Don’t Let Thoughts Into Your Head: On Podcasts
They list. And in the porches of their ears I pour.
—The soul has been before stricken mortally, a poison poured in the porch of a sleeping ear. But those who are done to death in sleep cannot know the manner of their quell unless their Creator endow their souls with that knowledge in the life to come. The poisoning and the beast with two backs that urged it king Hamlet’s ghost could not know of were he not endowed with knowledge by his creator. That is why the speech (his lean unlovely English) is always turned elsewhere, backward. Ravisher and ravished, what he would but would not, go with him from Lucrece’s bluecircled ivory globes to Imogen’s breast, bare, with its mole cinquespotted.
I wrote out this little epiphany as a warning to myself, though now that it’s somewhat too late.
It started on the north end of Astoria Park yesterday afternoon around 3pm. Well, it started toward the south-middle part of the park, right in the park’s sweet spot, where I was crossing a particularly green part of the field walking my dogs during which time I was listening to “Latest in Paleo” S02E02. The host, Angelo Coppola, made some claim I disagreed with, and he wasn’t there for me go over it with him. But I thought he was quite wrong.
To wit, his selectiveness (cherrypicking) in emphasizing certain idiosyncratic and heterogenous scientific findings form no better or logical system of nutrition than the state-mandated, corporate-funded one. Or the (entirely wrongheaded) homeopathic agenda. Or the entirely innocent, “noble savage” style of dining most Americans are accustomed to growing up on. The fact is, you are what you eat on a few literal levels, and the one I’m most interested in is how people make their decisions. As in, you’re basically free to eat whatever you want, so by thinking about what you do choose to eat, you can diagnose a lot of your life’s problems (economic, social, epistemological) and also discover many of its perhaps unnoticed benefits (economic, social, epistemological). That’s interesting to think about, I think. But, further, though, given that there literally one million contradictory studies on the health benefits (or deficiencies) of the great North American Granny Smith apple alone, I find it 100% preposterous that you could come up with a diet vetted and validated by science or medical professionals. A notion you, Angelo Coppola, bear out in episode after episode (well, for at least the two episodes I listened to) by running segments debunking studies and medical findings. So what is the point, at all, of citing any studies in your own favor, in support of your chosen lifestyle? Shouldn’t that practice make the truly learned and astute listener of your podcast suspect your own podcast? If not from an authoritative standpoint, which I should think you’d concede, then on the basis of common sense or logic? I mean, you end up sounded either quite stupid or as if you think your audience is quite stupid when you select this ground-less fact over another and assert its quality based on no quality other than your own discern.
I had all those thoughts, but not until well after I turned off the podcast, which occurred in between my having those thoughts and my having this little epiphany that lead me to turn off the podcast.
See, as I walked from the sweet spot of the south-middle field in Astoria Park to the bread heel end-like north end of Astoria Park, I grew more and more cross at Angelo Coppola until I decided to turn of his podcast. A few other factors contributed to my turning off his podcast.
It was really very nice outside. If you’ll follow me on Instagram, you could see photographic evidence of that.
I was entirely bummed out about not listening to music right then. I think I form really strong sense memories about places, but only in conjunction with smells, sounds, or like events. I’ll smell a smell and automatically recall some room or feeling I had in a room or something, and the same way it is with music. And since it was such a great day, weather-wise, and I was having such a nice time, feelings-wise what with walking my dogs and feeling physically much better compared to earlier, I was really unhappy about how I probably would instantly forget all about this feeling since I didn’t really have anything to anchor it on, except for maybe an increasing disinterest in the paleo diet. I mean, I was basically marrying this great moment in my life to listening to some (in my mind, at that point) utterly repugnant charlatan who probably smells like rotten cheese making dirty love to spoiled eggs inside a charnel house. So I decided to turn off the podcast, and within a few moments, maybe forty steps back round the end of the park following the southern, unpaved rise in the hill underneath Hellgate Bridge, I decided to stop listening to podcasts altogether for at least a while but hopefully ever.
Here’s an incomplete list of podcasts I’ve listened to lately.
- Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (every single weekly episode, at least four times)
- Pod F Tompkast (every single roughly monthly episode, at least five times)
- ESPN Fantasy Focus Football (every single daily episode, for the last three years)
- ESPN Football Today (every single roughly daily episode, for the last two years)
- You Look Nice Today (every single roughly monthly episode, at least seven times)
- Professor Blastoff (every single roughly monthly episode, at least twice)
- The Talk Show With John Gruber (every single roughly weekly episode, for at least two years)
- Back To Work (every single roughly weekly episode, for a year)
- Jordan Jesse Go (every single weekly episode, many at least twice, for at least three years)
- The B.S. Report (every single episode, for at least five years)
- Stop Podcasting Yourself (every weekly episode, for at least three years)
Of course I’ve listened to podcasts here and there like Nerdist, Marc Maron, How Was Your Week, Joe Posnaski Poscast, Doug Loves Movies, Judge John Hodman, Superego, and so on, etc.
A poorly constructed mental model tells me I’ve listened to one one half year’s worth of podcast audio since I started listening to podcasts five years ago. That is ten percent of that time, and I suspect the figure may be accurate.
There are some strategies for listening to podcasts for a tenth of your living life.
