Saturday, January 5, 2008

Podcasts are the New Booze

When faced with a boring, repetitive, or otherwise mind-numbing task, like washing dishes, folding clothes or proving Fermat's last theorem, I used to find it helped to have a glass of wine or other adult beverage. It just made the whole endeavor much more pleasant.

Unfortunately, if you do this too much, you sort of - how shall I put it? - become an alcoholic.

Recently (well, within the last few years), I've discovered podcasts. Perhaps you've heard of them? They're like talk radio that doesn't suck.

What I've found is that instead of reaching for a bottle when I'm faced with one of these activities, I reach for my iPod (or, more recently, my iPhone, which is much closer, being in my pocket at all times). Now, I almost look forward to doing chores like raking the lawn, picking up the rotting apples that our trees spew all over the yard four months out of the year, or driving. Especially long trips. Listening to podcasts has turned several 8-hour treks to San Diego from interminable to actually enjoyable. (And no, I never drank to make driving more interesting. That would be wrong.)

(Sidenote Complete tangent: Those of you with iPhones, have you ever sent an email while wearing the earbuds? That little "whoosh" sound signifying the email flying away through the series of tubes is an awesome stereo sound that goes from one ear to the other. That's the attention to detail that makes people wait in line for days to buy expensive Apple products.)

What I tend to do is poke around on the iTunes store a couple times a year and pick out some new podcasts. Once I find one I really like, I download and listen to every single episode. Once I'm caught up, I find another one to obsess over and repeat the process.

About a year ago, I found the Penn Jillette show, which was an actual radio program that was recorded and published as a podcast. That ended in March of 07, so once I listened to all of those, I had to find another one.

My new obsession is the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. It's a great show, but I almost didn't get hooked on it because the first episode I listened to was the first one after one of the panelists had died, and it was a real downer. (The real creepy part was going back and listening to the episodes leading up to that, knowing he was about to die.)

The problem is that you can't be doing anything requiring complex brain activity and still listen to a podcast. At least I can't - I can only focus on one thing at a time. It has to be something that involves some amount of physical activity (walking to work/class, mowing the lawn, etc.) but nothing that involves certain information-processing areas of the brain.

The other side of it is, I need to be doing something. I find it extremely boring to just sit and listen to a podcast and do nothing. Airplane rides are iffy - staring at the back of the seat in front of me is not enough, but reading is too much. And if I close my eyes, I'm likely to fall asleep and miss half the podcast. So I usually end up listening to music and reading, or watching a video (iPhones - or any video media device - are seriously the best thing to happen to air travel since they shrunk liquor into tiny little bottles).

So thank you, Apple, and all you podcasters, for lessening my dependency on booze to smooth out the drudgery of life. Of course, booze and a podcast is even better ....

1 comment:

david hayes said...

I'm suprised how much I agree with just about everything you've said about podcasts. And I'll also have to look into the ones you've mentioned.