Luddites

The world is full of Luddites. But before we get to podcasting Luddites let’s just define the term.

The original Luddites smashed weaving looms and spinning wheels. Not just any looms nor wheels but specific ones. Those in factories, those which increased the rate of production. Why? Because the machines were destroying jobs and denigrating craft skills.

They simply wanted the rate of industrial development to be slowed, to allow individuals time to adjust to change. Naturally, in Marxist terms, the mill owners, satanic or otherwise, brought the power of the state down upon these individuals.

Sounds like a familiar tale really.

With the introduction of the PC a newer form of Luddite arose. Let me explain. I was writing articles for magazines way back into the 1990s. So of course I borrowed books on the craft from my local library. That’s right kids, these were pre interwebs days.

I’d been taught to read punch cards back in the 1970s so embracing of technological change was inculcated into me from an early age.

The PC was wonderful for article writing. Drafts, revisions and completed pieces done in far less time.

I was able to determine when an author of a book on the art of article writing had begun their careers based upon whether they offered one particular piece of advice:

Write your first draft by hand with either a pen or a typewriter.

These latter day Luddites weren’t out smashing the PCs or laptops of this world the acceptance of technological change was, by then, part of the culture but they were digging in against the march of technology. Needless to say those attitudes never show up in “How to write article” articles anymore.

In the wonderful world of podcasting, tech changes have been bouncing along with great rapidity ever since the 2004 launch of the medium.

Way back then, rss feeds were handcrafted in .xml, feedburner was the safest way to let iTunes add your show to their library, radio was the standard to be measured against. It was an audio medium with a long track record, after all. Hosting media files was a hit and miss, stab in the dark mixed metaphor of a choice. Levelator, released in 2005, looked like magic.

Where are we now?

There may still be craftspeople out their hand coding rss feeds, after all there are still craftspeople hand spinning and weaving cloth. The good ones make a healthy living from textiles. I can’t see how a handcrafted rss feed would provide any income differential over using an audio host’s system but it still happens.

Feedburner is now and for a few years has been, more trouble than it’s worth. Breaking feeds more often than saving them, especially once we get past the 100 episode mark.

I’ve discussed the radio, in particular, user supported radio, attitude to listeners in episode one of this series. I don’t think radio is the standard against which we are judged any longer and I think this is a good thing. Yet there are organisations, with a radio heritage selling us, for free, time wasters.

I’m thinking here, in particular, about S-Town. As a listener, I was looking for clues to the point of the series from the very beginning. Sold as a police corruption story it morphed into the sad lonely death of a sad lonely man who poisoned himself, probably, over time with mercury fumes. The story changed nothing in my life other than taking five or six hours out of it. I felt ripped off. The fact the last few episodes focused upon how this man’s suicide affected the narrator only added to my frustration. I just didn’t care, there were no lessons for me, nothing I could take away into my life to make it better. I came to feel it was a cynical attempt to build upon the success of Serial season one and I still do.

The whole experience was a poor one based upon old ideas of upselling from TV and radio culture of the 1970s and 1980s. It had little to do with the listener and everything to do with ego of the narrator and the corporate culture of the production company.

Do not let yourself be fooled into following this path. Keep your listener’s experience in mind. How is the story you’re telling of value to them? That’s all we need to focus on.

Back to things that have actually changed since 2004 with hosting. Hosting companies have come and mostly gone but the good one have stayed and new entrants are keeping them on their toes.

So where are the Luddites?

Levelator users would be a good place to start, people who set their studios up as if they were in radio are another. What matters to listeners, as indeed what mattered to clothing purchasers in 1800s, is the finished product not the method of production.

Let me explain. In the same way people are happy to buy a $20 fridge from Wal-Mart while it destroys jobs in their communities by outsourcing them to China, the growing Victorian middle classes were happy to buy factory made clothing even when it was directly responsible for destroying any number of crafts and skills.

So do our listeners really give a toss how complicated our studio set is? Do they care if we used a $3000 audio editing software package? Can they actually tell the difference?

I would suggest the answer to those three questions is: No, No and No.

What do they care about?

Content, content and, yes, content.

Are we then shooting ourselves in the foot with complicated setups? Are we wasting time and money on processes which can be outsourced to algorithms? Do we really need a mic so sensitive it can hear a bee breathing at 300 yards? Again, no, no and no.

Now I understand that amongst audiophiles, that’s with a ph not an f, sound quality is more important, almost, than the content. There’s a song by an English duo, Flanders and Swan from back in the 1957. It’s called the Song of Reproduction. In this case it’s about high fidelity recordings of opera and such like performed in a conversation between a listener and a tech type. It ends with the telling line:

And I quote:

“But I never did care for music much,

It’s the high fidelity!”

End quote.

I think as podcast producers we can improve our productivity by focusing on the listener experience rather than the technological one.

Lower standards? Possibly but in .mp3 who can really tell the difference?

I’m actually calling for appropriate standards.

One’s which allow content producers to provide exactly what the listeners want to hear. You know, content that adds value to their lives.

You get to pick your battles in this life.

Do you want to spend your time and your hard earned cash battling with bee breaths at 300 yards or do you want to work in a relatively quiet space without reverb which produces mp3 files your non techy listeners will enjoy?

I know where I stand and I assume by now, you know where I stand too.

This medium of podcasting is a liberating creative space. Let’s all free it from it’s past and fly into the future, full of joy at the differences we are making in the lives of others.

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