Listen to podcasts in bed at night, and all day in bed on weekends that you spend in bed. Listen to podcasts while you’re reading, working, walking, running, sitting, shitting, and writing. Listen to podcasts while you’re playing video games for hundreds of hours. Listen to podcasts on the subway when you’re too drunk to read. Listen to podcasts in one ear while you’re doing everything in your life.
I admit that there’s nothing 100% wrong, pernicious, and evil about podcasts as such. I also concede that I take things “to the extreme” sometimes. That said, I think the logical form of my circumstances can retain its shape when applied to less severe cases. Let’s think about it for a second.
Binge podcast listening is a lot like binge Netflix viewing, for instance.
I think binge Netflix viewing is pretty bad, even though I do it. Why it’s bad is that it “turns your brain off”. It does that by showing you the same things you’ve already seen, thought about, and drawn conclusions about the first or second time you saw them. If you’re still thinking about them or drawing conclusions about them on the fifth or sixth viewing, then you’re not exactly binging on Netflix in my mind, you’re studying. (Why are you studying Coach?) By occupying your optical nerve and the parts of your brain that make sense of things (all of it?), you’re basically idling its engine so that it’s not entirely off (not that that’s possible unless = dead, but still) but it’s not achieving particularly high RPM either. I think we can all agree to that sketch of binging on Netflix, right?
But watching Netflix in moderation is fine, right? Yes. But watching Netflix is intrinsically different than listening to podcasts.
I find that I’m a fairly (or somewhat) depressive person. Sometimes I have a good idea, and even less frequently I engage it and achieve it in some sense. But for the most part, I think I have a sort of idle, Zen state of not thinking a lot about things. And I’m OK with that. I’m not very quick, but maybe some of that is self-induced by my constantly listening to podcasts. Because, see, listening to things like talk radio shows or podcasts is like plugging a mainline of someone else’s thoughts straight into your brain. So, then, your brain can shut off and let these other thoughts simply run across it like your broad, pimply back in the shower. And when the shower is over, your back is still broad and pimply, and it hasn’t really done anything and you barely even tried to wash at it because who even owns a scrub brush or has the flexibility to get a sponge or something to that part right below your shoulder blade. My back is smooth and rippled with muscle, but you get the idea right. Washing your brain with someone else’s thoughts in audio format doesn’t have a beneficial or even propaedeutic effect, I risk.
Simply letting someone else pipe thoughts into your head sounds like it would be OK for two reasons.
1) If you carefully choose which podcasts to listen to, and listen to quality ones like Mike and Tom Eat Snacks and You Look Nice Today, then it’s ok. It’s like reading a good book or having a conversation with a witty friend. Because, also,
2) You’re not just a passive receptacle for these thoughts. Your mind can turn them over and respond to them. You create a little inner dialogue, and you can even create an outer dialogue by emailing or tweeting at the host and then you get to have a real (but not IRL) friend to talk about to with those ideas.
In practice, I find 1 and 2 are very infrequently the case, and they’re the case to such a vanishingly small extent that it’s practically not worth it to let other people pipe thoughts into your head ever.
For one, look at the incomplete list above. I did find some very great podcasts: M.A.T.E.S., Pod F Tompkast, YLNT, etc. Even the B.S. Report. The problem is there are not really that many transcendentally great podcasts, and since I’ve been nursing a near-crippling addiction to podcasts (rhetorical overstatement), I had to settle for second- or third-tier podcasts like Pop My Culture, This Feels Terrible, The Vergecast, Hypercritical, and the catalyzing Latest In Paleo. I did listen to the truly great podcasts and great podcast episodes over and over, but at that point there are pretty significant diminishing returns. (I still find snack rating an uplifting pastime, though.) As for two, I have two objections. The first is that more often than not, when you make a tweet or email at someone for something they said in a podcast, it’s usually to disagree with them. And if they have a podcast of any amount of popularity, they get a lot of email about it, and they don’t want to hear anything negative about their podcast. This is especially true if, for instance, you try to point out to John Siracusa that there may, perhaps, gasp, exist sexism in the tech industry, and it’s actually not a legitimate strategy to label sexist the very people pointing this out. That that’s gaslighting or derailing or something similarly creepy and wrong. He will write you back just say you’re wrong because of robot logic. And secondly, unlike a normal conversation, you are listening to a monologue or performed dialogue, so you cannot actually pause the discourse to interject or question. You can form little mental rants, but then you’ve stopped paying attention and either continue to stop paying attention as you rant over the voice of someone else, or you rewind it and stop your mental rant.
I find the only way I can create and sustain a reasonable pace of idea formation and argumentation is by not listening to other people’s (face it, likely stupid) thoughts constantly. And my near-addiction to doing so represents some sort of bad tendency or aspect of character in myself, whereby I don’t really want to succeed or something in life. So that’s why yesterday somewhere in between the sweet spot of the middle of Astoria Park, between the swimming pool and Hellgate Bridge, I decided I’d have to just quit listening to podcasts altogether so that maybe some day I can come up with a good idea in my life and get to be, if I’m lucky, one of those people other people listen to in order to push the thoughts out of their heads. Or I’ll decline and write another blog post about an uncommonly specific occurrence in my life and how this, finally, will turn it all around.
Hah, so I realize going over this “epiphany” that it sounds sort of depressing or sad-making, but it’s really not. It’s great when you realize there’s something even a little pernicious or limiting in your life, especially a self-limitation, which you can easily abrogate. Epiphanies used to be the provenance of Irishmen watching girls bathing in seaweed, but now everyone can have them and it’s wonderful.
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