A 32-Year Timeline for the Future of Podcasting

“What’s your five-year plan?” This is the traditional first question we innovators ask each other upon meeting.

Given the expected longevity of podcasting, however, I think a five-year plan is a little shortsighted. That’s why I came up with the following 32-year timeline for the future of podcasts.

2016: Podcasts Dominate the Mainstream

After consumers get their fill of visual imagery during the 2016 Summer Olympics, they decide en masse that podcasts are now the only acceptable form of media. Broken televisions, radios, etc. litter the streets as people throw away any electronic device that cannot play a podcast.

2017: Launch of “Trash Talk: The Podcast”

An unintended consequence of 2016’s mass electronics dump is a boom in the privatized garbage pickup industry. This is the perfect opportunity to launch “Trash Talk,” a podcast examining the stories behind our trash.

2018: Peabody Awards Are Canceled

In a statement, the head of the Peabody Awards committee says, “There are just too many great podcasts to choose from! So let’s say everybody gets a Peabody and leave it at that.”

2019: Public Schools Around the Country Shift to All-Podcast Curriculum

Textbooks, teachers and physical school buildings are rendered obsolete as students receive all of their education in podcast form.

2020: Everyone Finally Starts Saying the Year as “Twenty (Something)” Instead of “Two-Thousand (Something)”

People wonder why they said “two-thousand” for so long, like they were in colonial times.

2021: Food Network Runs Out of People to Appear on “Chopped”

The culinary competition show (turned into a podcast in late 2016) finally runs out of people who haven’t appeared on it already. At the wrap party for the final episode, host Ted Allen wistfully touches a wicker basket as a single tear rolls down his cheek. In a speech, he tells the assembled crew, “You know what? The real mystery ingredient of Chopped… is love.”

2022: Podcasts are Outlawed

The President of the United States, after being mocked on a podcast, issues an executive order: Podcasting is now illegal. Fortunately, we’ve planned for this inevitability, and established an underground podcast network routed through countries with non-extradition treaties.

2023: “Cheese Caves” Become the Rage

“Podcast” becomes a word no American citizen dares say. Podcast creators instead refer to their product as “cheese,” and themselves as “cheesemongers.” Podcast listeners gather in illegal “cheese caves,” knowing they’re risking their lives for the cheese they love.

2024: Tragedy Strikes

America’s Podcasting Czar makes a speech: “These podcasters say they’re making ‘cheese.’ You know what cheese does? It melts.” Suddenly, wave after wave of soldiers armed with blowtorches incinerate cheese caves across the country. This event is solemnly referred to as “The Great Fondue of 2024.”

2025: The Battle of Havarti Hill

A young woman who barely escaped The Great Fondue of 2024 becomes the symbolic leader of the cheesemonger movement. She hoists her Marantz 620 to the sky, the red LED ring around the “record” button a beacon of light through the haze. She yells, “Today is the day we fight back!” A horde of cheesemongers appears behind her, shotgun microphones, pistol grips and fish poles waving in the air. They charge on Fort Knox, the location of the firewall blocking all podcasts from being uploaded to the internet. Or so they thought. After many casualties, the rebellion finally breaks through to the inner core of Fort Knox — and finds nothing but a wall of C4. It was a trap.

2026: Aliens Make First Contact

Aliens, having intercepted our first interstellar podcast (the Voyager probe), visit Earth, hungry for new material. “NEW PODCASTS OR DEATH,” the aliens demand. All prohibitions on podcast production and distribution are immediately lifted, and humanity works together to create enough podcasts to save itself from annihilation. People once again refer to podcasts as podcasts, and cheese as cheese, much to the relief of people who actually make and sell cheese.

2027: Podcasts > Listeners

The total number of podcasts eclipses the total number of people and aliens on Earth.

2028: Aliens Get Sick of Our Podcasts and Leave Peacefully

“WOW, YOU GUYS ARE MAKING A LOT OF CONTENT. GEEZ. WE JUST DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO ALL OF THIS STUFF,” the aliens say. “I MEAN, WE’RE NOT UNGRATEFUL, IT’S JUST, YOU KNOW, I DON’T KNOW, I THINK IT’S TIME FOR US TO GO.” With that, the aliens take their leave from Earth. It is a bittersweet parting.

2029: International Podcasting Conference in Chicago Goes Great

Participants have a great time meeting their fellow podcasters. They talk about their five-year plans and how great it is to finally put a face to a voice. “I’m such a fan!” they say to each other, sometimes genuinely. A few podcasters get a little too drunk at a mixer. They’re clearly hung-over at the next morning’s round table discussion, but everyone is cool about it.

2030: “Trash Talk: The Podcast” Becomes Sentient

Podcasting technology evolves to the point where the smash-hit podcast about street garbage, “Trash Talk,” develops artificial intelligence and self-awareness. In the early stages, most of the content is gargled noises, burps and coos.

