The Medium Is Still The Message

What is it about podcasting that is so different from other media?

In a word, intimacy. More correctly it should be stated thusly: INTIMACY!

To understand this we need to go on a journey.

In the beginning all human communications was oral. Storytellers travelled from village to village. These people would recite long tales, in verse, late into the night. The verse part is important. It activates different parts of the human mind from prose. Also, it appears, allows us humans to remember epic length stories with amazing accuracy.

This sort of storytelling was and in many places around the world, still is a communal form of communication.

With the introduction of the written word, these stories were recorded on scrolls. Again they were read aloud to groups of people. Examples of this sort of thing are the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ulster Cycle and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The next revolution in media came with the printing press. Again much of the early works were read aloud in verse but increasingly they were read in private and written in prose. The effect of these new media forms was to transform societies. Written words could be made available, with the printing press to many more individuals. Science, the novel, satire and many other forms, in prose changed the way we humans looked at the world,

The prose part is significant. Prose tends to activate those parts of the brain used for critical thinking rather than the memory centres to the same degree as poetry. So we only needed to remember what book held the information required rather than all the information.

With the coming of the marconigram, radio as we know it now, the intervention of another layer of technology altered how we interacted with the content. A book can be picked up whenever to be read, radio continued the factory system of things, happening  according to the movement of clocks. Hourly news reports, Friday night comedy shows and so on.

The development of the silent cinema added a different way of consuming content. The medium as the message in this case created a whole vocabulary of visual clues we learned to read. In the same way adding sound to film changed our consumption of content so too did television add another layer to radio. The difference being, in the case of television, our imaginations were not required. The images we formed listening to radio were provided by the new medium. Again a whole vocabulary of visual clues arose. Similar to cinema but different because of the medium. Smaller screens, advertising breaks and so on made television different. I’m assuming you can see the patterns.

The arrival of the digital revolution has created new media. From blogs to video to podcasts.

In the same way a town outside Detroit celebrated one of its sons efforts in creating the motor car by erecting a horse trough in his honour, many of the early podcasts mimicked the ways of radio. This really missed the point but we tend to use new technologies in the same way we used older ones until experimenters come along.

The way people listen to, consume in industry parlance, podcasts is not the same as the way people consume radio. Repackaged one hour podcasts from three hours of morning FM radio content is a sad waste of the medium.

Most people listen to podcasts through earbuds, a few through headphones. This recaptures the imagination triggering effects of radio, there are no supplied pictures, but adds something else. Something very important and key to the medium ~ intimacy.

The voice in the ear. There has never been a medium quite like it. Yes we could and I did, listen to radio with an earplug but it was still the structured radio available to everyone. The intimacy and choice, combined in podcasting, is its power. We are not time limited. I’ve gone back and listened to episodes from over a decade ago because I enjoyed the current content the podcaster was producing.

If you give this some thought, it gives us clues as to the nature of the medium and, most importantly, how we can best serve our listeners.

The intimacy means not everyone will click with you, your voice, your story or your content. The good news is that it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of people in the world who will listen to your show.

Think about how you search for shows. Here’s what I do. I go to the search function and type in a topic. I then read the description on the shows. If I’m interested, I’ll listen to an episode and see if I like it. I do not ever read the ratings and reviews. Why? I don’t know the people who wrote the reviews or gave the ratings. Because podcasting is such a personal thing, I rely on my own judgement. I think most listeners do too.

The other thing to bear in mind is: We are just at the beginning. 2004, the year Apple kicked off the medium, is not that long ago. Think of the things that happened in the first fourteen years of television. From direct filming of Shakespearean plays to TV specific content. I’m not advocating an “I Love Lucy” for podcasting but it may be part of the way forward.

If you’re of a mind to speak directly to your potential clients and staff, drop me an email or hit me up on Linkedin.


Contact me on Linkedin:

or email at: