Anal Retention Rules the Day

It now seems like the strongest anti-podcasting meme is that of “Podcasts take too long to listen to. I can read X blogs in that time.” It’s tiresome to hear people over and over look at podcasts with blog-colored glasses. Because these people write blogs and read blogs and podcasts are in some cases (decreasingly so) associated with a sponsoring blog (such as this one), they think there is a one-to-one correspondence. When they have drank so deeply the blog kool-aid, everything tastes like blog to them. Ain’t so, McGee. I frankly don’t care how many text blogs you can read. As I’ve said over and over, audio carries far more extra-textual information and nuance and context than does the written text, so it is a fallacy that you are “reading more”. You are reading more and getting less, so I think that issue is a wash. If you think the value of a podcast is solely contained in its words, you have missed the point by a mile. You get the words, you get the personality, you form a connection to the podcaster faster than you ever can from reading their text weblogs. It’s not about speed of information datadump, its about the ease of feeling connected to another person.

Stop thinking of podcasts in blog terms, bloggers. If you have to score them, I’d take a stab that the DNA sources for them is 85% radio, 10% blog and 5% TiVo. Do you complain that “I can’t skim This American Life or The Howard Stern Show?” Is that really what is of value to you in a medium, how little you can pay attention to it while paying lip service to having “consumed the content?” God help us all if that’s the best we can do.

I’ve said it in conversations and around the net, but not sure if I’ve said it here in a top-level post. I think this prevailing feeling of “There are too many podcasts, I can’t listen to them all” is the wrong way to look at it. In every city or burg in the developed world and in some of the undeveloped world, you have more radio than you can listen to. You are locked into one channel at a time, and not only doesn’t that bother you but you use that to your advantage. When one sucks, you push the button and try another until you find one that meets your needs. The key metric is not what percentage of all podcasts published you can listen to, it is how much of the time that you’d like to be listening to something interesting, informative, or entertaining are you actually doing so? If 100% or close to that, mission accomplished. It’s about replacing the failure of radio to do that for us, not about taking weblogs to the ears. Frankly, those who think that podcasting is about creating an exact copy of weblogs in audio are shooting so absurdly low as to cause me physical pain. It’s about creating a new medium with new modes and interactions. Even if it started with aspects of all its genetic ancestors, it must go far past that or I will consider the whole grand experiment to be a failure.

To diss a medium because “I can’t listen to it all” is the cry of anguish of the anal retentive. You can’t watch all of TV, listen to all of radio, read all books or magazines published, read all the weblogs out there. When did this become such an important factor? You need enough to keep you happy and occupied, not to feel like you must be able to listen to every second of every podcast ever published. I say that the rallying cry of podcasting is in the words of one of our greatest American philosophers:

With the lights out it’s less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us

Thank you, good night, drive safely.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

15 thoughts on “Anal Retention Rules the Day”

  1. Thanks for writing pretty much exactly what I would have written. I just couldn’t muster up the energy to get so worked up about it.

  2. Exactly how I would have said it. Well written.

    Matthew Bischoff

  3. Mark says:

    To the detractors: I use podcasts to replace radio.

    1. I listen to Podcasts while commuting to and from work.
    2. I also listen to them at work, while working.
    3. I like to listen to them while I’m walking my dog.
    4. Sometimes I’ll even listen to them while writing code at home.

    What do all of the above have in common? I’ll tell you: They all take place while I’m doing something else, specifically something else that I couldn’t do at the same time as reading someone’s blog.

  4. ratman says:

    Well said. For those nay-sayers that were ahead of the curve with blogging, it seems strange to denigrate another form of expression. All methods of sharing information have valid uses. I’m finding that podcasts are increasingly my favorite form of entertainment during my many hours in the car. Even music gets boring if you listen to the same all the time. And, for the most part, Podcastings are commercial free; or at least inoculous. Anyway, thanks for podcasting and blogging. I’m enjoying it.

  5. Shannon says:

    I’m sorry if you took one of my previous comments as a diss – it wasn’t meant that way. It is really more a comment on my own lifestyle that listening to podcasts simply doesn’t work for me. Sneaking in a little reading here and there between the rest of the family activities is much easier to do than any audio or video. I wish I had time to listen to This American Life and Fresh Air, as well as several other shows. I wish I had time and a quiet place to listen to a podcast or two. I have too short a commute to listen to anything besides NPR headlines in the car. I take time to watch Letterman when I should be sleeping, but that’s about all the regular video I get.

