Podcasting: Mechanist View vs Humanist View

| 2 min read

I'm going to take another run at this, even though I've long since tired of the topic because I keep feeling like I'm tantalizingly close to expressing something so that someone else might actually understand where I'm coming from. Rob Greenlee responded to my post about his interview with Don Katz, to which I re-responded. In debating with Rob, I think I finally understand why we've been talking past each other on this topic since last October.

I'm frustrated by the fact that Rob cannot discuss podcasting without saying some variant of "... but people have been downloading audio files from the web for years.." I find that statement true and correct yet useless. I've never understood why that has to count against what we are doing. Does it matter how long audio has been on the web or for that matter who the first to upload it was?

I think Rob is approaching this from a Mechanist viewpoint, as a number of folks do. They are ascribing the value of podcasting as some complicated calculation of the sum of value of the component technologies times the novelty of them to the factorial of users or some crap. That kind of thinking isn't at all how I'm approaching it.

I look at this from a Humanist viewpoint. The technology is necessary to make it happen, but is really kind of irrelevant. The important bit to me is the human and social interactions that happen once the technology existed and was combined together in certain ways. I don't have a fetish for RSS and enclosures per se and if it were some different format that was equally easy to use and develop to, I could care less. What I do care about is that automatically, I have human voices that appear on my computer and communicate to me. That's it. That's all I care about. I care that the scaffolding exists but not what it is, and from my perspective any scaffolding that does the same job with the same ease is effectively the same thing. That's why I don't care how novel any part of this is. Being able to have 50 different ordinary yet compelling people to listen to whenever they choose to publish a file is what excites me. This part is inarguably novel because it wasn't happening and now it is.

Because of my viewpoint, once the human interaction is there the technology questions fade into irrelevance. Rob feels a need to deflate the "untrue hype" that this is new and exciting, because his Mechanist view says this combination of old technologies isn't new and exciting from a technical level. I think it is new and exciting because the voices I listen to all day every day weren't speaking to me in this manner in the recent past, which is new and I find it exciting because it excites me.

Is this making sense to anyone? I've grown weary of the Mechanists feeling the need to "take the piss out of podcasting" because of the lack of technical novelty. Are people lining up to say Flickr isn't new and interesting because people have been putting photos on the web for 15 years? I find it exactly analogous to what we are discussing here - the novelty is in reducing the friction of creation and publishing to a low enough point to allow new human interactions to occur. My new response to the Mechanist argument is this: "What you say is entirely correct, entirely factual and entirely irrelevant to me."