I’m going to try to sum up something that’s been bugging me and that I’ve been chipping away at for quite a while, including this weekend with my bristly exchange with Darren Barefoot. I’ve said it and I do believe that I’m sick of this subject, but I keep returning to it because although I’ve written about it frequently I have failed to do it satisfactorily. Call me Sisyphus – I’ll sigh and take another shot at getting this rock up the hill.
I’ve been blogging for a few months shy of three years and I’ve been reading blogs for a few years longer than that. In all this time, I’ve been sold a vision of infotopia, of citizen created media, of throwing off the shackles of the gatekeepers. Right on, I can get with that. Through the primary season and the election cycle, I read repeatedly about the power of blogs and I felt it. Citizen media! People have the power! This all resonates with what I believe, with what I want to be true and I bought into it all the way.
Enter podcasting. From my perspective, it’s more of the same citizen created media goodness, just with different characteristics. It’s not a replacement for blogs but shares some of the same DNA. It has some of what I like about blogs, some of what I like about radio and some anarchy from nowhere. My gut feeling is that any of the blog drum-beaters who have been selling me the dream should be delighted to beat this same drum. Many do, but to my surprise some big name bloggers don’t. As Darren did, they have problems with it that are based in the affordances of the medium. These are not specific to podcasting per se but are common across any audible content. “You can’t skim it”, “it takes too long,” “I can’t consume 250 feeds this way.”
This is where it breaks down. What I would have expected is that even for those whose specific needs are not met by podcasting (one presumes these folks already didn’t listen to the radio during the day), they would have been supporters of the medium. After all, they’ve been selling the dream of user created content for years and now here is some more coming from a different direction. For some fraction, the “podcast backlashers”, that is not true. These are the people that surprise me, frustrate me and ultimately disappoint me.
It turns out that some hardcore blog purists were selling a different dream than I thought I was buying. I was down with “citizen created media” while they are proponents of “citizen created typing.” They see one and only one possible valid interaction of this sort – type up and publish some words read by someone else on a monitor. The fact that different media have different affordances, different usage patterns, different strengths and weaknesses are completely lost on them. That different things can be accomplished in audio and different forms of connections made and new kinds of creativity excercised doesn’t matter. The depth of interaction contained in the human voice is irrelevant. These bloggers are text fundamentalists and podcasting has crossed the line into heresy. They have a list of reasons why listening is bad and reading is good, thereby denying not only the value of podcasts but of music, audiobooks, radio drama and any other audio art form. They think they are making sense, while I see only closed mindedness and complete absurd literalness. “When we said it was good to have citizens writing up their opinions, we meant writing, nothing else.” These people love blogs so much that they interpret everything as a blog and on blog terms, and use that to find audible interactions lacking.
I’m not debating the relative merits of text versus audio. They are not identical, which by definition means that each will have times when it makes sense and each will have people who prefer it or plain can’t use the other. That’s fine with me. I’ve thought diversity was an ideal to be pursued – in the number of people creating the media and in the form those media take. It turns out some people don’t see it that way. They grant the value of diversity in one way – number of people creating it – but then restrict it to only one slice of possible communication – solely textual blogs. That strikes me as hypocritical, makes me angry, frustrates me and causes outbursts like we saw over the weekend.
You sold me a dream that it was good to have a variety of opinion expressed, that citizen media was good. Don’t shut the door when that is expressed in a manner you didn’t anticipate. Even if you don’t choose to particpate in that manner of expression, stay consistent and support the ability of citizens to communicate to the world in a wild variety of ways. Blogs are wonderful, but they are not the evolutionary peak of interpersonal communication. Don’t be a fundamentalist, remain open to everything that dream you’ve been selling implies. To do anything less is to betray the ideals you’ve been pushing on me for years.