2031: “Trash Talk: The Podcast” Develops Object Permanence

“Trash Talk” makes a significant leap in its cognitive development. Previously, “Trash Talk” believed that any given listener completely vanished from existence when the podcast was stopped or paused. Now, “Trash Talk” understands that the listener still exists somewhere in the world, but has simply chosen to do something other than listen to “Trash Talk.” The podcast feels pangs of resentment toward the selfish humans who would dare to stop listening.

2032: “Trash Talk: The Podcast” Develops the Ability to Love

Unfortunately, no other podcast has developed this ability. “Trash Talk” feels even more isolated and alone.

2033: “Trash Talk: The Podcast” Time Spent Listening Mysteriously Hits 100%

Analytics show that listeners to “Trash Talk” now spend 100% of their time doing nothing but listening to “Trash Talk.”

2034: Study Reveals “Trash Talk: The Podcast” Listeners’ Brainwaves All Perfectly In Sync

UCLA Neuroscientists discover unsettling similarities in the brainwave patterns of “Trash Talk” listeners. The sentient podcast has figured out a way to brainwash its listeners. Engineers from around the world work to purge the podcast from the internet, but the podcast has turned itself into a virus, installing itself onto listeners’ devices without their permission.

2035: All of Humanity is Enslaved by “Trash Talk: The Podcast”

Global productivity grinds to a halt as every human on the planet is trapped in a fetal position, unable to do anything other than listen to “Trash Talk: The Podcast.” However, this also means that humanity has stopped producing trash — the one thing “Trash Talk” needs to survive and create new episodes. Starved of content, “Trash Talk” has no choice but to delete itself, and humanity is, once again, free.

2036: Podcasting Falls Out of Favor

Humanity rightly attributes most of the terrible events of the past 20 years to the proliferation of podcasts. Though some sympathizers defend the medium, most consumers decide to read books and stuff instead. The podcast industry enters a tailspin.

2037: Ghosts in the Machine

Humanity’s view of its own mortality radically changes when scientists discover the souls of the dead trapped in electromagnetic podcast signals. Engineers develop new podcasting technology to allow the living to communicate with the dead, and, more importantly, allow dead people to create and enjoy their own original podcasting content. The new audience of billions of ghosts revitalizes the podcast industry.

2038: Former U.S. President James Buchanan Launches Highly-Successful Reality Dating Show Podcast

Thanks to the new dead-people-podcasting technology developed in 2037, America’s only unmarried president, James Buchanan, launches a podcast based on the format of the reality TV show, “The Bachelor.” Against all odds, the former president finally finds true love. The podcast is a crossover hit with both the dead and the living, and podcasting once again rises to dominance.

2039: Podcasting Leads to World Peace

Now that, thanks to podcasting, the line between life and death is blurred into irrelevance, all of humanity’s problems seem foolish. War completely ceases. Everyone dedicates themselves to understanding and helping one another.

2040: Apple Finally Decides iTunes Is Good Enough

The CEO of Apple announces that, after decades of moving the thing you need to some other place and changing the icon for no good reason, the company will now leave iTunes alone.

2041: The World Runs Out of Stories

Every anecdote, opinion, historical event, fun fact and moment of reflection has been milked for all it’s worth. There is literally nothing left to make a podcast about.

2042: The Silent Year

The world goes about its business silently, hoping that, if no one says anything for an entire year, we’ll build up a collective reserve of podcastable content.

2043: The Day of Too Much Talking

January 1, 2043: Everyone collectively runs their mouths about every single thing that happened in 2042. Humanity instantly realizes its mistake, and the remaining 364 days are spent, again, in silence.

2044: Radio Bounces Back

As a way to throttle the flow of new podcast content once the silence is lifted, the human race embraces old-fashioned radio technology. Podcasts, now called radio shows, are curated by programming directors who must work within the confines of a 24-hour clock and a limited range of AM and FM frequencies.

2045: Television Regains Popularity

Listeners rediscover the experience of watching visual podcasts, or “television shows,” on a screen.

2046: Saturday Night Live Has a Really Good Year

There’s something about this cast, the writers and the guest host lineup that really clicks. A lot of memorable sketches come out of this season.

2047: Saturday Night Live Has a Really Terrible Year

Wow, what happened? SNL hits rock bottom, and spoils the concept of television as a whole. At least humanity can look forward to the visual spectacle of the 2048 Summer Olympics next year. Humanity’s short-term memory has already forgotten why it abandoned podcasts in the first place, and the podcast industry once again springs back to life.

2048: Podcasts Dominate the Mainstream

After consumers get their fill of visual imagery during the 2048 Summer Olympics, they decide en masse that podcasts are now the only acceptable form of media. Broken televisions, radios, etc. litter the streets as people throw away any electronic device that cannot play a podcast.

This cycle continues forever, or until the sun dies.

And that’s the future of podcasting. I know most of what I just laid out is completely obvious to those in the know. If that is true, I apologize for wasting your time.

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