New Media, Old Story

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S1: Seth did you have a home page on the Internet back in the 1990s and the days before Facebook and Twitter sometime in the mid to late 90s I used one of those free services that let you make a page and kind of messed around with it for a while but didn’t get too far.

S2: One of those things like tripod or geo cities or. Exactly yes. So in the 1990s then you may actually have had some embarrassing page now lost to the you know the archives of the Internet with like flashing text and you know the number of people and aliens who have seen this page like a page counter horrible animated icons you add a lot right the whole shebang. Well I remember I had some free web space that came with my internet account so I made some pages as well. And I remember that every time a new version of Netscape came out because that was like the best web browser that would have new team Al codes and it could do new things if you learnt how to use those codes. Happy times. It all looks so cheesy now but at the time it was really exhilarating. So says Let me describe a situation to you an exciting new medium has emerged around the turn of a new century. It’s open to anyone. If you have the right equipment though you do have to learn a strange code. So initially it’s the more techie types you get involved. You could encounter a wide range of voices and there’s a great sense of media being democratized and there’s a strong feeling of community and a sense that something new and important is being forged something that’s about to change the world. And there are arguments about regulation and clashes with authority as the rest of the world gradually wakes up to what’s happening. And as the number of users grows companies move in and everyone begins to ask how can you make money from this. And suddenly there are ads everywhere and a handful of big companies and two in particular have ended up in dominant positions.

S3: So it sounds like you’re talking about the early consumer Internet and the freedom and exhilaration of the people who are on the internet in those days. And then it all gets swallowed up by Google and Facebook.

S4: Well no I wasn’t talking about the Internet in the early 21st century.

S5: I was talking about a different medium. In the early 20th century radio which ended up being dominated by CBS and NBC. So what I want to know is how come these two very different technologies at two very different times in history evolved along such similar lines. And what can that tell us about the media of tomorrow.

S6: From the economist I’m Tom Standage and from Slate I’m Seth Stevenson. Welcome to the secret history of the future.

S5: The story of radio starts with a young man whose boyhood hobby led to fame and fortune Guglielmo Marconi born into a wealthy family in Italy Marconi was educated by private tutors and in his teenage years he was taught by a professor at nearby Bologna University and he taught Marconi about invisible electromagnetic waves. What we now call radio waves which have been discovered a few years earlier by a German scientist called Heinrich hats which is why the frequency of radio waves and other kinds of waves is today measured in hertz kilohertz megahertz and so on. So Hertz had shown that these invisible radio waves existed and he’d measure their properties. But when someone asked him what they could be used for he said nothing. He said they were of no use whatsoever. Other people though including Marconi saw the potential for using them for long distance communication and in the summer of 1894 Marconi embarked on a series of experiments at his parents house in which he gradually improved Hertz his original experimental apparatus one night in December that year Marconi invited his mother into his attic workshop to show her the results.

S1: Pressing a switch caused a bell to ring in an adjoining room about 30 feet away without the use of any connecting wires. Instead Marconi had used a radio signal to trigger the bell over the following months. Marconi gradually extended the range of his equipment by refining its design and using bigger and bigger antennas.

S7: He soon moved the receiver outdoors into the garden where it was manned by his older brother Alfonso. He would wave a flag to indicate that he’d received a signal by the end of the year Marconi could send radio signals more than a mile and Alfonzo had to fire a gun to acknowledge successful reception.

S5: It’s worth pointing out that Marconi is radio could not transmit sound at this point. All it could do was send an on or off signal but that was enough in conjunction with Morse code that was used on Wired telegraph systems to send messages.

S8: The Italian authorities were unimpressed with his invention so Marconi went to London where he demonstrated it to the British government while in Britain. He sent Morse code messages several miles over both land and water. Marconi sent messages across the English Channel in 1899 and in 1981 he sent signals across the Atlantic.

S9: This was an impressive achievement but the most immediate practical use for the technology was for ship to shore and ship to ship communication rather than long distance international telegraphy which was already possible because of undersea cables. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company was soon the main provider of wireless equipment and services to both commercial and military shipping making Marconi a wealthy and famous man.

