Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heard Not Seen

Sarah Koenig is not responsible for my podcast obsession.  It's Molly Wizenberg's fault. I have been a long time reader of Orangette, Wizenberg's blog, and after seeing her speak and reading her latest book, Delancey, I was hungry for more ways to cyberstalk her. Thus, I discovered last summer that she has a podcast, Spilled Milk which features Wizenberg and author Matthew Amster-Burton bantering back and forth about one food topic at a time from Cheap Bear to Green Beans.  Soon after I started listening to Spilled Milk, Wizenberg suggested Death, Sex & Money, by Anna Sales, on Orangette.

Podcasts have come a long way from the amateurish, banter-filled recordings that began appearing ten years ago.  Back then, I downloaded a few on the iPod I took on walks, but stopped bothering after I realized that all the best ones were re-packaged segments from NPR shows that I already listed to.  These days, I think the best podcasts still have their DNA, if not their actual production studios, in public radio. Even hosts like Wizenberg and Amster-Burton who are writers rather than seasoned broadcast journalists have gotten better as the medium has grown. 

Lately, I've gotten the whole family hooked on podcasts. Boo likes listening to Planet Money and How to Do Everything from NPR and RadioLab from WNYC when he's puttering with Lego in the afternoon.  I often play NPR's Business Story of the Day or World Story of the Day in the morning when both kids are in the kitchen eating breakfast and making lunch before school. When I'm cleaning the kitchen, I like listening to the stories of Snap Judgement and the Moth Radio Hour.  And of course, there's always the podcast version of This American Life. I've gotten Dr. Yap hooked on my current favorite podcast, Invisibilia. I listen to it at home, and she listens to it during her long commute and we discuss it together in the evening.  

Invisibilia is a mini-series podcast with only six episodes planned, that covers invisible things, such as thoughts, fears, and expectations.  If this were a Great Course, I'm not sure I would be interested, but given the NPR treatment, it's utterly fascinating and right up my alley.  I love learning more about how we can train our brains and push ourselves as humans.  This first podcast reminded me not to take my own thoughts too seriously, a reminder my peri-menopausal brain needs.  The fears episode featured a fascinating demonstration of how much childhood has changed in the last forty years, based on media-saturated fears rather than real data.  Last week's episode is an amazing analysis of expectations and how much they can shape destiny for a particular population.  Each episode takes a deep dive into one particular aspect of "invisibilia," but it's easy to extrapolate and make connections in my own life.

I hope that technology continues to evolve with podcast creators, because I would love to easily skip over boring bits, like an overlong exploration of confronting a fear of snakes or the overly enthusiastic discussions of the minutiae of publishing that seem to mar most book podcasts.  It seems like it would be easy to incorporate time-stamping into a podcast app so a listener can easily jump back and forth without missing bits and pieces.