My gateway drug into the podcasts was undoubtedly Freakonomics Radio with Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Along the way, others came along that continued to intrigue me including the Ted Radio Hour and Philosophy Bites. However, my love for the genre truly exploded during the summer of 2016 when I discovered StartUp. The first season of StartUp tracks Alex Bloomberg, one of the producers of This American Life and Planet Money, who hypothesized that we have reached a golden age of audio and decided to start a podcast company. Bloomberg takes advantage of his own story as an opportunity to track the experience of starting a business.
It is through listening to Bloomberg’s firsthand experiences on the making of podcasts that catapulted my interest in the medium as a whole. Having listened to countless hours of podcasts since the time I listened to StartUp I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I continue to listen to them.
1. Audio is a mean between reading and watching a film
Reading requires imagination. While an author can do her best to create an image of a great city through the words she uses, reading requires work for the reader to build that image and decide for himself what the city looks like. The enjoyment that comes from this type of intellectual work is often lost on a medium such as film where the viewer is shown that image directly.
Films bring stories to life. One way they do so is through their actors, real people who bring our favourite characters to life. As an audience member, we become attached to these performances and develop relationships with the characters portrayed. Furthermore, a great film will effectively incorporate music to generate an emotional response not possible through writing.
I say that podcasts are a mean between these two mediums because they all of the elements mentioned. Like books, by lacking a visual element, podcasts often put the listener into situations where she must build images of the thing being described. In the same way as watching a film, podcasts allow a listener to build a relationship with the characters or hosts.
As for music, many of the higher end podcasts feature a powerful mix of music and dialogue. Serial has excellent music which I hypothesize had a significant role to play in its success. Another example is found in the fourth season of StartUp in an episode titled ‘The Diversification of Worry.’ This episode features an incredibly moving interview where the owners open up about their anxieties of being business owners with a soft moving melody in the background.
2. A commuter’s paradise
I discover a lot of my favourite podcasts on the road. Commuting may be the most dreaded task of your day, but it doesn’t need to be. You’re probably all too familiar with the Netflix binge (just watch Stranger Things and you’ll understand). Now take yourself back to 2013 when you would spend hours thinking about that exciting new episode of Breaking Bad. Now imagine having something you enjoy as much as a new episode of your favourite show, bundled with the task that you dislike the most. Suddenly the task isn’t as bad as it was. Podcasts, in my case, have done wonders in making commuting a much more tolerable activity.
3. The amount of learning is staggering
My friend Bret laughs because I sound like a broken record player with Freakonomics references. The hours I have clocked listening to that podcast have had a very meaningful impact on my worldview. On Freakonomics, host Stephen Dubner and his frequent collaborator Steven Levitt take an economic approach to a wide variety of subject areas such as online dating and emotionally dealing with failure. Eventually you begin to understand common themes in their understanding of things. Frequently they will make reference to concepts that are fundamental to their understanding of the world. For instance, they will consistently mention that one of their fundamental assumptions about the world is that “people respond to incentives.” Through emphasis on this core belief, Dubner and Levitt are able to theorize in many different subject areas.
When listening to podcasts, you will find that you are able to challenge yourself through exposure to various worldviews and perspectives and gradually build an understanding for how they may apply to your everyday life in ways you never knew before. I can say confidently that much of my current worldview has been developed through immersing myself in the worldviews and understandings of the podcasts I have listened to.
I am currently expanding my podcast library, so if you are an avid podcast listener please tell me about your favourites!
If your first getting into podcasts and do not know where to start, I strongly recommend listening to the first season of Serial. This particular podcast made the podcasting genre what it is today and the episodes are relatively short making it an easy podcast to begin listening to.