S3: But the new technology also attracted the interest of hobbyists and experimenters who wanted to try it for themselves particularly in the United States where there were no restrictions on the use of wireless equipment. They weren’t interested in the commercial or military uses of radio. They just wanted to have fun.

S10: So you began to get these little fraternities of ham operators who built their own sets and communicated with each other and it was a very bottom up democratic system that was really quite at odds with what Marconi had in mind.

S5: This is Susan Douglas. She’s a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan.

S10: It was also a way to find community just like you know what happens on the Internet today. To find a community of like minded young men and boys and it was mostly young men and boys who had the same technological interests but they also you know talked about sports scores and their math homework and all kinds of stuff. And this was again very much at odds with how Marconi and then the Navy wanted to use wireless.

S3: And by 1910 it was the hams who dominated the airwaves in the United States the majority of radio stations at the time were capable of both sending and receiving though the sending range was usually much smaller than the receiving range.

S5: It was a vast conversation in Morse code over the airwaves open to anyone who wanted to join in tinkering with radios was promoted as a wholesome and futuristic activity for boys in particular by Hugo Ganz back the founder of a company that started selling radio kits in 1985 for eight dollars 50 and that’s equivalent to about 250 dollars today which is about what it cost to buy a video game console. In an essay published in his firm’s sales catalogue Ganz back tried to reassure parents who might be worried about their child’s interest in this strange new hobby. He argued that it was a great investment because experimenting with radio equipment would keep young boys at home away from bad influences and out of trouble.

S3: Better still grins back argued it was a hobby that would position a boy well for the future electricity and wireless or the coming undreamed of world’s moving forces don’t kill the electric spark in your boy. It costs little to keep it going and some fine day it will pay you and your boy a handsome dividends.

S11: And it was nearly all boys.

S10: Most of the media coverage most of what you read is in fact about boys and young men. That’s the group for whom technological tinkering was accepted and promoted. Girls were not supposed to be technologically experimenting or literate. Girls were supposed to play the piano and be ladylike.

S2: In effect these radio sets turned each city into a giant chat room. All you needed to join in was a radio. If your friend had one and showed it to you. You want one too. In October 1988 electrician and mechanic magazine reported that wireless telegraph mania had broken out among the young man of Baltimore.

S1: By 1910 there were hundreds of radio enthusiasts in New York and nearly a thousand in Chicago. By 1912 grins back put the number of wireless experimenters and amateurs across the United States at 400000.

S5: So is it fair then to say that radio this period is really a social medium.

S10: Absolutely. It was also it came to be a relatively insubordinate medium as well because the hams. Some of them were pretty mischievous. So there was a lot of mischief and technological insurgency around this period. This is in 1910 to 1912 based on the kind of anti authoritarian anti-establishment ethos among some of the hams.

S12: To people who remember the early days of the Internet with dial up modems and having to configure all the software yourself to get online the anything goes era of early radio sounds very familiar. There wasn’t actually that much to do online to begin with. There was email and newsgroups and chat rooms and it was something called gopher. Anyone remember gopher. No I didn’t think so.

S1: But then the worldwide web got going. Which gave the Internet an easy to use point and click interface. In the late 1990s enthusiasts started to make their own home pages and post online recipes or diaries.

S12: People realized they could publish anything they wanted online. And as the publishing tools improved and got easier to use a new medium emerged. The personal blog.

S13: It was incredibly exciting to find out that you could write something. And within minutes you’d have someone who could read it in New Zealand and North Dakota. It was mind blowing and I think it took a while to realize this is what we have.

S5: This is Andrew Sullivan one of the pioneers of blogging and on American politics in particular. Born in Britain he studied at Harvard and was the editor of The New Republic magazine during the 1990s. He started his blog called The Daily Dish in 2000 as a gay conservative political commentator. He had a distinctive voice.

S14: I remember in those days I’d wait until around midnight when the New York Times would put out its daily online copy which it didn’t update during the day and came up once a day. And I get ahead of it and write commentary on things that were going to appear in New York Times the next day be on top of it fight back or argue back before anybody else got out of bed.

