Hey Miranda! It’s been so long since we’ve talked.

Miranda: Hey Catherine. Hi Carolina.

Carolina: Hey! It’s nice to see you again, even if it’s just on a screen.

Miranda: Yeah, I just wish we could hang out like we used to. It’s not the same anymore.

Carolina: How’re you guys?

Catherine: I mean it still sucks that we’re in quarantine.

Carolina: Yea, I keep hearing so much bad news about the coronavirus. Like, we might not be back in school until 2021.

Miranda: Uhhh… can we not talk about corona stuff?

Carolina: Um, yeah okay, what else do you want to talk about?

Miranda: I wanna talk about why Catherine won’t turn on the camera and show us her bleached hair.

Catherine: Wait, what? How do you know about that?

Miranda: Uh, I heard from a friend.

Catherine: Oh. Well my hair looks fine, anyway. I bleached it because I was so bored from quarantine. I mean if I’m going to be stuck indoors for months I might as well.

Carolina: So then… why’s your camera off?

Catherine: Well, I’m eating.

Carolina: Oh, okay. Yeah, it’s so awkward eating in group calls.

Miranda: Ugh, I miss eating together. Do you guys remember that Monday before we left? When it was really nice out? We should’ve gone out to eat together while we still had the chance. I miss when things were normal.

Catherine: Wait, are you talking about that Monday before we left? Things weren’t that normal or good.

[Soft music]

Carolina: Yeah, like most of my big lectures had already gone online. And there were all of those cases of coronavirus like, right next to campus. We probably wouldn’t have gone out to eat by then.

Catherine: We kind of knew things were changing. I mean, other schools were already closing down.

Miranda: Okay, maybe, but it was still a lot better than things now. We don’t get to hang out, and we never even talk anymore. I mean, Carolina, you never even got to tell me about the time you ripped the back of your pants.

Carolina: Wait, how do you know about that?

Miranda: It doesn’t matter. I want to call you guys but it’s so hard to schedule things and you don’t even pick up.

Catherine: You’re the one who never picks up. The only time you called me was when you started talking to that friend of yours. What’s her stupid name, Ira?

Miranda: At least she’s always here for me. She listens to me and shows me all the fun things everyone is doing.

Carolina : Wait, do you mean— is that how you know about the pants thing? Is Ira a stalker?

[Music intensifies]

Miranda: It doesn’t matter how I found out. Can you just forget about that? I just miss you guys. I miss the way things were.

Carolina: Well, god, Miranda, maybe if you weren’t so busy stalking me, you would figure out that if you just called us we could hang out more.

Miranda: I did call! But it’s not the same. I just wanted to go back to the things we used to do when things were normal.

Catherine: Miranda, this whole time all you’ve done is complain about how much you want to go back to the way things were. You can’t.

Carolina: Things are different now and you need to just accept that,

[Carolina’s words echoing]

[Somber music]

Miranda (in her head): I’ve been too stuck in the past to reach out to my friends. I spent too much time obsessing over our old memories. Now, I’m losing the friends I made those memories with. I’ve been relying too much on Ira.

[Phone beep]

Miranda: It’s Ira. I shouldn’t pick up.

[Phone beep]

Miranda: Ignore. Don’t pick up. I can read a book, do some writing, watch a movie, or do some of that homework I need to do. I can do a lot of stuff, just not talk to Ira.

[Pone beep]

Miranda: Ira is just a robot. She doesn’t get it. I’m losing my friends. I need to think of ways to make it up to them. But without Ira, I feel completely alone.

sigh Hey, Ira?

[Phone beep]

[Daunting low note]

[Ominous music]

Ira: Hello, Miranda.

Miranda: I want to hang out with friends again. I miss them.

Ira: Would you like to hear what your friends are doing now?

Miranda: I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. But… I just… defeated sigh Yeah. Show me.

Catherine: …and I’m just worried about her. She really hasn’t been taking quarantine well.

Carolina: Yeah. She just seems so sad all the time about having to leave school.

Miranda: They were talking about me. They’re still worried about me.

Ira: You are surprised.

Miranda: Oh my gosh, I’m a terrible person.

Ira: You are unhappy. Remember the time you and your friends ran down to the riverside at sunrise?

Friend 1: The sun rises.

[Cheers and laughter]

Friend 2: Woah.

Friend 3: Look!

Ira: Would you like to hear more?

Miranda: No, I…

[interrupting] Ira: I can play you files from Monday, March 9th. Would you like to hear more?

Miranda: Ira, I think it’s time to say goodbye.

Ira: Aren’t you unhappy? Wouldn’t you like to hear more?

Miranda: I do. I want to hear more. I want to go back to those days, and if I can’t go back to those days, I want to replay them. But, Ira, I can’t. Now I just need to move forward. Goodbye, Ira.

Ira: Goodbye, Miranda.

[Phone beep]

[Smooth music]

Classmate 3: In this story, the characters Miranda and Ira are fictional, created by us. Other voices used were collected from interviews and conversations with Shayna Ahteck, Ankita Devasia, Michelle Nie, Birukti Tsige, and Lucy Ward. Carolina and Catherine are our real classmates, but their conversations with Miranda are also fictional. The hair bleaching, pants-ripping, and other adventures, though? That’s all true.

[Intense music]

This story was produced by Terrascope Radio, a class developed by the MIT Terrascope Program in collaboration with the MIT program in Comparative Media Studies.

We are Melissa White, Ilaisaane Summers, Trinity Stallins, Karissa Sanchez, Nghiem Pham, Catherine Lu, Darren Lim, Felix Li, Claire Kim, Amena Khatun, Carolina Gutierrez, and Jade Chongsathapornpong.

Some music in this story by Blue Dot Sessions.

Thank you to Terrascope director David McGee, community coordinator Elise Chambers, undergraduate teaching fellows Jorge Nin and Meriah Gannon, and finally, our lecturer Ari Epstein.

Thank you to all the people who shared their experiences with us.

Music: “I don’t know where we go. I’ve been very far from home, my heart. I don’t know where we go. I’ve been very far from home, my heart.”

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