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Podcast Ramblings

It’s amazing how popular podcasts have become in the past few years.

I used to always have to explain to people exactly what a podcast is since most had barely even heard the term before. Nowadays, I rarely get a “What the hell is that” look when I mention that I do a podcast.

For me, podcasts have become a surprisingly big part of my life. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Podcast that I participate in consumes a fair number of hours each week. It takes two hours or so to record the show but preparing for each one takes much more time than that. Typically I need to:  find a news item to discuss, research it and any related topics, and then write a page or so discussing it. I will then spend time focusing on other segments of the show like Science or Fiction email questions, interviews etc.

The flip-side of that is that I also spend a great deal of time actually listening to other people’s podcasts. Whenever I’m in a car I almost invariably listen to podcasts. Listening to the spoken word like this started in earnest when I got a job that was an hour away in the early nineties. Two hours a day behind a damn wheel seemed like a monumental waste of time to me. I love listening to music but I wanted to make that time as productive as possible which eventually lead to books on tape.

I’ve run into people who are visual word snobs who think that listening to books is a poor poor substitute to reading them. I think that’s bullshit. First off, audiobooks are an adjunct to reading, not a substitute. It’s just another way to enjoy the written word that has advantages all its own. It lets you enjoy a book during times when it’s impossible to read. Perhaps these snobs think that the narrator in some way overrides or diminishes our own natural inner voice. In most cases, that’s like saying color movies diminish our internal colorful representations (I know, not a perfect analogy but just roll with it). For me, a good narrator adds a layer of enjoyment that my feeble inner voice can never match. Tim Curry immediately leaps to mind in this regard. He can add texture and nuance to a reading that makes me feel bad for people that merely read the words silently. I can’t remember all the times I had to rewind a tape just to listen again to his inspired delivery of one specific sentence. Another example is Douglas Adams reading his own Hitchhikers or Dirk Gently books. In this rare case, you have the actual author giving you not an audible interpretation of the work but another layer to his own work that would have otherwise never been revealed.

I eventually amassed a collection of books on tape in the hundreds. My commute became something to look forward to. I remember even being bummed when my commute diminished to 15 minutes in 2001. Organizing and maintaining all these tapes was a bit of a pain though. I eventually caught wind of audible.com and realized that digital was the way to go. Digital books were so much more convenient. No need to find the next cassette tape or CD while your driving 50 mph down the road. No need to perform surgery on a tape that broke from overuse. No need to dig through a box of tapes trying to find that one story I want to listen to again. Being somewhat organizationally impaired always made this last task a royal pain in the ass.

MIT media lab founder, Nicholos Negroponte was find of saying “Move Bits not Atoms” and he was so right. From the perspective of convenience, cost, speed, timeliness, etc etc, bits had it all over atoms.

Finding new unabridged digital books to listen to however always seemed to be a problem. My sweetspot of science, science-fiction, and horror always seemed to be in short supply in the digital realm. That’s when podcasts entered my ken. Once we started doing a weekly podcast, I started to increasingly survey all the other podcast offerings available out there. It didn’t take long then for podcasts to almost completely supplant other forms of audio car entertainment.

The array of topics covered by podcasts today is impressive. Pretty much anything your nuts about is likely being covered by someone or an army of someones podcasting in their basement. The quality is all over the board of course but if your passionate about something, don’t worry if your audio quality is off or even if you don’t have a voice meant for radio. Get your message out there.

Of course, I don’t listen to those incompetent podcasters :-)

What do I listen to?

I listen to science and skeptical podcasts of course but they’ve been covered and discussed elsewhere. I want to mention some of the fiction podcasts I listen to not only because I adore them but because I don’t think they get the credit they deserve.

Oh man, look at the time. I want to spend more time on my recommendations than I have now so it’ll have to wait until next week. If you come back then I promise to give a list of not only some great fiction podcasts but specific short-fiction episodes that I literally couldn’t get out of my mind for days.

2 comments to Podcast Ramblings

  • mattdick

    Bob, my story with commutes, audio books and podcasts is almost exactly yours. I can’t wait to hear your list of recommendations.

    I’ll happily share my list if anyone’s interested.

  • Sure mattdick, I’d love to see some of the gems you’ve discovered

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