I often crow to myself, hidden from others, that I retain a thirst for culture, at an age when most of my friends and acquaintances seem to shrink from immersion. But one cultural phenomenon leaves me cold: the podcast.
It’s not that I don’t hanker to partake of this global phenomenon. Whenever anyone tells me of this stunning new podcast, or that beguiling one, I write it down on my list of “things to tackle” and dutifully load it into my iPhone podcast library. I listened to a slew of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, swooned over a dozen of John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed, and thrilled to Serial. But I rejected the second season of Serial, let Revisionist History peter out, and drifted from John Green. None of them took hold of me in the way a book would, or a film does, or an album can. I’ll read anything Gladwell writes, adore his topics, and enjoy his verbal delivery, so why does his podcast not grip?
The reason is, I believe, one of bandwidth. Books are my first love and they consume many hours of my life. Movies are a quick-form digression into an almost as evocative cultural form. Music “saved my life,” as I often say, so I’m bound to some kind of loyalty. But after I spend all day writing, and then slip into reading, listening, and screening, I’ve no room left for aural absorption. When P and I commute an hour to do grandparenting, we listen to podcasts—Coronacast, Conversations, Chats 10 Looks 3—but they’re the ephemeral kind, the ones that wash over you. Serious podcasts cannot be fitted in.
We’re on a road trip of 14,000 kilometers. Besides audiobooks, we plan to listen to many podcasts. Will this new cultural form bloom and turn into a staple? Let’s wait and see.