S5: There was a strong sense that upstart bloggers were challenging the mainstream media holding it to account by checking its accuracy.

S13: Pointing out mistakes and providing alternative views and that was enormous transfer of power really from them and their authoritarian as it were to an individual skepticism and criticism which of course at the time felt invigorating and bloggers were liberated from the publication schedules of old media too. Originally I wrote a bunch of posts once today night. Then it sort of dawned on me that I could write every 10 minutes if I want. And people might actually come back constantly to the site to check up on it. And that’s when it began to become this extraordinary runaway train.

S15: I’m just going to try Brooklyn Connecticut. CQ CQ this is Katie 4 D Y V. Anyone out there in Brooklyn Connecticut.

S1: This sense of everything being up for grabs and new possibilities emerging was how people felt in the early days of radio. We can get a sense of what that era was like because there are still ham radio operators today. People like Jason Fifer The New York curses. Nobody is out there in Brooklyn Connecticut. We asked Jason to show us how he connects to other hams around the U.S. and around the world.

S15: Here’s here’s we’re gonna try Haifa CQ CQ. This is Cady for D Y V. Anyone out there.

S1: Modern radios can of course transmit and receive speech which the earliest radios couldn’t. And today’s radios can also connect to ham radio internet gateways which lets ham operators pop up in effect in another part of the world and talk over the airwaves to fellow operators nearby.

S16: After a bunch of tries Jason eventually connected with a ham in Israel but because of somebody slow mo it is very good to hear from you.

S17: What is going on.

S16: What’s going on in Haifa today.

S18: I think hams really love the pomp and circumstance of it. The rules and the codes and everything that makes this kind of communication field distinct and unique from just somebody in a chat room which is why he you know he was so diligent about always saying my call sign and his call sign at the beginning and ending of every transmission which is out of some ham radio rulebook that I’ve totally forgotten. And there’s a sort of tension here because ham radio is in theory open to anyone but in practice.

S3: Jason and Shlomo like early ham radio operators enjoy being members of an exclusive club.

S19: But the thing about ham radio is that there is such a barrier to entry.

S20: It’s not it’s not an insurmountable barrier to entry it’s it’s a test that you have to take and the conversations tend to be kind of repetitive. There’s just a lot of geeking out on equipment and how you got into it and talking about the TAC and all that that’s.

S17: From from Jason in Brooklyn New York to Shlomo outside of Haifa. Thank you so much. And seventy three.

S21: It seems to be a common characteristic of a new medium that a lot of the early conversation is about the medium itself. It was true of radio and it was true in the early days of blogging too when a favorite topic for many bloggers was blogging about blogging and how it was changing everything and disrupting the mass media and so on. And it may well seem rather self-indulgent. But both radio and blogging did indeed shake up the media landscapes of their day. In both cases they had run ins with authority along the way.

S10: And in the case of radio everything changed with the sinking of the Titanic the Titanic as we all know hit an iceberg and the wireless operator went and began sending out the signals CQ deals which meant seek you danger and S.O.S.

S11: The disaster marked the culmination of an argument that had been raging for several years about the drawbacks of allowing free access to the airwaves in America early radio equipment broadcast on a wide range of frequencies simultaneously and transmissions would be picked up by all receivers within range. Despite the efforts of Marconi and others the problem of tuning limiting radio sets to sending and receiving on particular radio frequencies to reduce interference proved very difficult to solve.

S22: In 1986 electrical World magazine likened the situation to a telephone exchange with all the subscribers on the same line and all trying to talk it once it declared that the time has now come when in wireless telegraphy it is either regulation or chaos.

S2: Concern grew as amateur stations began to interfere with commercial and naval transmitters both accidentally and deliberately.

S23: They would send profane messages to wireless operators. They would dispatch Navy ships on all kinds of bogus missions pretending to be admirals and then the Navy would find out that a naval ship reportedly sinking at sea was doing just fine by 1988.

