A few weeks ago, I noticed (barely) that the New York public radio station, WNYC, now has it’s own iPhone App. Listeners now have the option of hearing a live stream of the station online, and podcasts of recent shows. This is such a “me-too” story that it barely qualifies as news. I’m still not sure why I took the time to read it. Everything is already podcasted these days, isn’t it?
Still though, it made me stop and think a bit.
What exactly is radio? The World English Dictionary (as available at dictionary.com) defines it as “an electronic device designed to receive, demodulate, and amplify radio signals from sound broadcasting stations”. If you’re listening to it over IP instead of over radio signals, is it still really radio? Or is it a podcast?
A pedantic and pointless question. At least if we leave it at that.
Suppose your transcribe it and put it online. Is that a web page (or blog)? Or is it still radio?
Suppose you have a speech to text program, and you automatically put your radio program online. Now suppose you have a text reader for your website. Are you reading a radio program, or listening to your website?
Suppose you have an electronic book. It’s a legal rather than a technical limitation whether your kindle can read that book to you aloud. What is the difference between your book and a radio podcast? And what if your book includes multimedia such as sound and video, as is slowly starting to happen. Is it still a book? Or has it become a movie, or TV show, with lots of text? Or a radio show with visual augmentation?
There used to be very clear lines drawn between movies, TV shows, books, newspapers, and radio. Maybe a small amount of blurring of the lines, such as when somebody published a newspaper in book format to make a point, but it was usually pretty clear what you were talking about. But as everything goes online, all our previous classifications of media are going to merge into an indistinguishable mass. We might keep some conventions about timing and primary format due to historical considerations, but we’ll have a really hard time explaining to our kids what the point of those conventions were. And so much of our language is going to have to evolve as media becomes fluid and interchangeable. There’s a certain subset of the population that gets upset when people say they’ve “read” an audiobook. Am I allowed to call Felicia Day a TV star? Or must I refer to her as a star of online media? Perhaps at some point we won’t even know what the original source of media was, because we’ll so seamlessly move back and forth from audio to visual in multiple formats.
We live in interesting times.