A number of articles I’ve read in the last week have highlighted an increasing digital divide in our society. This subject and these articles have been running around my head all week, so while I eat lunch I’d like to share them with you and get your thoughts.
What triggered the subject was Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Its host station, KCRW 89.9 FM in Santa Monica, abruptly yanked the show off the airwaves and moved it to be Internet-only. KCRW believes that growth is going to be on the Internet side, and those that listen to the show will find it there. Now a number of broadcasters have done this in the past — think Adam Corolla or Tom Leykis –but arguably the audiences for those shows is very different than the NPR/Public Radio audience. I think Shearer captured my concern very well:
People are sawing the legs out from under the idea of radio as we speak. Television, when it came to prominence, was supposed to kill radio outright, and it didn’t. The question is: Will online audio kill radio broadcasting? I listen to about 80 percent of my audio content online, and I look at a lot of my video content online, so I’m not a Luddite in any sense of the word. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in radio broadcasting.
A lot of people driving in their cars don’t have the facility or haven’t mastered yet getting online audio into their car’s audio system. A lot of poorer people don’t have the wherewithal for broadband everywhere that they might want to hear something, and older people don’t want to mess with that stuff. Radio better be around, because in any kind of emergency, my experience has been the first thing that goes down is the electric grid, and the second thing that goes down is the telephone grid. And if you don’t have a portable battery-powered radio, you are seriously out of luck. People who are trying to dismantle this system are way in front of themselves, and may not be doing the public a service.
I, too, have seen a growing number of articles predicting the demise of terrestrial radio. NetFlix is predicting the death of the TV channel. The problem is that the movement to Internet based approaches for TV and Radio are not available to all — due to either the financial or intellectual cost of the new technology. Do we have the right to disenfranchise these people?
But the problem is not just radio. Look at music in general. iTunes is turning 10, and there are numerous articles on the changes iTunes has brought. One article notes the following:
The iTunes store dominated by downloads “is on its last gasp,” says Bob Lefsetz, a former music industry lawyer and blogger at the Lefsetz Letter. “YouTube is where most young people listen to music now.” (More than 1 billion people visit the site each month.)
“When iTunes turns 15 years old, we won’t be talking about downloads, because Apple won’t be selling them,” he says.
Here’s another quote from the same article:
Ten years ago, Apple’s most popular iPod was the largest-capacity model with 80 gigabytes of storage. Now the top seller is the 32 GB iPod Touch starting at $299. The entry-level iPhone comes with 16 GB of storage.
“If downloads were still important, we’d all need more storage,” Lefsetz says. “Apple knows which direction this is going.”
Yet again we are creating a community of digital disenfranchised. Not everyone wants to stream media — they may not know how to do it; they may not be in a location that permits it; they may not have the signal to do it; they may not be able to afford the cost of doing it. Yet the assumption seems to be that it is something the public wants. What this is really doing is hurting the public: no longer can you own a personal copy of your music you can listen to at any time in any place. You become tethered to the (for profit) streaming service, who can dictate if you can listen to your music and where and when. Is this the right direction for society?
We all know technology is everywhere, and in increasing cases, it is not serving to help but to hurt. What used to be broadcast is now exclusively on the web, eliminating as a potential audience those lacking the financial or technological wherewithal to find it. Others are starting to embrace a return to old media. We need to make sure that in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest technology, we don’t cut off those not quite as nimble.
Disclaimer: Even though I know how to listen to podcasts, I still like the radio sometimes. I like to physically own my music (in fact, I’m looking to buy some LP storage crates and a media center), even as I have over 31,000 songs on my iPod (160GB). Further, I do not have a smartphone. I feel cut-off everytime I see a QR scan-this discount code.
Music: Destry Rides Again (1959 Original Broadway Cast): “Overture” [recorded from LP to MP3 using Roxio Easy Media Creator, loaded into iTunes, currently playing on my iPod]