Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 28/1/2005OK, I was wrong. I said that podcasting was the devil's own way of pouring aural concrete over the pristine grassy uplands of your iPod's hard disk.

Friday 28/1/2005

OK, I was wrong. I said that podcasting was the devil's own way of pouring aural concrete over the pristine grassy uplands of your iPod's hard disk. That it was yet another way for wannabe broadcasters to bypass the necessary filters of hassle and get straight onto the digital air whether it was a good idea or not. That adding a binary attachment to an RSS feed was not the sort of rocket science which gets you a Nobel Prize, the adoration of beautiful people and statues erected by global subscription.

Now here I am, consuming podcast on the London Underground. It tastes slightly of crow. Only slightly, mind: I remain unmoved by most of the stuff out there, which I consider more than justifies my initial skepticism. Sturgeon's Law, that 90 percent of everything is dreck, more than applies.

But my very favourite music radio station, WFMU, has just entered the pod. So far, it's not doing nearly enough because of those dratted IP issues -- one of the few available is devoted to out of copyright antique recordings of wax cylinders from the Edison Laboratory archives. While it is charmingly ironic to listen to some Edwardian music hall xylophone player through a century-long chain of technology that goes xylophone-cylinder-computer-internet-computer-iPod, it's still a freaking xylophone and you will go crazy after thirty seconds. Let alone an hour.

Most of the rest are talk shows, phone-ins and so on. Which, this being WFMU, are miles better than normal, but they're still not the hard core of whacked-out beautiful music that you can't get anywhere else. There is one show, Advanced D and D with Donna Summer, that has the noise. It's nothing to do with gold pieces or disco divas: breakcore from the sewers is more like it. But lots of it is music made by listeners or unsigned hopefuls, which I presume lightens the licensing load.

I don't see why licensing should be a problem. It's easy enough to record stuff from Internet streams these days even if the broadcaster doesn't specifically support it, and the podcasts are no easier to edit down to individual tracks than any other programming. Just another new format on the plate of a music industry that's still suffering massive indigestion from too much innovation not to its taste.

And perhaps I'm just too much of a cyborg. As Wired says, "According to Giesler's preliminary research, the iPod isn't simply an updated Walkman. It's an entirely new beast: a revolutionary device that transforms listeners into 'cyborgs' through a process he calls 'technotranscendence'. Unlike the Walkman, the iPod taps into a 'hybrid entertainment matrix', in which functions like random shuffle are a key construct, not just a cute marketing device. 'iPod and user form a cybernetic unit,' said Giesler. 'We're always talking about cyborgs in the context of cultural theory and sci-fi literature, but this is an excellent example that they're out there in the marketplace... I have seen the future, and it is called the cyborg consumer.' The cyborg consumer, Giesler said, is one that uses several different technologies -- from cell phones to Viagra -- and is highly connected, technically and socially."

That's high something, certainly.