Though they’ve been around for over a decade, chances are you didn’t hear the word “podcast” until about five years ago. Once NPR’s released the podcast Serial in the latter half of 2014, everyone was suddenly buzzing about this new form of entertainment. It was the audio version of Game of Thrones — if you weren’t listening to Serial, what were you even doing?
Podcasts have consistently grown between 10 and 20% each year, which is astounding considering they break the mold of what is considered on-trend for our time. There are no visuals, no multi-million dollar CGI effects, and really no screen interaction to speak of, other than hitting the back-15-seconds button after you momentarily zone out. Podcasts are essentially a return to media consumption before the invention of the television; they are a radio-style artform. And this is part of the appeal.
A break from screen time
We now spend so much of our lives in front of screens — sending emails, checking social media, watching videos — that any alternative to a screen that has the ability to capture and maintain our attention is more than welcome, it’s actually coveted. Even our working hours are spent in front of screens, as we ditch old fashioned pen-and-paper for laptops and tablets and transition conference calls into video chats. Podcasts give our eyes a break; they allow us to look beyond the screen and take in our surroundings, whether that be your own living room, a mountain vista on a weekend hike, or the 405 during rush hour.
Transforming commutes and dreary work days
Much like audiobooks, podcasts give us a way to pass the time. That commute doesn’t seem quite so bad when you know you have 43 minutes left of Pod Save America or The Federalist Hour (depending on how you swing), or you hear Phoebe’s Judge’s soothing voice at the start of the latest Criminal episode. In fact, podcasts seem almost tailor-made for commuters; they offer an alternative to talk radio (which often leans so left or right that it’s alienating) and a break from the same top 40 singles and golden oldies that rotate through office speakers day after day.
And consider this: have you ever felt yourself dozing off post-lunch as you try to fill out timesheets or organize your files? Of course you have, and whether your working walls are filled with snooze-inducing silence or the soft beats of smooth jazz, chances are there isn’t much going on in the way of an afternoon pick-me-up. But with a podcast playing in your ears, you’re able to power through a slump, and sometimes even look forward to a mind-numbingly dull day.
An alternative form of storytelling
As human beings, we’re innately drawn to the art of verbal storytelling. Podcasts offer a platform for stories to be fully fleshed out in their entirety. There’s no cutting a chapter because the book is growing too long, or eliminating plots because studies have shown that five seasons is ideal for a TV show. Podcasts can return week after week to bring you another episode of a long-form story, and because commitment is low on the listener’s end (just pop in your headphones and continue with whatever you were doing — cooking, dishes, driving, etc.), we don’t mind tuning back in.
If you haven’t yet given podcasts a shot, what are you waiting for? Go download a few (or 20) now. One of the best things about podcasts is that there’s something for everyone. Want to learn more about business? There’s an entire category for that. Into true crime? You have so many options, your head will spin. Interested in celebrity gossip, Bachelor franchise recaps, long-form stories, Star Wars, how-tos, politics, or sports? There is literally something. for. everyone. And if you’re just not sure where to start, here are some of our favorites:
- This American Life
- My Favorite Murder
- TED Talks
- Dr. Death
- Pop Culture Happy Hour
- The News Bender