Podcasts are like potato chips

Or: regaining the power of silence

When I got into podcasts, I got into podcasts hard. They were my constant friend on my commute to work, doing chores, on the treadmill. Walking for more than twenty seconds meant an ongoing soundtrack of stories and news.

I loved it. It made all of the tedious parts of my day more fun. The moment I was bored, I could jam on a podcast and all was good.

So you can imagine my dismay when I picked up a book on a whim and realized that all of the concentration and creativity issues I’ve been experiencing could be due to podcast overload.

Bored and Brilliant, a podcast series (ironic, I know), book and challenge by Note to Self’s Manoush Zomorodi posits that access to constant media has dulled our ability to be bored, and with that, for our minds to dawdle and stretch. It made so much sense. The hours that I was now spending with podcasts jammed in my ears had been previously spent being…bored. Walking down the street, I’d watch people and make up stories in my head about why they were in a store buying a single fork. I had conversations with myself about scenarios that never existed. I used my imagination.

This didn’t happen when I was listening to a podcast because I was focused on the story in my ears. It was like walking with my nose buried in a book.

My creativity suffered because my concentration was on the story being told to me, not the stories I was telling myself. You might as well have put a bag over my head for the amount I was noticing in the world around me. Without that drifting time (I calculated I was losing more than 50 hours a month just with commuting and housework), writing became more difficult and I had trouble concentrating on reading more than an online article.

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I needed to take action. I decided podcasts, like potato chips, were best considered a “sometimes” treat. I would limit myself to a podcast episode a day commuting and then unlimited while exercising (where I need all the distraction I can get). If I got behind in a series it wasn’t the end of the world. Not having heard of a podcast didn’t mean I was lacking as a human being and wallowing in utter ignorance. Life wasn’t a competition for who could recognize the most podcasts, after all.

It’s been two weeks now and I do feel better. It was hard to see the notifications of the wonderful new episodes so I turned them off. When people give me recommendations, I now write them down instead of downloading a season immediately.

It’s exactly like taking a single chip instead of downing the bag.*

*Or so I imagine, since I have never attempted this. The only time this would happen for me is if someone physically removed the bag from my presence and shot it into orbit.