S5: The controversy over wireless interference and the conflict between amateur enthusiasts and commercial and naval stations had moved from specialist publications to the mainstream press. An article in a San Francisco newspaper that year appeared under the headline. Stop it kid cries Congress to the American boy. It depicted the situation as a fight between the authorities and plucky young radio enthusiasts.

S3: The article noted the growing calls for regulation but said that most radio enthusiasts were behaving themselves. It quoted one radio operator who said some of the boys are querying the game for us all but the majority of them are sensible and stay out when the ships and stations around the bay are working.

S5: In January 19 0 9 attempts to aid a crippled steamship were hampered by amateur operators who broadcast several sets of false coordinates sending rescuers on a wild goose chase in 1912. Ham operators hindered the rescue of the Terry a torpedo boat destroyer. A Navy official complained that they were asked repeatedly to cease their activity in sending messages to each other instead of complying with the request several of them retorted with impudent replies.

S22: The sinking of the Titanic was the final straw when the giant ocean liner signaled that she had collided with an iceberg.

S24: America’s East Coast lit up with speculation and rumor flashed from one wireless station to another and one of these messages seemed to suggest that everything was OK.

S25: A message went out saying the Titanic hit an iceberg safely towed to Halifax and so few were prepared for the horrifying headlines. The next day that the ship had sunk and around 15 people had drowned. Now what actually seems to have happened is that there was a lot of interference back then. The guess is that two messages got pasted together by mistake one about a different ship being towed to Halifax.

S26: The other about the Titanic hitting an iceberg in the aftermath of the tragedy.

S5: Amateur wireless operators became a convenient scapegoat for the Titanic’s owner. The White Star Line as it struggled to explain what had happened. The company complained that it had been practically impossible to get any reliable information by wireless because of amateur operators. But this was an attempt to shift the blame. The actual cause of the disaster was that no ships in the vicinity of the Titanic had their radios switched on and there weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board.

S27: And so the hams were blamed because they were known to be mischievous and that passed the hams were blamed for say sending off a false erroneous message.

S5: The engineer in chief of the Navy told the New York Herald that if ever there was a demonstration that regulation of wireless is necessary. This is it.

S3: The result was the radioactive 1912 which introduced new rules for the handling of distress signals by shipping and imposed strict limits on Amateur Radio Stations requiring transmitters to be licensed limiting them to certain frequency bands and imposing restrictions on their transmitting power location and operating hours.

S5: And then a couple of years later the first world war broke out. All ham stations were ordered shut down and some were in fact you know invaded by the authorities to make sure they were shut down.

S28: Because it was deemed militarily necessary to shut them all down.

S5: In the early years of blogging there was a strong sense of being anti-establishment. In particular proponents of this new medium saw themselves as offering an alternative and a corrective to the old fashioned and hidebound mainstream media. Here’s Andrew Sullivan again.

S29: There was a lot of what we call legacy media and a lot of legacy journalists who are really sitting there based on reputations that were no longer being earned and the blogosphere was able in its nimble and vicious way. In many respects to bring them down to earth and that was a huge sense of empowerment on our part because we realized we have power too. We can hold them to account we can expose things that they will not have exposed and expose them in a way that they would never expose themselves.

S22: The established news media often like to note a little bit neutrally that blogs were written by amateurs rather than by professional journalists. A lot of journalists saw bloggers as parasites feeding on the hard work and expensive reporting done by traditional media organizations.

S2: The high point of the antagonism between American bloggers and the mainstream media came in 2004 when 60 Minutes the evening news show on CBS for the young people in the audience got hold of some leaked memos which seemed to show that President George W. Bush had used family connections to win favorable treatment in the Air National Guard in the 1970s.

S3: It looked like he could be a big deal because Bush was running for re-election so it seemed like CBS had a big story on their hands.

S30: But bloggers quickly pointed out that the leaked memos seem to have been faked. After much analysis of typefaces and line spacing the bloggers convincingly demonstrated that the documents which were supposedly written in 1972 and 73 had in fact been created using modern word processing software rather than a 1970s typewriter. The spacing the font size. The line breaks they all perfectly matched the default settings in Microsoft Word.