    The point is, not everyone saying they don’t have time for podcasts is dissing the medium. I think it is a great evolution of the communication uses for these computers. I just can’t use it at the moment. -sln

  6. Aaron says:

    I’ve listened to your anger before and loved it, but as I haven’t visited what you’re writing everyday, I’ve missed out on gems like this.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a little sample but do go and read the whole thing. Don’t you love Dave when he’s angry? I’ve said it in conversations and around the net, but not sure if I’ve said it here in a top-level post.

  8. pflocal says:

    like Teen Spirit.

  9. floyd tiny says:

    I can’t reed so good . litsening iz beeterr.
    Seriously – I couldn’t have said it better. To say that Podcasting is just audioblogging is moronic at best.
    I’m drunk on the variety of stuff I’m getting from blogdigger media feed and feedster mp3 feeds. Like twisting a radio dial and getting that rush of megainformation going by. So much good stuff out there.

  10. gray says:

    initially, i thought an audioblog meant that i would be able to follow along the audio with the written blog. that is, a dude simply reading his blog into a mic for the benefit of those on the go, the illiterati, and/or the blind. kinda like a book-on-tape.
    but of course, that’s not what a podcast is. it’s a bundle of passion of a different color. perhaps restrained use of the word “audioblog” would help differentiate?

  11. Dave says:

    Thanks y’all. More than most things I write, this one seems to have hit a chord. One thing I want to be sure to say is to address Shannon’s comment. I see a huge difference between “These podcasts don’t work in my life”, which is what he said, and “Podcasts don’t work for anyone” which is what others are saying. I’d never say they are for everyone, because that’s obviously not true. However, many many folks are finding that this works quite well in their life. You can’t deny that, even if you think this is a stupid idea.

    I don’t know if the audioblog nomenclature helps, hurts or as I’m guessing, has ultimately nil effect. Soon enough it won’t matter what we call any of this because everyone will just know what it all is.

  12. pflocal says:


    I notice that when you post the bittorrent and mp3 link for a new audioblog/podcast you title it ‘Audioblog’ and the date. Do you consider yourself audioblogging or podcasting? I know you are a champion of the term podcasting thanks to the suggestion of some Brilliant Bastard, will you at some point begin to refer to your own work as a podcast?

    Enquiring minds, or at least a mind, wanna know.

    Keep up the great work and don’t let the naysayin’ Man get you down

  13. Dave says:

    What I record is an audioblog. The way it is transmitted out to the audience is via podcast. I’m not sure why people think this is an either/or situation. Podcasting describes a delivery mechanism, and is completely agnostic as to what is being delivered. I’m doing both here.

  14. pflocal says:

    Thanks for your clarification. Here’s a nice link which explains it well also:

    I suppose some of the confusion in the use of the term and the whole either/or situation arises because not everyone is so clear in using ‘podcasting’. I agree with you (after thinking about what you just read) that podcasting is the method delivery and is completely independent of the content it delivers, but I don’t believe Adam Curry refers to what he does as an audioblog, talk show or anything else besides a podcast (at least ever since the term has come into vogue), and I’ve heard others say “I was listening to a podcast today…”, so the term, I think, is quickly becoming to mean not just the delivery mechanism but to the content (to some degree) as well. Which is a good thing, it means its catching on. Typically, when asked, one says “Oh, just listening to some radio…” or “Just hangin’, watching TV” and not “Oh, I’m listening to a talk show delivered via radio…” or “Just hangin’, watching a sit-com I’m getting over television…”. So perhaps you can see how folks would come to see what you are doing is not just podcasting, but a podcast. I suppose to be correct, what you do is an audioblog with one of its methods of deliveries being podcasting, as it is also available as a download that I can stream kinda directly from the webpage, download and save for me to listen to on the computer, put on my iPod or burn to a cd, or I could use my bittorrent client to retrieve the torrent and again, listen on the computer, iPod or burn to a cd, effectively eliminating or at the least crudely mimicing the podcasting part.

    What does all this mean? Hell I don’t know, I’m bored at work and you kinda got me to thinking.

    thanks for your time

  15. Koan says:

    I process information through my ears way better than I do through my eyes. So, for me, a quality audioblog hits the spot *way* more effectively than similar content in a text format ever will. Even if I can read far quicker than I can listen (which I can). Is the same true for everyone? I don’t know, but I suspect not. Do I care? Absolutely not! While quality audioblogs (like yours) exist, I will gladly consume them.

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