I never would have thought that podcasts would at some point become one of the highlights of my day, but here we are.
Look, it’s not like this medium is totally new to me. When I was 12 I was a huge fan of the big Harry Potter podcasts of the day – MuggleCast and PotterCast (they even did collaborations, which was fun – I can’t resist a good crossover!) But as technology trends changed and our collective entertainment consumption habits moved from VHS to DVDs to YouTube and streaming services, I lost my patience for them.
However, as with so many of us, the pandemic era helped me to discover new content, and over time I’ve gotten back into it. Which brings us to the present day, in which I have a number of favourite podcasts whose new episodes I will listen to loyally and whose old content I dip into whenever I run out of fresh finds.
My newfound addiction has got me wondering – why is this such a great and addictive hobby? Here are my thoughts.
SO Many Options!
Because podcasts don’t require a visual element and are often less formal and technical than the written word, you don’t have to worry about the costs and time-consuming processes involved with making videos or books. This means that it’s easy for anyone to make a podcast if they want to.
This is often seen as a disadvantage that lowers the quality of the product – but I disagree. After all, these days anyone can make a YouTube video or an Amazon ebook as well. As a consumer, I see it as a plus – because podcast creation is more accessible to a wider variety of creators, the content is more diverse.
This means not just getting our audio entertainment from a couple of people sitting in a radio studio like in the days of our parents – instead, we can listen to people like us or people living on the other side of the world, talking about whatever we choose, in as formal or as casual a context as we like. We can learn, laugh, and reflect. If podcast catalogues are a buffet, I’ll take some from every dish and go back for seconds, thanks!
Whilst some creators have premium content that’s only available with a subscription fee, for the most part podcasts are free, with audio ads used for the monetisation aspect. This makes it the equivalent of free-to-air television or radio, as opposed to a streaming service like Netflix – but so much better, as I’ll get to in my further points.
Another great selling point of podcasts is the fact that they can be consumed practically any time you like.
As long as you’re not doing something that requires a lot of concentration (or no competing audio), you can listen during most daily activities – driving, cooking and chores, exercise, relaxing, playing games, even brushing your teeth.
In addition to the when, there’s the how – if it’s a little slow for your liking, you can customise the speed to x1.2, x1.5, x2, etc.
A lot of podcasts also have chapter markers so that you can quickly move between sections of the episode if you’re not interested in the current topic of discussion (or are purposely avoiding it due to a considerately-placed trigger/spoiler warning).
You can also fast-forward continuously, or click a button to skip back 10 seconds if someone interrupts you before you had a chance to click pause!
Such a wide range of options is exactly what we want in today’s convenience-hungry age.
Something I think is underappreciated about this medium is that it feels much more personal than other entertainment media.
Perhaps it’s that we almost always consume it alone, and the creators keep this in mind when sculpting the content, knowing that we’re invested enough to go out of our way to choose their podcast to consume.
Or maybe it’s to do with the conversational tone that so many of them use – after consuming many drama-heavy, emotionally-exhausting streaming shows and films for the last few years, the light and casual nature of many of my favourite podcasts is both refreshing and comforting.
Whether they’re chatting and laughing over in-jokes, reporting on topical news updates with a slightly more journalistic approach, or dissecting a true crime story in the scripted style of a narrator, I always get a sense that there’s a person behind the words, and their opinion filters through to make me feel less alone even during the most isolated of activities.
Whatever it is, as someone who struggles with anxiety, I find it incredibly helpful to have familiar voices to listen to on fun topics during my daily routine, particularly if it helps to distract me from dwelling on things that might otherwise have taken hold of my attention and led me down an unhelpful route of worry.
And it’s this that I think is the greatest gift that podcasts give us.
Because through them anyone, anywhere, can connect with the words that anyone, anywhere has created in both a helpful and a personal way, and it’s when we feel connected with others that we’re truly living life.
Even if it’s also whilst folding laundry.