Step 2 | Read More…
Now that you have found a podcast that you like and gave it a listen(I hope), it’s a great time to dig deeper into the roots and the development of podcasts as a medium. I have chosen this article as reading material and we shall read some of the excerpts(because some parts require extensive background knowledge on podcasts in the US). If you are still interested after this article, you can check the full article here.
Before you read on….
I want you to keep these questions in mind, and try to answer them after reading the article.
- What similarities can you find from the early development of YouTube(~2017) in Taiwan with the development of podcasts stated in the article?
- What do you think helped facilitate podcast growth in Taiwan?
(Disclaimer: I did not write the article below “How Podcasts Learned to Speak: The once useless-seeming medium that became essential.” myself. I have chosen part of it for academic use. All copyrights belong to its respective owners.)
How Podcasts Learned to Speak: The once useless-seeming medium that became essential.
By Adam Sternbergh
When you first heard about podcasts, do you remember how excited you weren’t? Do you recall the first person who said, “Did you know you can now download audio files of people talking?” To which you might have replied, “Talking about … what?” To which they might have replied, “About … anything!” — at which point you realized that podcasts seemed like radio but more amateurish, which wasn’t the most compelling sales pitch.
I’m going to guess you’ve listened to a podcast since then, maybe even a few. And I’m going to guess that you’ve even become obsessed with one or two. There are now an estimated 660,000 podcasts in production, offering up roughly 28 million individual episodes for your listening enjoyment. The first two seasons of the most popular podcast of all time, Serial, have been downloaded 340 million times.
In podcast lore, the form was born in 2004, when the MTV VJ Adam Curry and the software developer Dave Winer distributed their shows Daily Source Code and Morning Coffee Notes via RSS feed. Or maybe it was really born in 2005, when the New Oxford American Dictionary declared podcast the Word of the Year. Or maybe it was born in 2009, when abrasive stand-up Marc Maron started his podcast, on which he interviews fellow comedians and other celebrities in his California garage, debuting a disarmingly intimate and bracing style that culminated in a conversation with Louis C.K., named by Slate four years later as the best podcast episode of all time. Or maybe it was born in 2015, when people realized that Joe Rogan, a former sitcom star and MMA enthusiast, had a podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, which started, in his description, as “sitting in front of laptops bullshitting” and was now being listened to by 11 million people every week. Or maybe podcasts were born way back in 1938, when Orson Welles proved that a seductive voice could convince you of anything, even the impending arrival of aliens. Or maybe they weren’t born until February of this year, when the music-streaming company Spotify bought the podcast-production company Gimlet Media for a reported $230 million, enough money that even the most skeptical observers had to acknowledge that targeted nuggets of radio on demand might be the future of media and not just a quaint variation on its past.
Perhaps it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact arrival of podcasts because they’ve spent a decade in a state of perpetual arrival. In any case: They’re here. What’s more, these humble chunks of audio have emerged as the most significant and exciting cultural innovation of the new century. In an age when we were promised jet packs, or at least augmented-reality goggles, it turns out what we’ve really been craving is the companionship of human voices nestled in our ears. These voices provide us with information, yes, but also inspiration, entertainment, enlightenment, emotional engagement, companionship, and, above all, a sense that, in even our most arcane obsessions, we are not alone.
In hindsight, the elements that made the podcast revolution inevitable (they’re cheap to make and easy to distribute) are the exact ones that made them seem the opposite of revolutionary when they first appeared. The portmanteau podcast, a mash-up of iPod and broadcast coined by the journalist Ben Hammersley in The Guardian in 2004, suggests that podcasts rode in on the coattails of the digital-music revolution. Their development since has been a case study in sheer, unfettered experimentation — the gleeful result of the kind of widespread, wiki-sourced evolution that can happen only when no one is paying attention or, at least, no one with enormous bags of money is paying attention. Podcasts have one very obvious progenitor — radio, to a surprising degree the public-radio program This American Life — while being the brainchildren of thousands of disparate inventors. There are no editors to convince, no producers to pitch, no green lights to be green-lit. To make a podcast, all you have to do is buy a mic, install a recording program on your laptop, and start talking.
As for what people talk about — well, anything they’re obsessing over, from classic board games to the state of our political discourse to organic-farming tips to D-list celebrities to every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Your favorite subgenre of podcast likely depends on your personality and how exactly you prefer to spend those moments when you can’t do anything else. Maybe you favor the talk-show podcast, such as Pod Save America, in which people interview each other (or, less frequently, one person talks directly to you) about contemporary events. Or maybe you prefer narrative podcasts, which methodically explore a single story over a full season, such as the Watergate scandal in Slow Burn. Perhaps you’re more of a talk-radio-style-podcast fan, drawn to shows in which strong personalities, people like Ben Shapiro, Preet Bharara of Stay Tuned, or Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman of Call Your Girlfriend, advance a worldview through unbridled commentary and occasional interviews with like-minded guests. Or maybe you’re drawn to the roundtable podcast, shows like Slate’s Culture Gabfest or Extra Hot Great, in which smart people chatter about smart things (and, just as delightfully, dumb things) while you get to ride shotgun. There are useful industry-expert podcasts like Scriptnotes (hosted by two successful Hollywood screenwriters) that provide an unfiltered view into a particular business. There are fully fictional podcasts, such as Homecoming (adapted into an Amazon TV show starring Julia Roberts), that offer the pleasures of — and occasionally struggle to escape the stilted sound of — old-time radio dramas. (Voice acting is hard, kids.) There are podcasts that drill down on one simple question, such as Vulture’s own Good One, in which each episode is devoted to a different comedian detailing how he or she wrote his or her very best joke. And, of course, there are true-crime podcasts — so many true-crime podcasts. So, so many true-crime podcasts.
