Why listening to podcasts is a full-time job

If I was to enter into a Facebook relationship with podcasts, it would most definitely fall into the “it’s complicated” category. So, here’s the thing, I’m not looking to any other medium to satisfy my deepest audio desires, but every time I endeavour to establish a healthy distance, I find myself pulled back in. I fall hard.

I was always destined to discover and devour podcasts, my first foray into this world was on a trip to Southeast Asia, whittling away the hours spent in transit engrossed in the true crime thriller, Serial, and turning fifty shades of crimson as I listened in on My Dad Wrote a Porno.

Our compatibility was questionable, perhaps even ill-advised, but the dulcet tones of the podcast gods imparting their sweet sweet knowledge, the constant company of their whispers reverberating in my ears was enough to leave me hooked. I also enjoy the adverts. There I said it.

Working 9-5

Some time during my adolescence, I was informed by a close friend that I was operating in a perpetual state of productivity and stress, taking immense pleasure in being relentlessly busy. Her shrewd observation was painfully accurate. I wore the little miss busy badge like a true martyr, a mixture of smugness and acute anxiety all too apparent.

Thanks to this enduring personality trait, it was only a matter of time before I turned my hand to podcasts, taking, what is in essence, an opportunity for unadulterated audible pleasure, for rest and contemplation, and in one fell swoop, in an act of pure sacrilege, banishing chunks of aural heaven to the land of no return; the eternal and unforgiving to-do list.

Believe me, I am just as disappointed as you are. On reflection, I should have seen it coming, it began innocently enough, after all, casting my net a little further and dabbling with expert-led, career focused podcasts couldn’t hurt right? Wrong. Listening to entrepreneurs, business leaders and boss women opening up about their failures, hanging on their every word as my brain tried to process and apply their wisdom, only sought to remind me of how much further I still had to go, the mistakes and learnings I was yet to encounter and endure.

My new role as podcast connoisseur required me to enter a zone of permanent concentration and focus, the downtime that most normal humans allow themselves, felt untenable and wholly indulgent. My curiosities, my thirst for information and openness to enlightenment took a back seat as my hobby became another means by which to berate myself for not doing enough and just like that, podcasts became little more than a glorified admin task.

Just like the Reddit all-nighters, all-consuming side-hustles and Instagram deep-diving, that had come before it, podcasts became yet another vehicle for my neuroses, untouchable under the guise of productivity and personal development.

Hobby vs Hustle

As I pondered the practicality of my new-found career trajectory (I should clarify, I do have an actual job), I came across a fantastic piece by Molly Conway in which she explored our current drive to turn hobbies into hustles. From monetizing our joy to feeling the immense weight of society’s expectations to be productive at all times (literally impossible) and prioritising profit over pleasure, it occurred to me that collectively, because I am damn well not going down on this sinking ship alone, we have managed to sap all the enjoyment out of this democratic, egalitarian and humbling pastime. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Where social media has tried and failed, podcasts have consistently delivered. They are social interlocutors, facilitating instant connection, fostering a level of social intimacy with individuals who in real life are seemingly inaccessible to us mere mortals. There is an unrivalled camaraderie and kinship at the heart of podcasts which invites honesty and vulnerability in equal measure, while providing us with moments of pure joy, entertainment, inspiration and hope, at the best and worst of times.

It is for these reasons and many others that I love podcasts, any Tom, Dick and Harry can give it a go (side note: great name for a podcast) and in the same breathe, they have mass appeal, tapping into even the most niche of subject matter, indulging us in our most guilty of pleasures and reminding us that we are not alone in our deep-rooted and inexplicable love of Gilmore Girls.

It is almost universally accepted that podcasts are one of the more intellectual forms of entertainment, but perhaps it is for this reason that I have been able to over-complicate the art of listening. Yes, podcasts can be informative, but shouldn’t they also be fun? Taking a leaf out of my Editor’s pocket book of wisdom, I think it may be time to press pause on the podcasts that make me feel anything short of fabulous, and instead I shall endeavour to take back control of my audio consumption. In the first throws of love, podcasts were like a cocoon, cushioning me from the harsh realities of the world, a reminder that human compassion and empathy was alive and well. While I shall not be giving up podcasts any time soon, should they ever feel like they are a chore or a task to complete on my never-ending to-do list, I will remember to reset, rewind and reshuffle.

Podcast Syllabus

If this was an exam, I would nail it, but it’s not, so here is a list of podcasts that feel less like physics homework and more like a early finish on a Friday:

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  • Happy Place: I have laughed, I have cried and I have made major life decisions off the back of Fearne Cotton’s beautifully produced Happy Place. Skip to the episodes which feature Poorna Bell and Matt Haig, for a helpful reminder that there is joy to be found even in the most tragic of circumstances.

  • Guys We F****D: crude to the core, comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna’s “anti-slut shaming podcast,” is insight into the ghosts of their dating past; an education of epic proportions.

  • Where Should We Begin: I’ve always fancied myself as a therapist and then I remember that I already have two full-time jobs (see above), luckily Esther Perel is the real deal. For the nosy Instagram Sleuths out there (I see you), this is the ultimate guilty pleasure, a series of real-life couples in counselling; an emotional roller-coaster.

  • The Butterfly Effect: Jon Ronson is sublime and that should be enough to convince you to put down whatever you are doing and listen to his deep-dive into the porn industry. Unpacking the shame and mystery that surrounds this world, The Butterfly Effect forces us to confront one of the most enduring taboos of our age.

  • David Tennant Does a Podcast With: I am not middle aged, but I like to think if I were, then this is something that I would do. Sitting down with fellow thespians, including Olivia Colman, Ian Mckellan and Jon Hamm, David (not sure we’re on first name terms but this is what the intimacy of a podcast will do to you) puts the world to rights in a series of light-hearted and overtly chummy conversations. The easiest thing I’ve listened to all year, notes needn’t be taken.