Why podcasts feel good
I think they are part of a constructive and fascinating conversation that has, by and large, a relentless positivity, a sense of wonder, to it. That’s something woefully missing from a lot of corners of the internet, and in disliking podcasts I genuinely feel like I’m missing out on several fronts: parts of friendships, cultural currency, being a little more well-versed in the world.
So I got into podcasts.
In the past two weeks, I’ve listened to thirty four hours of podcasts: prior to that, I had listened to exactly zero.
I’ve listened to the aural inspirations to Sylvan Esso’s Coffee. I’ve seen God, as described by the prayers of a man in a drug-fueled fog in the New Mexico desert. I’ve discovered Rajneeshpuram, a modern sprawling ziggurat in the outskirts of Oregon. I’ve sat next to Bill Simmons blather about the Pats.
I’ve listened to podcasts as I try in vain to find some level of comfort on a Boston-bound 737, sandwiched between two strangers. I’ve listened to podcasts on my 6am walks to work, when the sun has not yet risen on Capitol Hill and the few other commuters are armored with fishtail parkas and travel mugs.
I’ve listened to podcasts as I try to stoke a dying fire, throwing pieces of notebook paper into the flames and watching them catch and burn out in the same breath. I’ve listened to podcasts as I sit alone in a light-rail car, on my way home for the first time in ten days.
Each time, I am transported into a new and wonderful place (where the wonder comes both from the place and the transportation itself.) I learn a lot from them, but more importantly they just feel good.
Jack Cheng, along the same lines, writes about the slow web which, if not related to the podcast movement is at least a distant cousin:
Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.
Podcasts are, at a high level, just audio files. There’s no A/B testing, no Bootstrap. There are some apps that can help you listen to them easier but its just audio.
There’s no brilliant, all-encompassing discovery mechanism. The app I used recommended a few — some of which I liked, some of which I didn’t. For some others, I asked friends and family. For the rest, I pretty much guessed at random.
This is what the web felt like to me, back in the early aughts. There were probably content aggregators back then, but I didn’t know and I didn’t care: I searched randomly, I trolled geocities and gamefaqs. I made friends and enemies. The web felt small and large and brilliant and strange. It was warm and good, like an infinite display of campfires in the distance.
Podcasts feel good because they’re novel, and they’re disparate, and they still feel so undiscovered. I suspect this won’t always be the case – but for now, there’s nothing quite like them.
It wouldn’t be a proper blog post without me ending with a list of my favorite podcasts. Granted, this is only a month or so of fervent consumption, but I still feel good about these choices:
- Internet History Podcast, a wonderful attempt to “sum up the Internet Era, from Netscape to the iPad.” The interviewees here are fantastic, ranging from the founder of Soccernet to the man who orchestrated New York Times’ digital edition.
- Song Exploder, a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. (It helps that they feature some of my favorite artists, like Sylvan Esso and Tycho.)
- Channel 33, the soon-to-be live successor of Watch the Throne by Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan — two of my favorite TV critics out there. They have a fantastic rapport and an encyclopedic fervor of Fargo that dwarfs mine.