Terry Gross’s soothing voice murmurs into my ear. She’s talking about Project Nim, a new documentary about a chimp named Nim. This chimp had served as a scientific experiment that evidently played out more like Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan than a permanent child. One of the women charged with both mothering him and remaining objective as a scientist suffered tremendous physical violence at the hands of Nim. She describes a violent episode in which her face was deeply torn, exposing the inside of her very body, and immediately I look for the safest, closest place to vomit.
I’m listening to a National Public Radio podcast of FreshAir. It is one of many NPR podcasts I’m grateful for. NPR is a vast source of information beyond the architecture and urban planning, the social media, the travel that I write about. The 100 episodes awaiting me amongst the 25 free podcasts I subscribe to offer a world away from my own. They provide continuing education. They provide stellar ambiance when I’m writing posts such as this one. They’re with me at the flick of my mouse in India or Costa Rica, Hong Kong or Peru.
In 2005 I wrote an article about a guy in Sarasota, Florida, who was single-handedly making podcasts a household term.
“Podcast? What’s a podcast?” an editor asked when I pitched the story.
“That’s exactly why you’re going to pay me to write this story,” I responded.
Within the week I had sat in the podcaster’s house and watched him before his high-tech recording gadgets that looked like an at-home recording studio. Afterward, I hurried home in a flurry of excitement, went to PodcastAlley in search of topics I’d like to listen to, and downloaded them for on-demand listening on an iTunes account. Joy! There were psychology podcasts such as Australia’s All in the Mind, film shows such as Chicago’s Filmspotting, even news shows such as NBC Nightly News and MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann (who now has only bits of his Current TV show available via podcast) and The Rachel Maddow Show. These are mostly mass media podcasts, of course, but there are also the type like my original newspaper article. I’ve found several on comedy, meditation, and travel.
Now let’s answer my previous editor’s question, “What is a podcast?” A podcast is a video and/or audio recording that’s uploaded to cyberspace for your access at any time. You set them to download automatically and they’ll remain fresh until you click on the show for a listen or a viewing. Some last two, others last ninety minutes. They are commercial-free. Viewers and listeners can enjoy them on a computer, iPad, or smart phone.
By now I suppose it sounds passe to say I listen to and watch podcasts, as I haven’t heard the word mentioned in conversation more than a year. Then again, they’re fairly high tech and exemplify the very democratic purpose of free speech. That’s why I make a point of exposing friends and clients to them in whichever country I’m living in. More on that in next week’s Media Mondays department.
Podcasts are weightless, digital, and usually free– three words a world traveler likes when contemplating entertainment from home.