Technology Barriers We Forget About

There have been a few blog posts over the past few days talking about podcasting as a failed experiment because there hasn’t been exponential growth.  I would argue Podcasting may be hitting its first dip (a la Seth Godin’s great book of the same name) and it will reach the point where some people will persevere while others decide to fold their tents and pursue other avenues.

Let’s look at things that might prevent Podcasting from being adopted- the first threshold is technological.  In a blog post on Technology News Daily, they estimated that about 56% of US homes have internet access, and about half of those had wi-fi networks in the house.

In contrast, a May, 2007 report from the Democratic Leadership Council had this to say about internet access:

Today, the economy is increasingly coordinated and reliant on high quality broadband Internet access for everyday operation. But the uneven distribution of broadband access across the country has made it impossible for many individuals and businesses to take advantage of new opportunities and succeed in today’s global economy.

The transition to broadband faces a difficult initial hurdle. Since broadband costs roughly twice what dial-up Internet costs, many customers are unwilling to make the transition unless there is enough broadband-only content and applications to make it worth the increased cost. Only approximately 24 percent of households that could have broadband access actually subscribe. Internet providers, on the other hand, are unlikely to invest the money in broadband specific content unless there are enough subscribers to make the investment worthwhile. Broadband deployment is a particular challenge in rural areas, where distances between homes are greater and costs are higher. Some Internet service providers simply do not see the profitability in installing broadband Internet access where infrastructure development is expensive, and only one quarter of users will pay extra for the service.

This means, in essence, that even where broadband is available, not everyone is shelling out the extra money that it costs to have this service at home.

So this means many people still have dial up service.  While this is great for participating in conversations on blogs, it isn’t great for accessing podcasts and video content on the web.  So while we have seen tremendous growth in blogs, we haven’t seen a parallel increase in consumption of podcasts and video blogs.  Pair this with the fact that many people also have older computers without graphic accelerator cards and the tools that make watching video on the ‘net a viable option, and it’s no surprise whatsoever that the growth has not been the same for podcasting as it has been for blogs in comparison.

Shoot, with dial up, you can’t even meaningfully use an ipod or digital music player of any sort, and download anything other than your own CD’s. There’s even a great article on CNET  from 2005 that goes into detail about how dial-up service and lack of high speed internet was impinging on tech workers in Maine, causing the Governor to take things in hand.  The article states:

“Gov. John E. Baldacci is leading an initiative to bring wireless Internet service to 90 percent of Maine communities that meet a population threshold (five people per square mile) by 2010. “

2010.  Another three years from now before most of the State of Maine will have the ability to subscribe to high speed internet service, assuming their finances support this kind of expenditure.

This gets into the concept of the digital divide.  For those of us who are web-natives, we don’t always understand how many people still view the internet as a geeky toy. They have not incorporated it yet into their daily lives the way we have.  Because they can’t.

Literacy totally changes a community.  Public health records alone show that as more women become literate and well educated in a culture,  the birth rate declines.  You can see a complete chart here.  Now take this into the digital world, and think hw much more information is available, and how much of it is still invisible to so many people in this Country, not to mention all over the World, and you realize the Digital Divide is more than a geek problem, it will ultimately be a serious social justice issue as well.

S o before we go writing off podcasting,. blogging, video on the net and the like as a fad, let’s remember how many people still are in an age like when television or video recorders first came out- they were really only available to the wealthy for quite some time before they were generally adopted by everyone.  New media is still in its infancy.  But it is based on fundamental concepts of sharing thoughts, experiences and information, which humans have always sought to do faster and more efficiently.  First it was Guttenberg, then Alexander Graham Bell, and now it’s Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  It will be some time before everyone is “on the same page” regarding new media literacy.  And the early nay-sayers will seem like the same people who thought TV was a flash in the pan.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Technology Barriers We Forget About

  1. Thank you for exploring this issue. I tend to hammer on it on my rural small biz blog, for these same reasons. I appreciate your take on it.

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