It Goes On, Even When You Don’t

Something will be lost when broadcasting dies.

These days, broadcast is a pejorative term like “cable TV provider” or “syndicated newspaper column.” But broadcasting, independent of the business of making money off of broadcasting, is just a way of delivering information, a way of talking and a way of listening (or not).

The broadcaster is someone who delivers information asynchronously in real time. The information itself can be live or pre-recorded or generated by a script. It is a one-way conversation that any listener is free to join at any time or leave at any time.

The end user of broadcasting is someone who is listening or not listening. The user is getting part of this story and a third of another one and half of something else. The user can’t skip ahead, there is no icon badge to indicate unconsumed information, there are no notifications at all. The user’s presence is not felt in any way by the broadcaster. The user does not appear in any log files.

Broadcast is a fragile format. There is no way of correcting for the minutes you missed while you were in the other room. You can watch or listen to it again, but it won’t be quite the same, even if the content was already pre-recorded.

Broadcast goes on, even when you don’t. You can fall asleep and wake up bleary-eyed and it’ll still be there. Your battery can die and it will still be there, somewhere, outside of you and all your devices. It’ll go on, mindlessly spitting out cooking shows and traffic reports, even when you’re gone. Your children and grandchildren will bask in those same particles of broadcast content, the same particles that once bombarded you will bombard them and so, you hope, broadcast you along with them.

The alternative is the darkened screen, the unopened file, the end of the playlist.