I'd like to share with you three examples of the Internet shaking up established ways of doing things, and in the process, making them even better. And as coincidence might have it, I came across all three through podcasts. (As for the photo above, while it's up for debate whether a hand-stand tea party is actually an improvement on a classic, there's no arguing that it cuts down on unwanted footsy-playing.)
Let's start with CBC's Spark podcast, and Nora Young's lovely voice telling me about new technology every week. There was a story a while back about two chemistry teachers who completely reversed the lecture/homework equation by recording their lessons as podcasts and get their students to listen to them at home. Then, they use class time to help their students in-person with what traditionally would be "homework". So simple and so brilliant -- no extra time is expected from the students, but a genius flip from the typical model of having students passively taking in information in a class, and then struggling on their own at home with the written work.
Next, let's move on to the Slate Culture Gabfest where one of the topics was Andrew Wylie, a literary agent with some impressive clients -- Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Philip Roth -- who was launching a new venture to re-release their work as e-books. Now, this isn't actually a story of the Internet flipping this around, but wouldn't it be a much more efficient approach to publishing if it was? In the case of Mr. Wylie, his clients are all very established authors who have built their careers on words printed on paper, and now he is looking at taking them digital. What if, instead, all new books came out as e-books first? It would certainly minimize the risk that publishers have to take on unproven authors, not having to worry about overprinting and seeing them end up in the dreaded discount pile. It would also be a much more environmentally-friendly option, with so many less books printed, packaged, and shipped each year. And once some of these new books actually made it to "classics" status, as many of Andrew Wylie's clients' have, that's when you'd actually have a reason to print them in special-edition form for those who wanted a physical keepsake. This has already started happening organically in the music industry -- most content is initially distributed digitally, and to the devoted fans go the limited edition albums and box-sets. Worth a try, no? If nothing else, the trees will thank us ;-)
Finally, on to Dan Savage and the Savage Love podcast. I've loved listening to radio advice call-in shows for years, but this podcast takes it to another level, and fixes all the little things that don't work on the radio. Basically, the format is that people call in and leave their questions as voicemails, and once a week, Dan chooses a handful of the most interesting ones and records his answers on the podcast. In some cases, where he has any follow-up questions, he'll call the person back on the air, and then the answer works very much like a traditional call-in show. The big difference here over the classic format is that the podcast isn't governed by the same standards as traditional radio, so Dan's free to give the kind of euphemism-free sex and relationship advice that people want to hear.
And speaking of Dan Savage, I have to mention the It Gets Better Project, which is another great example of the Internet overturning an old equation. Dan says he wanted a way of telling bullied gay and lesbian teens that while things were difficult at the time, they did eventually get better. The problem was that, in a lot of these communities, he'd never be invited to speak in front of a school. So, rather than going to them, he posted a video on YouTube and asked them to come to him. Then, over 10,000 other videos got posted with the same "it gets better message", and now Dan gets messages from teenagers who, in some cases, watch these videos on their phones under the covers late at night to help them get through the tough times.
I think the first example is brilliant. Why all publishers haven't started doing this is beyond me. I also really liked the It Gets Better example because he's right - there's no need to doing a traveling tour to get in front of people any more. You simply need to post a video. Cool stuff.
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