Friendships are important. I’ve been finding the need to remind myself of that a lot lately, which sounds really bad, I know. I mean, obviously I understand how important human connection is, but last week I found myself struggling to stay focused as a friend took 10 minutes to explain, in painful and unnecessary detail, a wedding she’d attended the previous weekend. The longer she talked, the more agitated I felt. I wanted to skip this part. I wanted her to talk faster or just STOP TALKING.
And then it dawned on me: What I really wanted was a button. Specifically, a button that would allow me to skip, skip, skip ahead until she said something that piqued my interest. But alas, my friend is not a podcast. I could not control her with my iPhone.
— Kara Nelson
PODCASTS, I HAVE A PROBLEM.
I’d like to say that was the first moment I realized that my passion for podcasts — an affair that began almost four years ago — was probably a problem. But I’ve known for a while. A few too many sessions of heavy listening, bingeing entire seasons and way too much alone time with my earbuds — it was all adding up to what some people might call social isolation. And I guess it would be fair to say the allure of the pod life (an endless stream of on-demand, cherry-picked super-niche-specific content made to be consumed passively, as well as smart, funny, interesting, curious hosts and guests and SO MANY SHOWS!) was too strong to resist and caused my in-person patience and interpersonal tolerance to atrophy a tad.
Eventually I realized that not seeing my friends as frequently, not craving those conversations the way I used to, was probably not healthy, but it was also understandable. I mean, given the choice between having to talk about mundane things: Carpool lines, who’s getting divorced and what to get Angie for her birthday — and learning about the stuff that lights me up (inspirational entrepreneurial stories, growth hacking, etc.), my brain will choose the latter: Podcasts. I am emboldened and enamored by all that they offer.
Not convinced? Let me boil it down. All these conversations (podcast interviews) would take years to seek out IRL, VIP access I do not have, a fortune to learn in a classroom, a kajillion hours of googling. Yet here they are, at my fingertips and free, each one leading to ten more — drawing me in hard and deep and daily to worlds I’d barely glimpsed before where now I feel a part.
After a while, you start to get to know your favorite podcast hosts and fall a little bit in love with them, at least enough to keep you looking forward to their next episode.
Of course I still have real-life friends, people I love, relationships I value and continue to cultivate. They are the best! And yet …
I LOVE YOU BUT YOU’RE BORING ME
Sometimes friends are boring. I feel like I can say this, because I am fully aware that on some occasions, I’m that friend. Maybe I’m yammering on too much about my latest keto-friendly snack obsessions, or how I like to pretend Chase Jarvis is my personalized version of Bradley Cooper who hosts a weekly show because he cares about my self-development. I guess we’re all insufferable from time to time.
So yes, when I’m feeling cornered at a party by a casual acquaintance who just wants to gossip, or somebody who talks nonstop about how "these summer thunderstorms are so unpredictable”—I am indeed looking for that pause button when I realize: Oh, this is real life. I’m going to have to make an exit, with my body. (Safe to say there are probably a number of chatty New Orleanians who have been led to believe I have the bladder of a four year old.)
A CLEVER ESCAPE
“Insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.” That line from a page I ripped out of my tattered copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, expresses precisely the reason I’m having such difficulty engaging in small talk lately. Podcasts have conditioned me to expect a different level. How can I go back?
I have listened in on hundreds of sublimely stimulating conversations (interviews) between people who are my favorite kind of smart — authors, entrepreneurs, psychologists and the like — all talking about stuff I’m into. So naturally this is where my intellectual curiosity wants to flow. It's so much more efficient than chit-chatting with a bunch of randoms and hoping for a match, or trying to convince my friends that they too should hang on every word Seth Godin ever utters. It’s not gonna happen.
And that’s ok! I’ve made my peace with it. I can still keep my friends; not everything has to overlap.
Taking a broader view, my behavior seems to be trending. According to Edison Research, in 2019 nearly one quarter of Americans listen to podcasts weekly. And podcast growth — what Edison calls “share of ear” —has more than doubled in five years, increasing 122% since 2014.
This may come as a shock, but motherhood does tend to cut into one’s reading time. For me, the key to the beauty of podcasts is the portable, easy-to-navigate audio format. It has allowed me to rediscover my love of learning while simultaneously counteracting (or at least masking) my hatred of washing dishes and folding laundry. Now I’m never bored, even when doing mindless chores. It's like my headphones have become this brain-saving portal to a world of micro-communities and interesting people, a crazy underground network of magical tunnels and brilliant connections that you cannot see from the surface.
Then one day the tunnels become rabbit holes, and you find that you are hooked. New shows bubble up all around you. Charismatic hosts, stellar guests, killer interviews! You listen at 2x speed; you cannot get enough. That’s my story at least.
Although I certainly understand the appeal and popularity of enthralling murder mystery productions, I feed my particular brand of podcast addiction primarily with shows about personal development, marketing and entrepreneurship, health and brain science. And anything with NPR or TED attached.
But really, it is for YOUR benefit that I am laying my nerd-self bare here, risking sounding podcast-pushy on the off chance that you too might discover the dreamy depths of multi-tasking enrichment living right inside your phone. (Download the Stitcher app already!)
What kinds of things are you crazy curious about? What subjects make you want to go deep? Revisionist history? Southern fried true crime? Barstool politics? Sales funnel hackathons? Ragged antique phonograph recordings? Chameleon breeding? There's a podcast for that! (All of those. Not kidding.)
The exact thing that makes you feel like a weirdo among your friends could help you find your pod with your earbuds. Even if you’re not looking for a tribe or a guru, your mind will likely get a buzz just from scratching your oddest itch.
Disclaimer: If you’re a friend of mine and you’ve read all the way down to this point, of course I’m not talking about you, Sweets!! x