What’s That In Your Ear?
I’ve been listening to WNYC’s terrific Radiolab podcasts for a while, and was pleased to see it in the British press recently, with full-page articles praising the show. While I don’t agree that it’s quite the audio revelation that the Guardian suggests (they rather condescendingly said that audiences below forty would have trouble following the auditory speed, but it doesn’t seem abnormally fast to me) I do think it’s a wonderful reason to encourage more listeners for podcasts.
Personally, I’ve not listened to radio in years because it seems to work on a set of rules that play out predictably, rigidly and too slowly – the worst example has to be ‘The Archers’, which feels like the world when you’re ninety seven – but podcasts have changed the production rules. You can multi-track, overlap and run multiple strands to explore concepts, unencumbered by committees that require the station advertisers to be kept happy.
And so to the excellent Radiolab, a mainstream show that marries the peculiarly American genius for clarity of explanation with smart lateral thinking that explores scientific and social notions. The shows are an hour long, but the big problem for me is finding space to listen to words.
My artist friends all listen to podcasts, but I don’t drive to work, don’t have these built-in spaces in my life, and my job requires me to think through language in my head, so I can only listen to things that have no language in, or at least in languages I can’t understand.
As a consequence I miss out on a great many wonderful Radio Four programmes (although I did listen to ‘The History Of The World In 100 Objects), mainly because I was taking train rides. But some episodes of Radiolab are best listened to when you can pair them with their website – their show on symmetry talks about the way we see ourselves in mirrors, and on the site you can flip images.
For many people, podcasts have rendered most radio stations obsolete because they provide the commentary element separately from your MP3 choice of music, and combining them makes your own personalised radio station. But here’s the problem. By choosing what you listen to, you remove the possibility of stumbling across music and news that you may not have been aware of. So how do you find music, say, if you don’t get it from peers (ie you’re not a teenager or you don’t work in an office)?
I don’t know the answer about how you get interested in stuff – I have a fairly well-developed sense of curiosity and will hunt down lots of obscure subjects – but it seems that often two similar news items have to come to my attention before I initially grow interested.
And there’s a fear; if you consistently create your own content choices rather than stumble across them, do you stop being curious?