August 09, 2006

Internally Yours

Superceding the Retro-Radio: The 21st Century Podcast

If you have ever sensed that people begin to clear out of the room the second you walk in, cleverly avoid eye contact upon your introduction, or forget about their deadly canine allergy and play fetch with your dog instead of carrying on a conversation with you, then maybe it is time to question if you need to find a new audience to address.

We are lucky that today's increasingly technologically-driven society enables us to do just that. Not only can we use the Internet to purchase items as rare as an ancient manuscripts from China, find our one true love, or read classic literature from the rapidly growing electronic book library, but now we can find people from all over the world who, unlike family and friends, voluntarily listen to what we have to say.

But how can we do this, one might ask. The answer lies in the latest computer fad that is beginning to expand beyond the techie-geek population and into the general public: podcasting. As a term that is known by few, but utilized by even fewer, podcasting has introduced an entirely new medium of communication and outlet for the creative expression for all.

If you have no idea what a podcast is, have no fear, you are amongst the vast majority of the population who is still unfamiliar with this up-and-coming techo-term. A podcast is a kind of audio broadcast that is downloadable from the Internet and available for playback on portable mp3 players, namely the iPod.

The term was coined by Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, who wanted to describe a specific type of technology which enabled the audio content of websites to be readily available to people who are interested in both the content itself and playing it back on their iPods.

Podcasts are a kind of hybrid between magazines, radio stations and since the new video iPod was released, television programs. They are essentially radio shows that people can subscribe to for free. Once you are subscribed to a podcast, its contents are automatically updated on your computer in varying intervals. Just like magazines, some are weekly, some come out daily and a few come out multiple times a day.

Although some similarities exist between podcasts and the radio, there are overriding differences. Unlike radio shows, which are played at specific times, podcasts are available 24-7 and can be accessed at the listener's convenience. Where radio shows are broadcast only through specific sound wave frequencies, podcasts can be disseminated from anyplace in the world with access to a computer, the Internet and a microphone. Most importantly, however, podcasts can be created by and for people of all backgrounds and interests, at no cost, as quirky, controversial, and not-funny as they may seem.

But the true novelty and beauty of podcasting technology lies in its diversity. There are podcasts created by people who occupy all positions on the political spectrum, who observe any and every religion humanly possible, who are undergoing a midlife crises or culture shock as they travel through foreign countries, or who are just out to get a few laughs by wishing to portray no specific message at all.

Podcasts' content ranges from that of commentary given by New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle journalists, to tips for living a vegan lifestyle offered by mother nature's children, to the latest trends in fashion and cinema reviewed by today's pop culture junkies.

While their content may at times be frivolous, the message that podcasts are beginning to send out is not. They are grounded in utilitarian ideals offering equal opportunity for all to use their right of free speech. The variety in the topics that podcasts address speaks to the wide range of ideas and opinions that citizens of the United States melting pot possess.

In our country, where there is a thickening line between the rich and the poor, a continuing battle for equal distribution of wealth through tax reform, and constant criticism of the administration for its decisions concerning public policy, podcasting enables people of all economic backgrounds and ethical codes to express their opinion to as many people as will listen. Technology, in this case, has served to create a nation in which people join a community where it is okay to disagree and express personal opinions, as shocking as they may be.

As the number of podcasts is expected to increase 15 fold over the next five years, meaning that approximately 60 million people will have access to them by the year 2010, we can only hope that this new medium will be used to further our nation's social, political and economic advancement.

Sarah Singer is a third-year intern at the Independent. She is a sophomore at Cornell University where she studies philosophy and government.

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