The most instructive examples of the state of the art, though, are those delightfully unclassifiable podcasts, the ones that represent the medium’s potential to grow beyond simply digital talk radio. These are shows like Everything Is Alive, an unscripted interview program produced by Ian Chillag, in which the subject of each interview is an inanimate object (a pregnancy test, a can of generic cola). Or Jon Mooallem’s Walking, which is part podcast, part performance-art project, and consists of hour-long recordings of his walking in the woods. (No talking, just walking. For real.)
Whatever your personal preference, it’s become clear that podcasts are particularly well suited to cater to personal preferences. The form, which once seemed like it might not be particularly good at anything, now seems to be good at nearly everything. And podcasts increasingly are learning to do things no medium has done before. If podcasts sprang forth from radio, then started to borrow from written essays, novels, movies, and TV, they are now learning to be podcasts in all that entails. To understand where they’re headed, however, it helps to start with how they ended up sounding the way they do right now.
It’s a style that prizes authenticity over authority, a purposeful antidote to the traditional newscaster’s drone.
But this tone, as it exists now in podcasts, did not arrive instantaneously or fully formed. It’s the product of hundreds of small revelations people had as they figured out what exactly podcasts could do that radio could not.
In the beginning, there was little money to be made in podcasts, so no one was making podcasts with the intent of making money. People made podcasts because there was something in the world they found interesting and they had a hunch that someone out there might find it interesting too. As a medium, podcasts have thrived because they intrinsically deliver one thing the internet and all its attendant gizmos haven’t proved to be very good at: intimacy. Social media, which arrived in our lives around the same time as podcasts, had been heralded as a breakthrough in global connection, but it has become a machine that manufactures discontent. Take a look at your Twitter feed. It is, by literal design, a great leveler: a cacophonous conversation with all the humanity drained away. The Nobel Prize–winning biologist tweets next to the random anti-vaxxer who tweets next to a Russian bot spreading disinformation. Facebook is worse. The connection promised by social media turned out to be an algorithmic ritual of posting, swiping, scrolling, and liking.
Then there are podcasts: cheap, niche, idiosyncratic, weird, and highly personal. In their myriad varieties, podcasts have emerged as an audio analogue to the spirit of the early internet, Internet 1.0, the version that promised to provide a platform for every manner of obsession, no matter how specialized or obscure. But podcasts have an additional appeal — they take that obsession and whisper about it in your ear in the real voice of an actual human.
The first person who ever tried to turn me on to podcasts — back when my initial reaction was “Why would I listen to podcasts? I don’t even listen to the radio” — was a friend of mine who, for medical reasons, had been confined to intermittent bed rest. She’d become addicted to podcasts. She loved them precisely because they could so comfortably colonize her mind. Podcasts were constant company, audio portals into unexpected worlds. She’d realized that the experience of podcasts is fundamentally different from being Extremely Online. No one listens to a podcast and comes away feeling agitated and slightly guilty, the way you feel after an hour on Facebook. If the internet is increasingly like a seedy business district you visit reluctantly then regret, podcasts are an invitation you extend to another human being to hijack your consciousness.
Radio used to do that, sort of, sometimes, but podcasts introduced portability, accessibility, and a nearly endless selection of subjects on demand. And thanks to the hothouse strangeness of podcast evolution, the hits of the medium are nearly impossible to predict, let alone replicate. Could you have guessed that the breakout podcast of a given year would feature a former Daily Show producer’s compulsion to find out whether Richard Simmons had disappeared? Or that the animating appeal of the true-crime genre would not be the details of the crimes themselves as much as a podcast’s ability to foreground its host as she puzzles through the investigation? Comedy was an early driver of podcasts because comedy is fundamentally about the pleasure of listening to funny people talk. It’s also pleasurable, podcasts reminded us, to listen to experts talk. Also panels of pop-cultural mandarins. Also famous people, who for one reason or another have proved exceedingly willing to reveal themselves to an unprecedented degree once their lips are only inches from a microphone.
The one constant, though, through all the standout podcasts is that notion of obsession and connection. Freed from the constraints of attracting a mass audience, podcast creators double down on their enthusiasms and invite you, the listener, to come along. It’s a refreshingly democratic medium that, not incidentally, is driven by distinct personalities. Dan Taberski has a background in television, and he realized early on with podcasts that a major difference is “it’s your voice. It really is you. There’s no way around it.” This combination of distinct voices dwelling on personal enthusiasms is addressing a collective desire we didn’t even know we had.
In a digital world in which we crave human contact so badly we’re willing to listen to ASMR YouTube videos by the millions, to hear people whisper gibberish and tickle microphones with feathers to provoke some kind of physical sensation in us, is it any wonder that the notion of a soothing voice in our ear for an hour has proved to be so popular? Technology makes podcasts possible, but the experience of consuming podcasts is an oasis from our indentured interaction with screens and passwords and keyboards. Podcasts appeal to the twin modern manias for constant enrichment and constant escape. Despite their low-tech origins, we should never have been surprised at podcasts’ modern allure. They are instant company with interesting people. What could be more exciting than that?