Some things we learn because someone told us what they are. Other things we learn from experience, and we give that experience a name — in fact, the people who told us what things are might have learned them this way.
The question at hand, of course, is “what is podcasting”? What do I mean when I ask that question? Why does it seem even interesting?
First attempts at answering this question are usually something like what Wikipedia currently cites (and the first definition I cited in my presentation):
A podcast is a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released episodically and often downloaded through web syndication.
A later section cites work that I’ll look into further where a four-part definition of podcast is used:
A podcast is a digital audio or video file that is episodic; downloadable; programme-driven, mainly with a host and/or theme; and convenient, usually via an automated feed with computer software.
I have a problem with these definitions: they don’t actually answer the question — except in a very surface way.
Or, as I have come to call it: these things are the mechanic definitions of podcasting.
It’s understandable, really; from what I’ve learned about learning styles and the process of cognition, humans generally move from the more concrete descriptions of the world to the symbolic and abstract. It speaks not to the skills of the definer that these definitions lack any sort of real meaning, but rather to the newness of podcasting itself.
But this mechanical definition really gets us very little, and it’s not the question I’m asking anyway. One could have made a similar description about a car, describing the elegant dance of hardware, instrumentation and control that gives this hunk of plastic, metal and chemicals its forward mobility. It would be accurate, at least for a while — when the technology changes, this mechanical description either gets broader, changes, or simply gets abandoned.
But the “real” meaning of “car” is far more than the particular make and model, the parts and the construction, the history and the price. A car means providing vast mobility in a world previously ruled by rail and horses. A car means transforming cities to wrap them in ribbons of concrete towers to allow traffic to flow in a semi-orderly manner. A car means giving independence to millions who would have otherwise depended on the services of others to provide them with goods, and choices of where goods and services can be bought. A car means an increase in the use of and reliance on fossil fuels — or at least some energy supply. A car means having a portable office to some, a mobile house to others.
I could go on, but I think my point becomes clear: it’s much more than simple mechanical definitions that I’m after here: it’s that deeper meaning that I’m curious about. What is the impact of podcasting? How has this very young medium already shaped things (if at all)? How can it continue to do so? What should we seek to do with it, and how can we bring about such a future? Does podcasting deserve a seat at the big table with older, more established media, or is it resigned to the kid’s table alongside Youtube, flickr and Twitter?
That said, I will probably cover the mechanics of podcasting, both in a basic way (“here’s how a podcast is created, delivered, consumed”) and in a more explorative way (“how can we deliver podcasts differently?”).
But I see podcasting as much more — or at least, potentially so. Podcasting has, for me, entirely changed my pattern of media consumption. Podcasts are probably close to 80% of my media intake on any given day. (That’s a rough guesstimate; I’ll try to actually work out a proper number later.)
Have I answered my own question? Probably not. You may find that my inquisitive nature tends to raise more questions than it answers…