Over the past few weeks our main source of new information in this class has been in the form of meta-podcasts, or podcasts about podcasting. It makes sense that the most effective form of teaching about podcasts would be through didactic examples, however the most notable thing I have learned over the past few weeks is not about podcasting, but rather about myself: I hate podcasts. I am certain that this will sound irrational, silly even, but listing to podcasts fills me with a deep void of angst which I cannot explain. I am typically a person who loves receiving auditory information. I receive most of my daily news in video form, and I am really quick to pick up on lyrics when listening to music, but for some reason listening to a podcast feels more like work.
Today, however, was different, partially for the reason that the podcast assigned was available as a PDF, but more importantly because one of the podcasters, Allison Hitt, was very candid about the fact that she too, cannot listen to podcasts. While I do not believe the reasoning she gave for disliking podcasts (not being able to easily process auditory information) is is the same reason I dislike podcasts, her statements really resonated with me, and made me feel like I had an ally, and moreover that it’s okay that I do not like podcasts.
Nonetheless, this does not get to the root question I have been wondering over the past few weeks: why is my reaction to podcasts such a visceral dislike that I even judge myself for having such a hyperbolic reaction? A quote from This Rhetorical Life episode 25 really made me think more deeply about this. It reads:
“Scholarship is designed to reach some sort of conclusion, even provisional, whereas the podcast because I think it’s still anchored in a kind of entertainment model [stardust clicking] is actually sort of less interested in conclusions and probably also—even if it was interested—that that’s sort of antithetical to the form that it’s working through. You want people to keep coming back. You want them to be able to take the episode with them.” – Nathaniel Rivers
Even though I had not thought about it in this way before, I agree with Rivers that podcasting, at least of this sort, is in a weird niche of not-quite-scholarship, and not-quite-entertainment. This suggests that podcasting as a medium rejects traditional scholarship, and instead strives to make information and ideas more accessible to a wider audience. This is a mission that I understand and support, and is the reason Allison Hitt gives for why she bothers with podcasts at all. At the same time, I find that the tone of Rivers’ statement, as well as the tone of many other podcasts I have listened to previously, feels a tad self-righteous. The subtext of the message to me reads, “we are not entertainers, but you should want to listen to us, because we are very intelligent people who are here to share our musings with you.”
One may argue that Twitter has been used in a similar way by intellectuals and grassroots organizers to spread ideas and create momentum for social movements, and I would say that this is an appropriate parallel to draw. However, Twitter gives everyone a voice, and allows people to engage in conversations in a way that podcasts do not. For example, Jake Tapper, CNN host and Dartmouth alumnus, is one of the more prominent figures in my Twitter feed, primarily because he is constantly replying to and retweeting other journalists and intellectuals, as well as regular people. This is great example of how information on Twitter is shared in a more free-form conversation between individuals and groups, as opposed to in a podcast where information is shared through curated interviews or otherwise scripted content.
This to me, pushes podcasts closer to scholarship than entertainment, in an awkward way. As opposed to speaking with an abstract, yet tangible audience, podcasts talk at their audience in a similar way that academic papers do, with the key difference, which Rivers’ points to, that academic papers reach conclusions where podcasts do not. This then, creates an awkward reality for podcasting such that it is not as accessible as social media, not as entertaining as traditional media, and not as intellectually relevant as traditional scholarship. Therefore, the intrinsic value of a podcast, particularly a didactic one, becomes elusive.
This is not to say that podcasts have no value, if that were true no one would listen to them. Instead the value of a podcast is dependent on what the listener chooses to take from it, whether it be entertainment or information. I realize this is not a particularly satisfying conclusion, but then again my discomfort with inconclusiveness is part of why I dislike podcasts, and that’s okay.