The return of podcasting

Kevin Roose recently wrote about the renaissance of podcasting:

Sometime around 2009 or 2010, the podcast scene seemed to wither. The stalwarts (“This American Life,” “Radiolab”) stayed around at the top of the iTunes charts, but there wasn’t much else happening. Download numbers fell. Interest waned. People moved on to online video and streaming music services as a way to pass the time… Today, a very different problem exists: There are too many great podcasts to keep up with.

He attributes this mainly to the rise of smartphone-connected cars:

Connected cars are a boon for the entire streaming audio industry, but they’re especially exciting for podcast makers, whose shows are perfectly suited to in-car listening. Just as TV watchers can now choose Netflix or Amazon streams over surfing channels, radio listeners will soon have a bevy of on-demand options at their disposal.

I think that’s right, but I also think there is another reason behind podcasting’s renaissance. As other forms of social media have matured, they’ve become less freewheeling and interesting. For example, the social media world I mostly inhabit – tech twitter – used to be exceptionally candid and direct. It felt like tech people chatting amongst themselves. Now it is mostly carefully crafted tweets designed to get retweeted and not cause trouble.

Podcasting, on the other hand, feels fresh in the same way that other forms of social media did 5-10 years ago. No one knows what the right way to podcast is. Very few people have followings. The expectations are low. You are rewarded mostly for being fresh and experimental. It’s the beginning of a new medium, and no one knows the rules. That’s what makes it exciting and attracts pioneering creators.

“The Future of Reading Depends on the Future of Learning Difficult to Learn Things”

Socrates’ complaints about writing included “Writing removes the need to remember”. He meant that a prosthetic brace on a healthy limb will induce withering. On the other hand, if we think of new technologies as amplifiers that add or multiply to what we already have rather than replacing them—then we have the opportunity to use writing for its reach over time and space, its efficiencies, and its ability to hold forms of argument that don’t work in oral discourse. And we can still learn to remember all we’ve read! In other words, writing is not a good replacement for memories used in thinking—too inefficient—but is a great way to cover more ground, to cover different ground, and to have more to think about and with.

…[McLuhan said] that new media which are adopted at all first take their content from older and more familiar media. For example, it was important that the printed Gutenberg Bible be a Bible, and also look like a hand-made manuscript copy. Gradually, if the new medium has powers of its own, these will start to be found and used. The real message of printing was not to imitate hand-written Bibles, but 150 years later to argue in new ways about science and political governance. These are what forever changed Europe, and then America.

-Alan Kay, “The Future of Reading Depends on the Future of Learning Difficult to Learn Things” (via Chris Granger)

We asked for flying cars and all we got was the entire planet communicating instantly via pocket supercomputers

Benedict Evans has a new presentation about the explosive growth of internet-connected smartphones.

By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have a smartphone:

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And each of those phones is equivalent to what we used to call a supercomputer:

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As Fraiser Speirs tweeted, we asked for flying cars and all we got was the entire planet communicating instantly via pocket supercomputers.

“The great ideas have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas”

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

The presence of others can only inhibit [the creative] process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all.

From Isaac Asimov’s “How do people get new ideas?”


“A lot of the best tech startups are ideas that have been around for years”

A lot of the best tech startups are ideas that have been around for years but the time is finally right. *

Some people get jaded. “We tried X years ago” and summarily dismiss. But then eventually the time is right and it works. *

Examples include touch computing, virtual reality, and many areas of artificial intelligence. *

Or as pmarca says:

In tech, “I tried that 20 years ago and it didn’t work” is a positive predictor, not a negative predictor