February 19, 2005

Is podcasting good?

The NYT has a frontpage article promoting podcasting, which is supposedly the big new thing now that blogs are so last year. I decided to check out Adam Curry's "Daily Source Code," and clicked on this one. It was just unedited, uninteresting blather. He rambled on about NYC. He seemed to think it was worth stating that he hadn't been there since 9/11, even though he had nothing else to say about 9/11 and just continued into some lightweight talk about how he had a lot of friends to visit. And there was no amusing detail of any sort about the friends. Just: he has a lot of friends in NY. Who cares? Then, he got to the topic of "The Gates," which he had nothing interesting to say about. "The Gates" made it hard for him to find a hotel. He said, "The hotels are all booked to the hilt," then immediately started talking about the Hilton. Well, it seems to me that if you have any way with words at all, if you say "to the hilt" and then "the Hilton," you've got to riff on that. If you don't have a way with words and you can't riff verbally and your ideas and observations don't flow out with some detail or distinctive edge, why are you recording yourself?
So I've got the lav on, so I can walk around a bit, look out the window. Let's see. What was I going to do?

One thing about written blogs is you can glance over them quickly and decide how much you want to read. These podcast recordings impose their time frame on you. A slow talker forces you to listen longer. A slow writer doesn't cause you to read slowly.

I'm not completely knocking podcasting. I might like to do it myself. Curry deserves credit for developing the medium, but I don't see him as much of a content provider. That's my snap judgment after listening to him for about two minutes and not wanting to put up with any more slow-moving banalities. I can see the special value to people who are walking around with iPods and want to listen to something radio-like. Sitting with my computer, I find it annoying to listen to a rambling chat. But audio might be a nice addition to a blog, like photography. But like photography and writing, spoken word needs to be done well. It can't be just: hey, look, I'm podcasting.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that at some point Curry plays music. That's when I turned it off, actually. Conceivably, a DJ can chatter inanely and still be acceptable to people who want to hear music. I pretty much only listen to music in my car. You might wonder why I don't have an iPod. I quite simply don't want one. I don't like to listen to music while I'm out walking around.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Legal Underground thinks I'm rejecting podcasting and Adam Curry unfairly and claims that there are a lot of great podcasts out there. First, link to some that you consider great so I can see for myself. I picked Curry's site because he seemed to be an important podcaster. And I did get his "soundseeing" concept, but found it lacking in content. (I also hate when NPR pads out its stories with footsteps in the crunching leaves as we approach ... whatever.) And I do understand the notion of downloading the material into an iPod, but I'm not going to sign on to the idea that the material therefore doesn't really need to be that good. If I listen through my computer and find it boring and pointless, I'm going to stand by that opinion. I've listened to "This American Life" and old episodes of Jean Shepard's great show on the computer. It's the same as listening to the radio.

YET MORE: There is also just "audioblogging," which looks really easy to do on Blogger. One advantage is that you can phone in your posts, which means you can blog without a computer. A pitfall, judging from the examples at that link, is talking as you would in an ordinary phonecall. It is quite tedious to listen to a stranger talk in a way that would be normal and acceptable in a personal phone call. I think people naturally hold themselves to a higher standard when writing. But audioblogging might be great for a small blog that is read by friends and family -- basically, the people who would enjoy chatting on the phone with you. It would take a real effort, I think, to use a telephone to make an audio clip that a large number of strangers would want to hear out. Even getting good content would be hard, but add to that the problems most of us have speaking fluently and distinctly and in a nice-sounding tone of voice.

AND YET MORE: Jonathan Gewitz agrees with me about the problem of audio imposing its time frame on you and adds that videoblogging has the same drawback. I note that I'm essentially making an argument for why reading is the best way to receive communication (unless you're having a personal relationship). I've developed almost an aversion to going to the movies in the last couple years, and I know it's mostly about feeling stuck in the theater. You commit yourself to being there for the two hours or so and then you have to wait while the material is reeled out at the pace somebody else decided was a good idea for the audience in general. At least with TiVo or a DVD you can pause when you want, but isn't reading superior? You're not limited to pausing. You can vary the pace constantly depending on your interest, the difficulty of the material, and how much room you need to make for thoughts of your own.

I realize that this point is related to what I wrote yesterdayabout the Summers speech heard live and the speech read as a transcript. ("I think if I had been there and heard the 'daddy truck/baby truck' part, I would have missed the whole next section because I would have become wrapped up in my own thoughts. This is one reason why I'd prefer to read a speech than listen to one. Who can sit through a long, overcomplicated speech with a passive mind?") Of course, as a teacher, I impose live speech on an audience all the time, so I must also believe that there is something that happens in that setting that is better than reading or an important addition to reading. But I certainly know one needs to make a very great effort to do it right. You've got to feel that you owe your audience a lot, since you are presuming to trap them in a room for an hour.

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