Podcasts are becoming increasingly validated as a medium. They were before, in smaller circles, but the broad success of podcasts like Serial have pushed the medium to new listeners, new listener numbers, and therefore new boundaries. High-profile individuals have started reaching out to appear on podcasts. Phil Schiller of Apple went on The Talk Show with John Gruber where he knew he could be asked some tough questions, but wanted to show that he was one of us. Even the POTUS (or his team) thinks that being on a podcast is worthwhile.
When I first started getting into podcasts, I listened to topics I enjoyed; but the playlist was heavily dominated with tech podcasts. I had somewhere between 10-15 of them [footnote]I wish I was joking[/footnote] a week that I would listen to. I would use Overcast and use its Smart Speed® functionality in addition to playing them at 1.5x-2x the normal speed to increase my intake [footnote]playing catch-up, really[/footnote]; but after a while, they became dull and boring. They didn't move and excite my brain like they used to.
I started discussing with several of my friends, and we all seem to agree: the tech podcast space has become repetitive, too filled with the same things being regurgitated across multiple places. What's being said on one podcast is being said on another; often times, there would be a discussion by the same person on different podcasts. This isn't to say that they aren't good: there are a lot of amazing technology focused podcasts out there. For myself and others, it was simply becoming overwhelming to keep up on a regular basis, and too repetitive show-to-show.
Out of those discussions, I started to develop some questions to gauge how I to listen to podcasts:
- Am I learning anything new?
- Do I always enjoy listening to the topics, hosts, and guests?
- Do I enjoy listening at 1x? Or, maybe better said: Do I feel like I need to speed up the podcast?
- How do I feel when I am done listening to the podcast? Happy? Sad? Meh?
If the podcast doesn't give me the positive answers to those questions, it gets deleted. This may seem harsh, but it really makes a difference in de-cluttering my headspace. If I feel “meh” after a podcast, it likely isn't worth listening to. I would be better off playing music or checking out something new.
What I really want from podcasts – and tech podcasts in particular – is a fresh take on topics, saying things others aren't and looking for new angles; I also want interesting ideas and subjects to keep me engaged. I still listen to a few tech podcasts, but only subscribe to a couple; the rest are selected based on guests and/or topics.
I've had a lot of recommendations in the past few months that have been providing me with just the thing I want to hear, even if I didn't know I wanted to hear it. Here are some of the podcasts I've been enjoying as of late:
- 99% Invisible by Roman Mars is a great show about the history of design, and all the little things you tend to miss or overlook.
- You cannot go wrong with the absolutely terrifying Lore by Aaron Mahnke. The episode entitled “The Castle” was horrifying, sick, and extremely twisted, but a great episode that was very well produced. [footnote]Lore is one of the few podcasts for which I have a notification set – it's great.[/footnote]
- Front to Back is about 3 dads raising their daughters, but having a daughter of your own is hardly a prerequisite. They have many great insights to parenting that I have found useful.
- Criminal contains fascinating stories of people that are or have been viewed as criminals; some of them have been unbelievable and heart-wrenching. The exit guide episode is a good place to start.
The Mystery Show is a wonderful podcast about mysteries that can't be solved by looking online. Beat reporter-style investigation and interviews tackling small mysteries. The Belt Buckle was quite possibly the single greatest podcast episode I've ever heard.
Undisclosed is a follow-on to (but not associated with) Serial, which highlights more and more errors in the case. If you were a fan of Serial, this is a must-listen podcast.[footnote]Fair warning – I get upset every week at this case. It's a disaster that I cannot believe was this poorly handled – the prosecution handle this whole trial wrong, and the initial defense was ineffective. I'm hoping there is a new trial opened.[/footnote]
I'm always in search of other quality podcasts: if you have some other suggestions, let me know what you think I should be listening to. I will give them a chance, but I will be applying the rules to those as well — so make them good!
Cleaning up and clearing out my podcast playlist has lead me to a more fulfilling experience; I highly suggest you take a look at doing the same. It's time to give your podcast listening a more personal human touch.