S3: There was a huge argument about all of this which came down to the question of credibility. Should you believe one of the most trusted name in news or some bloggers you’ve never heard of one former CBS News executive derided blogging as a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.

S30: But the bloggers turned out to be right and the professional journalists were wrong. CBS retracted the story and Dan Rather one of the most respected names in American news resigned as the show’s anchor. It was a striking demonstration of the power of blogging to hold the mainstream media to account. I think it told us that the mainstream media didn’t have a very good mechanism for self correction and that it was good for outsiders to question them and pummel them especially when they would often circle the wagons around certain positions and certain celebrities and powerful figures in the media.

S3: But you may have noticed that people don’t talk about bloggers versus the mainstream media anymore. And that’s because a funny thing happened. The upstart new medium of blogging became respectable instead of fighting blogging.

S5: The mainstream media co-opted it established publications including The Economist. I should point out added blogs of their own. They also let people add comments underneath articles. Another idea borrowed from blogs and in many cases they hired famous bloggers including Andrew Sullivan.

S29: I was blogging alone for a long time for six years and then time dot com realizing they needed to understand this new medium ask me to join them and I brought my readers to them. Then the Atlantic wanted to create its own online presence and they invited me to go there so you could see the mainstream media understanding that something was going on that was vital to their future.

S5: The irony is that the triumph of blogging has robbed it of its anti-establishment glamour.

S3: I think it has transformed mainstream media and in the process of course rendered itself somewhat irrelevant as an independent force blogging also became less relevant because it gave birth to new ways for people to publish stuff online social media.

S31: The thing I think that killed it was Twitter. So I think in a way blogging opened up a universe for instant reaction and then it was taken to its logical conclusion and Twitter something similar happened with radio after the first world war ended.

S11: For one thing the war meant that all those anti-establishment amateur radio operators had found that they had valuable skills. Here’s Susan Douglas again. A lot of the hams had gone into the service and were signal operators.

S23: And there had also been a patent moratorium during that period so that any corporation that had any element of wireless technology had to simply cooperate with the government and this led to various improvements. One in particular. That the vacuum tube which had previously been used only for reception had been developed enough so that it could also send and there were enough hams here in there who knew about this had access to it or when they got out of the service had enough money to acquire tubes and began using them to send not just Morse code but voice and music and some of the amateur radio stations turned pro you know one of the most famous hams was a guy named Frank Conrad who began his wireless concerts on a Sunday night and he began getting a lot of response from other hams including requests for particular songs.

S5: Conrad played selections from his record collection live on air and also got members of his family to play popular tunes on the piano.

S10: He built up quite a following in the Pittsburgh area Westinghouse a company that made radio receivers spotted an opportunity Westinghouse began to understand that he and his broadcasts were getting a lot of attention and so they converted his ham station into a commercial operation and this ignited a radio boom around the country newspapers department stores began setting up radio stations and department stores thought well if we set up a radio station that will promote our sales of radio sets and newspapers thought well if we set up a radio station that will promote our newspapers so a radio boom began to explode. Between 1922 and 1924.

S27: At this point the business model was well there wasn’t really a business model you know a department store is thought well if we just keep selling radio sets we can support our radio stations and on the other hand they were bringing in people who were performing for free remember radio was new people who were singers in particular thought that if they went on the radio it would promote them off radio. But after a while people wanted to get paid and also some of the the amateur performers on radio were bad so. So there was a lot of confusion. How are you going to make this thing pay. RADIO SETS sales we’re not going to do it.

S5: It’s a familiar sounding problem. The new medium had a big audience but it didn’t seem to have a viable business model.

S27: There were various proposals floated in the U.S. philanthropy a licensing fee and of course advertising and advertising. In a poll done by a radio magazine was the least popular everybody hated it.

S30: Even so advertising soon emerged as the dominant model.

S27: Some stations began to see that what was called indirect advertising would work. So if you had a band and you named them after the product you never said where to buy the product.

S32: You never said how much it cost but you named Candy the happiness candy so you had the Happiness Boys sponsored by happiness candies performing you know comedy night songs.

