March 22, 2006
Even though technology generates new words almost daily, language doesn’t always keep up with the world we’re living in. Podcasters (a new word) talk about “tuning in” to their web-delivered mp3 audio files, not to mention “rewinding” them and being “on the air.” There’s nothing to wind in a digital audio file, and the only air involved is between headphones and eardrums. Nor is any tuning required. The very word “podcast,” a combination of the brand name, “iPod”, and the word “broadcast”, contains an inaccuracy.
New media like podcasts and blogs are better described as “narrowcasts” or even “pointcasts” - delivered directly to individual readers and listeners through the mysterious magic of RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
I think it's just a matter of people only understanding new things by referring to things we’re already familiar with. The ancient Greeks were already well aware of this, and used the verb proseikazein to describe that act of comparing and likening.
For those who grew up without cable television, it’s natural to think in terms of “tuning in” and being “on the air.” Broadcast TV and radio still exist, transmitting signals on specific frequencies and requiring some form of antenna with which to tune in. These days the transmission is as likely to go via satellite as radio tower, but the principle is the same.
Likewise any experience with film reels (or film cameras, for that matter), 8-track tapes, audiocassettes, and even VHS makes it easy to think in terms of “rewinding.” What actually happens when you skip back or forward through a digital audio or video file is more complex than rolling a magnetic tape or film strip around a spindle. Learning to use the technology can be hard enough, without taking the extra time to learn how it works and to describe it accurately.
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