Podcasts are probably the single best thing about the internet. Sure it is handy to be able to search for things, but after a while I get so used to information on demand that I get angry when I can’t find it, or it isn’t there, or — Gasp! — what is there is wrong. But podcasts! Radio on Demand. And so much to choose from.
That’s part of the problem. I had the great privilege of growing up with the BBC warbling in the background (and before that, Luxembourg and Caroline fighting their way through my pillow), and the further privilege of working in radio. As a result, I’m a bit of a stickler for quality. A dozen years on, I still cannot quite believe the audio quality of some of the stuff that comes through the airwaves here. Abysmal doesn’t begin to sound the depths. That makes many podcasts unlisten able for me. Like the bad old days of desktop publishing, the software makes it easy to do, but that doesn’t mean everybody can do it well. So I’m not big on poor quality audio or self-indulgent unedited throat-clearings.
Most of what I listen to, then, is well-produced, usually from people who are paid to make this stuff (even though I don’t myself pay them directly). And I listen for two intertwined reasons. First, it makes the downtime of sitting on a train twice a day something I look forward to. Books can be hard to read in carriages where the lights as often as not don’t work. And they’re not as easy to continue reading to a suitable stopping point once the train has arrived. Podcasts I can lose myself in under any circumstances. But the specific podcasts — any old rubbish will not do — I choose because the odds are good that I will learn something new and interesting. Normally, that’s in the nature of the topic, rather than the people, although there are exceptions.
I came across one podcast as a result of teaching myself a new piece of blogging software. One of the people who knew about it uses it for his podcast. So I had a listen , and I liked it enough to subscribe. It is so well put together 1 that I was certain that the author was a professional radio guy. Turns out he’s not. He’s an accountant. He dropped that into one of his more recent podcasts, about doing what you love, and moving to a new job where he’ll be closer to home, and a bunch of other things that resonated in me. And then it struck me that I listen to that podcast not to find out about stuff, but more to think about how he does what he does in the podcast. Like, music. He uses a lot of it, often much more than I would, and I have no idea whether he clears rights and things or just doesn’t bother. I could ask, of course, but that’s not the point. Would I use more music if I didn’t feel I have to search for stuff I am free to use? I realise that this is one podcast I listen to more for the author than for the information; and the information, when it comes, is all the more interesting for that.
The list of things I subscribe to isn’t very long, 2 and I am hesitant to add to it precisely because of that completist streak. I find it hard to give up on a bad episode, and don’t travel often enough to clear the backlog, which creates anxiety for getting behind and then guilt when I skip ahead. But I’d feel even worse if there were no good podcasts around to feed my radio jones.
I should just stop now, without drawing attention to my own recently relaunched effort to replace the work I once did. But hey; if podcasts are the best thing about the internet, endless self-promotion comes a close second.