S33: Here we must bring in an old baby.

S32: People liked it and the quality was good.

S34: That kind of indirect advertising began to open the door to more direct advertising and the result was that American radio went from being an upstart anti-establishment medium where anyone could participate to an oligopoly of two companies. By the 1930s the market was dominated by CBS and NBC. The wild west era had given way to corporate consolidation and a business model supported by advertising. Just like on the Internet where two companies Google and Facebook now take the bulk of ad revenue at least in the western world.

S3: So the question is why do we see such similar patterns. Why do these disruptive new forms of media start out with these idealistic notions of openness and democratization and then end up under the control of a handful of big companies with advertisers all over the place.

S30: And it’s not just radio and blogging that have been through this cycle. We also see it with YouTube shows and Instagram and also with podcasting. In fact you could argue that this whole show is itself an example of what we’re talking about.

S3: It’s a podcast produced by a collaboration between one publisher that’s been around since 1843 when it was a scrappy startup promoting free trade and another publisher that’s been around since 1996 when it was a digital upstart challenging the idea that magazine journalism could only be done in print and has since branched out into podcasting. In a big way.

S5: I don’t wanna get too self-referential here but we’re basically an example of how subversive new forms of media get embraced by the mainstream and become part of the establishment.

S35: But I have a theory about why this happens. Essentially it comes down to this. Ultimately the participants in the new media want the validation of the old media establishment. That’s why blogging fairy tales always end with a blogger getting a book deal. Just kind of ironic because books are about as old media as you can possibly get. And it’s also why ham radio operators turned into commercial stations at the same time the old forms of media need the vitality of the new ones to rejuvenate themselves. So we see newspapers adding features borrowed from blogs. We see TV shows becoming more like YouTube. We see magazines emulating the aesthetic of Instagram and the new thing gets assimilated and becomes less cool and then everyone moves onto the next new thing and the whole cycle starts again. And once you know what this historical pattern looks like you can see it playing out over and over again.

S10: It was a techno utopian moment World Peace hierarchies would be flattened. We’d have a new public sphere as a radio story and when I was hearing all of this utopian stuff in the early 2000s you know I just thought that the Internet was going to become kind of a strip mall. Because how are you going to pay for it and how we’ve always paid for communications technologies it is through advertising. When I was hearing all of these predictions I was like You know I was reading that in the 1920s when oh radio is going to educate the masses. It was going to unite us culturally it was going to bring world peace.

S5: You know we’ve heard this before and you could see that it was going to lead to just lots more advertising.

S4: I am afraid that’s exactly what I thought when I read about the early days of radio I really felt oh I recognize this this is like BBM is in the 1980s and this is like logging in the 90s and it really felt familiar and and you know that sense of excitement of new possibilities. It would be a pity if we didn’t have another new platform that offered us that again wouldn’t it.

S27: Absolutely and things are changing so fast that you know we don’t I don’t know what the next thing is going to be. I bet there are a bunch of people in Silicon Valley who think they have what the next thing is going to be. But you know the question is will it be that open democratic everybody has access. Everybody can express themselves medium that I think people still paying for if I have to bet on the next new medium.

S5: I wouldn’t bet on YouTube is or Instagram’s or ticktock trendy though they are because all of them are closed proprietary platforms controlled by companies who can boot people off whenever they like. So the question is what new area is emerging that has the same kind of experimental Wild West feeling as radio and the web and podcasting did in the past.

S36: This is a really exciting medium and that I think it’s an oh it’s a lot closer to how most humans want to actually interact with computers.

S34: This is Timony West. She’s a researcher working in the medium of augmented or mixed reality the overlaying of computer graphics on the real world.

S37: You have the ability now to take this digital object out of this 2D screen and put it in the real world. You can have something that looks as large as a building and you can create a giant statues that are 16 stories tall. You can have everyone in the world look like you know Star Wars character you can really bring your imagination to life with augmented reality in a way that has been impossible with computers so far.

