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Craig Mattson

Real Presence

On podcasting.

Jonah Weiner has argued in Slate that the podcast is friendlier than the book. We experience the super-abundance of audio blogs, he explains, differently from our bedside book stacks. Tomes evoke a Sisyphean obligation. "Podcasts, somehow, are different. I just tallied up the 53 unheard episodes sitting in my podcast library, and, doing so, felt none of the guilt, dread, or FOMO that, say, my clogged Instapaper queue can inspire in me." Instead, he smiles at the thought of "53 ways to feel like I'm being productive with my time while I'm wasting time."[1]

Weiner's comparison of podcasts and books recalls Jim Gaffigan's comparison of movies and books: "You ever talk about a movie with someone that read the book? They're always so condescending. 'Ah, the book was much better than the movie.' Oh really? What I enjoyed about the movie: no reading."[2] But it's not simply the laboriousness of literacy that makes books a weariness to the flesh. Walter Ong has argued that print culture conveys the wearying inescapability of human presence to—humans. "The presence of man to himself over the face of the globe is basically a presence of the word," Ong observes, adding that we feel this word most in our media.[3] "Today lettered words thrust themselves up like shouting monuments not only in the cities but along country highways as well, and are inscribed in the heavens by skywriters." In contrast, humans in oral society were "scattered in tiny isolated populations which had lost memory of each other's existence." Books and magazines and newspapers contribute to what Ong calls "hominizing" the creation, that is, our "entering into possession of the world, filling it up, becoming the active focus of more and more of its operations." I am myself a bibliophile. I spend every birthday gift card in the codex section of Amazon. But even I have to admit that books bear our smudge and share our smell in a way that the podcast, with its dear freshness deep down things, does not.

Gerard ...

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