BBC Radio 4 announces three original non-fiction commissions

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L-R: Naomi Alderman (credit Anabelle Moeller), Carl Honoré (credit Madeleine Alldis), and Andrew O’Hagan (credit Christina Jansen)

BBC Radio 4 has announced the first three in a series of brand-new non-fiction commissions from influential writers.

It includes writing from Naomi Alderman, who will ask how digital communication technologies are changing the way our minds work; Andrew O’Hagan, who will explore the theme of friendship; and Carl Honoré, who unpacks the taboo topic of status.

Commissioning Editor Hugh Levinson, said: “Writers and writing are central to Radio 4, and I’m thrilled to bring our listeners fresh new work from some of the most thought-provoking essayists of our time.”

Original non-fiction commissions

The Third Information Crisis by Naomi Alderman

Monday 8 July – Friday 12 July, 11.45am – 12pm

In this five-part series, award-winning novelist Naomi Alderman, author of The Power and The Future, argues we are living through the third great information crisis.

Following the invention of writing, and then printing, we now have digital communications technology.

In what she describes as a ‘speculative historical project’, Naomi traces the parallels between these moments, asking if we can learn from the past to help us cope with the enormous wave of information from the internet and social media that we are all faced with today.

Drawing on the work of philosophers and historians, she explores how new technologies open up new ways of thinking and their enormous impact on our society.

In the second episode, Alderman considers the impact of the first information crisis – the invention of writing.

Before writing, she argues, ‘there was – in a real sense – no such thing as history’. The advent of writing enabled belief systems to flourish, brought into question old hierarchical structures, and sped up our culture forever.

But did it also devalue shared memory, and traditional oral cultures, meaning societies came to value elderly people less?

In the third episode, Alderman takes us back to the Protestant Reformation to explore the impact of the second great information crisis – the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century.

Thanks to printing, more people than ever before could access, and form a personal and private relationship with, the Bible. This move to individualism is, she argues, echoed by our online behaviour today.

In the fourth episode, Alderman reflects on the speed and scale of the internet; the sense of community and equality it can create but also the current dangers of misinformation, group-think, and ultimately, the threat to truth.

In the final episode, she explores the opportunities offered by this current information crisis, how it could expand our minds and our world.

What, she asks, are the positive impacts of this super-fast flow of facts and knowledge? While we may face some short-term turbulence, she believes ‘we are trying to do something extraordinary as a species’ and it’s this that gives her hope.

Written and read by Naomi Alderman

Produced by Di Speirs and Nicola Holloway.

A Radio Drama – London production for Radio 4.

Status by Carl Honoré

Monday 29 July – Friday 2 August, 11.45am – 12pm

Status shapes every social interaction. But we’d rather not talk about it. It’s shameful to seek it. But we want it.

Status has always been the elephant in the room, our dirty little secret. Now Carl Honoré is going to bring it out into the open.

He argues that status is changing in the modern world and not always for the better. Can we use it as a force for good?

When asked to explain what drove us to achieve a particular feat, we talk of our desire to change the world, help others, learn something new, overcome a challenge, have fun, make money or simply gain more control over our lives. No one ever says: “I did it to enhance my status.”

This reticence is hardly surprising. Status cuts to the core of who we are and our place in the world, of how others see us and how we see ourselves.

Talking about this feels awkward, messy, exposing, embarrassing, like sharing a sexual problem, so status remains the driver that dare not speak its name.

This series will break that taboo and ask the big questions. Why is status so important? How does it work? How can we harness it to live better lives?

Could a new approach to status help us tackle the epic challenges facing humankind at the start of the 21st century?

Written and presented by Carl Honoré

Producer: Tom Woolfenden

Executive Producer: Kirsten Lass

A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Andrew O’Hagan: On Friendship

Monday 7 October – Friday 11 October, 11.45am – 12pm

The award-winning novelist and essay writer Andrew O’Hagan is known to those closest to him for his ‘gift for friendship’.

It’s a theme found throughout his work and life, from the formative relationships memorialised in his novel Mayflies through the alliances forged at the London Review of Books, to the blurred professional boundaries explored in his Julian Assange essay Ghosting.

O’Hagan turns his clear eye on human relationships in this series for Radio 4, with a week of essays examining friendship from every angle.

Produced by Eilidh McCreadie

A Scotland – Drama production for BBC Radio 4.