S34: The best known examples of mixed reality rely on smartphones. Think of Pokémon Go in which you hunt for virtual monsters in the real world or Snapchat filters which change the way you look on the screen of your phone at least. The next step will be augmented reality headsets or glasses that change the way the world looks to you in real time. As you look around prototypes already exist though they’re very expensive and clunky like the powerful workstation computers where the Web began in the 1990s. But as the technology gets cheaper and better Augmented Reality could transform the way we interact with information and with each other.

S36: So for example I’m looking at my laptop here. I don’t think laptops are going to go away. But if I’m wearing glasses maybe I could pull a window out from the screen and place it somewhere else and then I’ll see you to my glasses instead.

S5: Timothy West works at Unity a company that makes tools for creating video games virtual reality worlds and now augmented reality experiences.

S38: And somewhere out there are the pioneers who will shape this emerging medium where everything is still up for grabs but if the history of radio and web publishing and now podcasting is any guide people will want to put advertisements into augmented reality as well. And there are some terrifying simulations of how this might look on YouTube where basically the whole world is plastered with virtual ads that you can’t escape from.

S39: I don’t think it’s sustainable that we would really live in one of those dystopian everything as times grow world’s humans just don’t like it that much. It’s too invasive it would feel terrible. But

S5: Timothy West thinks there could be ways to create advertisements in augmented reality that have rather less intrusive.

S40: We’ve always had ads in our home since the invention of the radio. We not only had ads but we had ads that you cannot update. If you couldn’t fast forward through and you probably wouldn’t want to mute just because you know you didn’t want to miss the radio show. So with the rise of a r do we bring ads back. I think if if anything they’ll be a lot more contextual because if something feels like a real object in your house you probably want it to be something that you feel comfortable having in your house. And if it’s too invasive and too in your face people will just naturally reject it. So if anything I think H.R. has the opportunity to make advertising a lot better.

S7: It’s inevitable I think that new exciting and somewhat exclusive communities built around new media come to seem less thrilling as more people join them and eventually they go mainstream. It’s a paradox being part of something new in its early days is electrifying. But if whatever it is takes off you know that feelings are going to last.

S1: And this all happens more quickly than ever now with new Internet and social media platforms. It took printing centuries to go through the cycle from being new and subversive to being the epitome of old fashioned dead tree media. It took radio a couple of decades and now social platforms go through this life cycle in space of just a few years.

S7: But it’s the same pattern. It’s characteristic of new forms of media. But at a deeper level it’s a consequence of human nature. Things are only cool when a few people are doing them and when everyone does them they’re no longer cool and then everyone starts looking for something else. It’s like Yogi Berra once said about going to a fancy restaurant. Nobody goes there anymore it’s too crowded.

S1: Yeah we can see with all these mediums it’s all fun and games until the jerks show up whether it’s radio operators playing pranks on steam ships out at sea or trolls on social media doxxing and bullying people they disagree with.

S7: Well it feels to me like we’re now overdue for a shift to something new. And there are so many possibilities. Oh look I’ve got a friend request on populace I need to check my Toots on Mastodon and have you seen that roadblocks has just overtaken Minecraft in popularity. We don’t know what the next cool thing will be but whatever it is we can be pretty sure how its lifecycle will play out. That’s the end of season two of the secret history of the future. Thanks for listening. We’ve had great fun making this series. Thanks to everyone also who’s recommended this podcast to their followers on Twitter or sent us email or tweeted us or written reviews on iTunes. And if you haven’t left us a rating or a review we really appreciate it if you did and if you’d like to get in touch directly our email address is secret history at Slate dot com.

S41: I’m Tom Standage and I’m Seth Stevenson the secret history of the future is a joint production of Slate and The Economist. It’s produced by Bob Warshaw and Kate Holland. The senior managing producer for Slate podcasts is June Thomas.

S1: The executive producers are Gabriel Roth the editorial director for Slate podcasts and Anne McElroy head of audio at The Economist. Thanks for listening.

S38: And I think that’s about it really. Oh I should probably say 7 3. Like the the ham radio operators and the telegraphy as do so 7 3 everyone or an internet speak that’s TGIF and great battle date.