"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why I won't podcast...yet

I remember when the Sony Walkman first came out in 1979. It was the height of the disco era and I was living in New York. Thus I was fortunate enough to inhabit the only city (or borough, anyhow) in America where you can walk to most of your destinations in the course of a typical day. But the Walkman made that a problem. Young women in exiguous jogging outfits and young men in $100 rocket sneakers—their laces often loose—pranced down Broadway with their Walkman earphones blasting Donna Summer's pseudo-orgasmic wails through their heads, oblivious to us more pedestrian pedestrians. The Big Apple suddenly got even more dangerous to take a bite of. We survived that, barely; but now it's dejà vu, even if not quite all over again.

The white earbuds of the Apple iPod are becoming ubiquitous, not just in the streets but just about everywhere else. Just ask any parent of a teenager in a halfway-affluent family. Even though only about 1% of Americans own an iPod, it's become not merely an instantly- recognized mark of coolness but a veritable talisman of membership in a paradoxically atomistic subculture. The easier it gets to take your music with you wherever you go, the more fragmented the audience for music becomes. Thus, and in most cases unwittingly, the iPod's proliferation has come to represent the worst trends of American society (and no, I don't mean crime, which has been trending downward for a decade). The more we can customize what we listen to, the less and less we have to listen to anything we'd rather not listen to—especially each other. That encourages us to inhabit a reality of our own making rather than deal with the unexpected and sometimes unpleasant vagaries of honest-to-goodness life.

The trend toward solipsistic atomism may have started with suburbanization and urban blight, but it has only been accelerating with our entertainment technology: cable TV, the Walkman, VCR and DVD players, TiVo, downloading songs from the Internet, and above all the MP3 player that utilizes such downloads, of which the iPod is the best. Worse, the trend is starting to extend beyond mere entertainment. Over the past year or so, "podcasting" has started to catch on. That consists in recording something on one's computer, usually in MP3 format, and then making it available on a Web site for anybody to download and hear on their own computers or their iPods. Sigh. Welcome to the brave new world of egocasting.

I could easily do that myself; some who know my ego would find it peculiarly appropriate. Having a good voice, I find myself tempted. Heck, people who have known me for decades might even like it, in small-enough doses. But the rest of the world? What would I podcast that I do not write here and elsewhere? Karaoke? Even my family would beg to be spared if they didn't have the option of not clicking on the filename. The homilies that I wish my priest would give but doesn't? If people wanted to listen to that, they would have me ordained. (Another fond, youthful fantasy I have outgrown; you're reading the blog of the only man you'll probably ever read, or meet, who has taught in a seminary that had refused to accept him as a student.) I can't think of a good reason to podcast and have already adduced a good reason not to: it would contribute to that collectivization of private egos which, given the decline of civic spirit, is what our society is threatening to become on many levels.

Now if somebody wants to pay me to do it, that's a different matter. I'm not that far above American materialism!
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