I Hate Podcasts – and that’s okay

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.

The Potential Weight of Strong Words on ‘Weak Ties’

Originally, I had planned to write this first blog post about a Google Chrome extension created by the Daily Show that changes the font of all of Donald Trump’s tweets to make it look like they were hand-written by an eight-year-old. I was planning on discussing both the value and absurdity of such a micro-protest and the impact of strategic design on perceived tone. However, something else that I saw on twitter (well, actually BuzzFeed, but linked to Twitter), has been weighing on me a bit more heavily. Before I get in to discussing my thoughts I wish to note that while this post will relate to last nights air strikes against Syria, I am not attempting to offer my opinion of the air strikes or the situation in Syria, but my musings on the value of words in the age of social media.

Over the past few months, senator John McCain had arisen as one of Trump’s most vocal opponents within the republican party (The New York Times even went so far as to call him “Critic in Chief”). Yet, last night McCain posted to his twitter a link to a press release co-witten by himself and Lindsey Graham praising Trump’s decision to launch the airstrikes. This in itself is not surprising to me, as McCain has been in support of such a decision this whole time, but one sentence really stood out to me. It read, “For [Trump’s decision on Syria], he deserves the support of the American people.” For me, this is where McCain and Graham shift away from praising a specific action made by Trump, and instead express full support of the president, calling for the American people (of which only 40% currently approve of the president) to offer him full support as well.

This radical shift from McCain’s previous stance on the Trump administration seems dangerous, and in a way abstracts all other problematic aspects of the administration, by making support of the president black and white (i.e. the subtext of the statement reads “the president deserves the full support of the American people because of action z, and since we now support the president, ignore actions a-y.)

In the past 12 hours since reading these words from McCain and Graham, I’ve been wondering what the impact will be on Trump’s approval rating. On the one hand, if we take Malcom Gladwell’s opinion that social activism does not happen with much gravity over Twitter, McCain’s words suddenly carry less weight. Plenty of people will like and/or retweet McCain, but how many people will suddenly act in full support of the President beyond that passive interaction with the senator? On the other hand, Senator McCain is not just some random person people follow on Twitter, but a political leader whom many people respect, even if the majority of his followers are “fans” or “weak ties” they’re likely to take the things he says more seriously. More importantly, as Leo Mirani points out, Twitter has become so prominent in social movements in part because of it’s ability to disseminate news quickly. In the immediate aftermath of such a big event, politicians are forced to offer an opinion as quickly as they can, while follower’s are still emotionally invested in the issue. In this respect, I’m not sure if this gives his words more or less weight, as the statement was obviously written without much time for reflection, but at the same time was twitted while engagement was at it’s peak.

To be sure, there is much to be seen in the following days and weeks related to Syria, and the people’s reaction to the president. Nonetheless, my hope is that Trump’s opponents (and supporters for that matter) will be able to separate Syria from all of the president’s other policies, and approach with caution as opposed to a radicle shift to steadfast support on the basis of one issue. After all, Trump did not seem to care about Syrian refugees only a few weeks ago, and personally, I’m skeptical of any authentic change in heart, regardless of the potential efficacy of the airstrikes.