Now, maybe you already knew this, but March 14th was Pi Day (what? You didn’t know? Really?). It’s not a typo, I don’t mean Pie Day (although there are plenty enough puns and pie recipes dedicated to this auspicious occasion to go around), I mean Pi Day, as in , as in 3.14159etcetc.
I actually do think that it’s really cool. The number pi is so much fun, if only because it is one of our foremost “Celebrity Numbers”. I was listening to the latest podcast of Hello Internet yesterday in the gym (and laughing out loud every now and then, much to the consternation of the guy on the stationary bike next to me), and they were talking about the anthropomorphisation (that may not be a real word) of numbers. Attributing human characteristics to digits. Go ahead and scoff, I say why not “humanise” numbers, give them endearing characteristics? It’s in our nature to attribute human qualities to non-human objects or beings, it helps us to relate to our environment, to feel that we’re part of something. Menacing clouds, anyone? Perky spring flowers? Authoritative traffic lights? In numbers, we have our indecisive eight, our stern eleven, our playful five… And, we have our “celebrity numbers”. Numbers that enjoy a world-wide fame, that stand for something other than what they stand for, numbers that have a reputation. (And I am really enjoying the slug-fest between Tau and Pi, may the tougher number win.)
But anyway, I digress, what I really want to talk about is the whole concept of podcasts, which I’ve only recently discovered (I know, I know, where have I been?). And I want to talk about them in case they also have passed you by, in the hopes that you, too, can suddenly discover productive and interesting uses for those not-so-interesting commuting hours or walking-the-dog times. And even if you are already really into podcasts, I want to share with you my favourite ones, and you can tell me yours, and we’d have a connection, and it would be cool.
Listening to a podcast is like listening to the radio, only you get to choose what you listen to, and for how long. And when I say you get to choose what you listen to, the breadth is spectacular. Want a comedy show? Sports interviews? People talking about music? Gossip? Movie reviews? Cooking banter?
“So what?” you might say, “There are plenty of thematic radio shows with up-to-date tidbits and entertainment.” Well, no, not really, have you noticed how generic radio shows have become? (Yes, I am aware that there are exceptions, but they are few.) And listening to stuff on demand is nothing new, my parents have been listening to audio books for decades. Now, I confess that I hate listening to the radio (boring, and the ads!), and I always found audio books a bit slow (I read quickly), but I love podcasts. The breadth of topics, the convenience, the quality, the specialisation… And they’re generally free!! Because they cost nothing, and are so easy to download, I have access to such a wide selection that if the current one isn’t entertaining me, I can skip to another one.
I enjoy the activity of walking, but I’ve always found it a bit dull. Even with my beloved music playlists, I would sometimes get frustrated at the lack of productivity (and no, I’m not really Type A, I just like to get things done). But with podcasts, I’m learning as I purposefully stride or gently stroll. I feel like I’m having a conversation with very interesting people, it’s almost intimate and personal (which from a business point of view would make sponsorship of niche podcasts an interesting marketing proposition). And I’m walking a whole lot more.
Aside from the entertainment, think about the potential impact on education. Students listening to lectures while at the gym. Businesspeople keeping abreast with industry conferences while in the airport waiting lounge. People like me with not a lot of free time but who want to know more. Podcasts turn a traditionally “dead” time into an opportunity to learn.
Unlike reading a blog or watching a video, you don’t need to be online. You download the audio file, and listen to it when you want. You can go back, jump forward, repeat, skip… This makes podcasts ideal for squeezing more productivity out of your “dead” time, the time when you can’t really do anything else. Like trot to the grocery store, cook dinner, do the ironing… The phone rings in the middle? No problem, hit pause…
In an age when visual media supposedly reigns supreme (think Pinterest, Instagram, images on Facebook, tumblr, and the list goes on), and when interacting and commenting are social musts, podcasts seem refreshingly “old world”. You’re spoken to, there’s no dialogue, not much scope for interaction. Some of the pressure is off. Sure, you can send in comments after, once you’ve logged into the web, but it doesn’t have the same social immediacy. But that doesn’t mean that podcasts are any less significant, and “old world” they definitely are not. The download technology gives even unkown voices access to large audiences. All you need is an original format and an interesting theme, and the market will decide if the podcast makes it into the big leagues.
But most interesting, in my opinion, is that podcasts are empowering. With radio, someone decides what you listen to. And blogs, books and videos demand your full attention. With podcasts, you decide what you listen to. And you control when. And you can do something else at the same time. Multitasking made easy.
My top 3, the ones that make me think “Wow, the world is really interesting”:
I’m relatively new to podcasts, so with the zeal of the newly converted, I’m sure I’ll be adding many more to my ipod. I’m going to have to work on finding excuses to listen to them. Maybe I’ll take up running at a nice, gentle pace…
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If you want more on the fascinating world of podcasts, check out my Flipboard: