I’ve been thinking about media recently and, in particular, why podcasting might be so popular right now? What driving forces might be at play here?
The first reason I can think of is that it’s symbolic of a shift away from the few broadcasting to the many to the many broadcasting to the few. It is individual empowerment mixed with deep personalisation.
The listener is now in control of what they listen to, not the controller of a radio station. The listener can select from a vast array of options, based upon niche interests or even tribal values and beliefs. There may even be a link here with realness or authenticity in the sense that you are going to ‘the source’ so to speak. It’s cheap for anyone to create a podcast of very high quality, although some of the best have a lovely homemade feel.
Second, they are perhaps representative of a trend called shifting (first described, I believe, by the Australian futurist Ross Dawson). You can listen at any time, in any place on any device. Being radio, podcasts also fit nicely into our multi-tasking world, because you can listen and do something else at the same time. You can’t really do this with visually based media, because your eyes, and often your fingers and thumbs nowadays, are occupied. There might also be a link here to ‘peak screens’ (we’ve got too much visual stimulation).
Last, but by no means least, I think podcasts tap into our ancient desire to be told stories. This is one thing that is not changing and, I suspect, never will. But they might also be representative of another unchanging desire, and that is intimacy. Many postcasts are created by a single, passionate individual who also appears in the podcast as a narrator. This is hard for huge broadcasting companies with their celebrity presenters to replicate.