Today, I'm going to talk about...The Singularity. Or at least a Singularity for podcasting. Or better stated some possible catalysts that could bring about the Singularity for podcasting.
A quick primer for those unfamiliar with this term and for the astrophysicist reading this thinking I'm about to wade into the end of the universe debate (I am not): The Singularity is generally understood to be an event (or a series of events) that causes the past of something—podcasting in our case—unfathomable to those looking back at the time before The Singularity happens.
You may have heard this described in reverse, from the point of view of someone in the past, trying to comprehend post-Singularity life. Like traveling back in time and trying to explain orbital mechanics to an eighth-century shipbuilder.
With that out of the way, I have five (well, four and a half) candidate catalysts that could bring about a Singularity event for podcasting. An event so profound and a change so drastic that it will be difficult to imagine what podcasting was like before this event happened.
But I need to set some caveats, as I often do.
First, I firmly believe that the podcasting Singularity event will be listener-focused, not creator-focused. You and I will continually adjust to new creation, distribution, and other tools that help us make better podcast content.
But none of that is going to lead to podcasting's Singularity. That's all behind-the-curtain stuff that's terribly interesting to us and very well may radically change how we make, publish, and distribute our content. But the end-users—you know, the people we make our content for—don't care about any of that. If there's ever a podcasting Singularity event, it'll be listener-focused.
My second caveat is that these are not predictions from me! I'm simply examining some possible technologies that have a shot at creating a Singularity moment for podcasting. But they might not. As you're going to see in a moment, each of them has serious obstacles to overcome before that potential future is realized. And that's coming from me, a dude who is seriously optimistic about the future of podcasting.
Ever since Amazon gave us (sold us) that first black tube with a blue glowing ring on top, the smart speaker has had its die-hard supporters convinced that this screenless device would be the interface of the future.
There's no doubt Alexa and its competitors have been a hit, with 25% of all American adults owning a smart speaker. And it would make sense that a speaker, a device with a primary function to transmit audio to human ears that is semi-sentient, would bring about the podcast listening Singularity.
But that hasn't happened.
A big part of that is friction between the personal, for-your-ears-only nature of most podcast listening and the play-sounds-to-the-entire-room nature of external speakers. That's an obvious disconnect.
But the bigger hurdle has been the fact that the interfaces for smart speakers are still really clunky, which brings me to my second candidate for the possible Singularity of podcasting.
When our feature phones evolved into smartphones, our engagement experience with our devices changed drastically into an incredibly tactile, touch-dependent integration. Prior to that, we'd press seven or maybe ten keys on our phone and then hold it up to an ear for the duration of the interaction. There was nothing to look or fidget with during a call.
But phones today really aren't phones anymore. They're attention-grabbing (or demanding or sucking, depending on your preferred adjective) communication and control interfaces for our world. And all of them come with voice assistants.
But for voice assistants to really power the podcast listening experience without visual output for and tactile input from the listener, they're going to have to get a whole lot better.
The good news is they can. AI, machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing... technologists have the ingredients to create a Jarvis-like interface that's always with you... to play the next podcast in your queue, I guess?
I'm old enough to remember walking around with a pair of Google Glass about a decade ago. Not a great experience. But now we have companies putting 1080p displays in a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, so that's a big shift.
But will it matter to podcast listeners? Podcasts aren't for eyes; they're for ears. I draw your attention to today's wireless earbuds that do a lot more than just Bluetooth to your phone. When you wear a pair of modern wireless earbuds, you're really sticking two small computers in your ears. They have their own chipsets. They talk to one another.
If (when?) advances in voice assistants are coupled maybe with some scifi-looking hand gesture interface that in turn communicates with even more powerful future wireless earbuds, then possibly Jarvis really can be in—or at least on—your head.
Mark Zuckerberg is pouring his fortune into building Second Life 2.0, so I have to offer up the Metaverse as a contender for a service that might bring about the Singularity for podcast listening. But at the same time, I doubt that anyone will log into the Metaverse just to listen to a podcast. Not audio-only podcasts, for sure.
However, they might goggle into the Metaverse to engage with podcasts communities or attend podcast events. Today in the meatspace, time and location dependencies are the biggest barriers for podcast events. The Metaverse promises to remove at least one of those until Mark invents a time machine to solve the other.
If I went to the Metaverse, I guess I have to talk about the other technology change that's getting a lot of attention. But I'm less interested in NFTs, crypto speculation, or other financial-based aspects of Web3 than I am in the possibility of the blockchain becoming a different distribution method for podcasters and a platform that could better empower podcast curators.
But we're still in the very early stages of this, and there's far too much buzz/focus on what I see as rent-seeking/wealth accumulation and far too little on the user-enabling benefits of Web3. However, the decentralized nature of podcasting and the decentralized nature of the blockchain ought to have some synergies.
Do not ask me how that might look because I have no idea. I have a lot of catching up to do before I understand current nascent Web3 initiatives and can hope to have a firm grasp of where this might take podcasting. But minus many heavy and intrinsic challenges, I think there might be something there. Maybe.
So there you have it, five current technologies that may bring about the Singularity event of podcasting listening in the near (?) future. I again remind you that I am not predicting that any of these will be the key catalyst or that any of them actually become a catalyst. Heck, we may keep rolling on with podcast listening just like this for a long, long time.
But I don't think so. And all of these technologies are worth keeping an eye on, as they all have elements that could, at least in theory, make podcasting better.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.