Sunday, February 27, 2005

Frustration takes hold

Two weeks ago, podcasting was like this little secret I had: it was as close as I had ever come to being hip in my entire life.

Today, of course, podcasting is on the cover of WIRED and the NYT and everyone is scrambling to get it. Caleb Fiske described the problem best: He was part of the team that launched The Area 51 Show three weeks ago, and he recalled his internal anxiety at missing the boat, the lament: "if only we could have launched it three days earlier..."

This is the heart of our frustration. I have always sensed that the world is moving faster than I can track it, but when even early adopters feel that way, I feel safe in saying that this is the spirit of the age. Parse that however you like.

And then there's the constant click-track of technology: My PC dates back to 2003, and thanks to the changes at Microsoft, it is on the verge of functional obsolescence. It's not that there's anything WRONG with it -- it's just that every MS update that shows up causes previously stable systems to crash and crawl. I limp by via system restores, but this is a temporary solution at best.

Result: I download new programs that don't work properly, and I can never tell whether this is a function of the install or the result of service pack updates that I have to hold at bay.

To put things even more bluntly, as of today, podcasting looks more to me like a beta than a first release. Geeks and wannabes (like me) will love playing with it and puzzling through the problems, but the average person just won't care that much.

My iPodder has never worked properly, but there's no tech support for that, no documentation. I've got some really cool recording programs now, but I can't tell whether my problems with them are user ignorance or software issues. My other podcatching downloads all have problems. I cannot, with confidence, timeshift downloads from RSS feeds.

The intended answer is obvious: Go out, buy new computers, new software. Buy an MP3 player. Buy a better microphone, plus an adapter, maybe a mix board. Oh, and it should all be on a laptop, too, in case you want to record on the fly. And then you need a host to upload your file, and blogging engines that will properly publish the feed. And you have to worry about bandwidth overages, just in case you get really unlucky and a bunch of people download your stuff.

Blogger, which was so much fun just a few weeks ago, looks too limited to me now.

And as I covet this new tech, I think, "What Would Wendell Berry Do?" And then I am ashamed.

I do love this stuff. I wake up at odd hours thinking about it. But the more I road test it, the more I see that this is a game for people who build their lives around technology, not vice versa. And until it makes that switch, as blogging has, no real breakout is going to occur.

We all experience the same frustration, but we each have a different threshold. The genius will be the person who figures out how to reach this technology down to guys like me.