Communications satellites, cables, computers . . . who was right about them, George Orwell or Marshall McLuhan? In ''1984,'' Orwell saw the new screens and beeps being used for evil, to spy and control and to diminish the individual.
McLuhan, on the other hand, saw their potential for drawing the world together in a benign way. The earth, he believed, would become a ''global village.''
Here in London, a quiet, round-faced Englishman in a pin-striped suit sits at a conference table several stories above the Strand and volunteers his own view: Orwell got it wrong. McLuhan got it right.
Douglas Muggeridge (nephew of the famous Malcolm) has the kind of job that puts him firmly on McLuhan's side: He is managing director of what many see as the most credible radio network in the world, the BBC External Services. He presides over 720 program hours a week in 37 languages. He puts his regular audience at 100 million (excluding large numbers in the Soviet Union and in China).
Nonetheless, Muggeridge adds a firm caveat: ''I'm saying that the new technology may open up new horizons for world understanding. . . . I'm also saying that we are not yet absolutely clear how to exploit the new technology for good. . . .''
On the one hand, the BBC, the Voice of America, and other Western services see themselves as broadcasting accurate, balanced news and features. On the TV side, the BBC has scored a major success in China with 60 programs teaching basic English. It has just sold the same 60 programs, consisting of conversation routines, to the Soviet Union.
That's the McLuhan side.
More Orwellian is the view held by the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, China, and many developing countries that the ''global village'' concept is merely propaganda under another name.
Recognizing radio as the primary instrument of propaganda in much of the world, these governments see the BBC, the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and other Western radio services as capitalist stratagems to undermine communist, socialist, and developing societies.
So they work through UNESCO in Paris to support strict control over journalists. The Soviets keep on jamming foreign broadcasts, including the BBC Russian service.
These are active adversaries. By the end of last year, the BBC estimates, the USSR broadcast 2,177 program hours a week in 84 languages. Eastern European countries sent out 1,600 program hours each week in 27 languages. The Chinese beamed 1,424 hours in 45 languages.
(The United States sent out 2,004 hours, with the Voice of America broadcasting in 43 languages, Radio Liberty in 15, and Radio Free Europe in 6. West Germany had 789 hours: Deutsche Welle was in 30 languages and Deutschland Funk in 12.)
''The Soviets are expanding all the time,'' Mr. Muggeridge said in an interview on the eve of a visit to Los Angeles. ''They have just introduced a complete world service in French, aimed particularly at French-speaking West Africa. They support a United Nations resolution of December 1982 aimed at preventing direct television broadcasting from satellites.''
Mr. Muggeridge, a low-key graduate in international relations from the London School of Economics, was about to make a speech in Los Angeles called ''The Global Village Is in Sight.''
In the speech Mr. Muggeridge also suggested that the British government consider a TV version of the BBC worldwide radio services. A first step, he said , could be to provide a satellite service to the dish receivers of cable systems so that overseas TV stations could rebroadcast BBC TV news.
The BBC now says that 2 million people in the US listen to BBC shortwave broadcasts each week.
''The first great revolution in international broadcasting was the transistor radio,'' Muggeridge went on. ''It allows the poorest people in the third world access to radio signals previously denied to them. The second revolution is the direct broadcast satellite, which allows worldwide distribution of TV pictures.
''The Soviet Union fears the influence of these and all other outside broadcasts. It wants to isolate its people from foreign television and radio alike.''
''In the third world, governments like hearing about their neighbors. What they don't like is hearing their own problems on the air. They often complain to us. Somalia, for instance, uged the Foreign Office not to cut our Somali service in 1981, yet in the very same week protested to us about alleged inaccuracies. . . .''
The third world feels vulnerable because it lacks the money to keep ideas out by jamming. Therefore, Muggeridge believes, the West should take more steps to alleviate its fears.
''We can't just sit there, commanding all the news resources of the world, and expect other people to be happy,'' he says. ''We can provide money to train third-world people in radio. We can provide better studios, transmitters, and other equipment.
''We have to do something. The move in UNESCO for a new world information order, registering reporters, and so on, is actually a move to restrict information, not increase it.''
As we talked, the World Service (the English-speaking part of the External Services) was in the news again here, this time because it was broadcasting messages to British citizens caught in Beirut.
An urgent need for the BBC is to complete relay stations in the Seychelles and in Hong Kong to strengthen its signals to East Africa, to China, and elsewhere.
Reportedly, Peking has raised no objections to the Hong Kong station. China is due to take possession of the colony again in 1997, so the BBC checked with Peking before starting to build.
Meanwhile, up and down the shortwave bands, Soviet signals are louder and clearer than the British.
Muggeridge sees world radio as one area in which post-imperial Britain leads all other countries in quality of programming and in credibility.
His entry into the BBC years ago came almost as an afterthought. As a young reporter on the Liverpool Daily Post, he was headed for Fleet Street when his wife spotted an advertisement for a job as producer with the BBC World Service.
He has held a number of External Services posts, including head of current news and features. For several years he was in charge of the BBC popular stations, Radio One and Radio Two, during a wholesale revamping of BBC domestic radio in the 1970s.
Colleagues say he keeps a low profile within the BBC. He is intensely proud of the External Services and sees his job as maintaining its reputation for credibility and style.