I listen to a lot of podcasts. In fact, I listen to so many that I’ve more or less stopped doing something which I have done pretty much all my life. I’ve stopped reading books. Well, not entirely, but they are no longer part of my everyday life in the same way that they used to be.
What I used to do, if I was on a bus or a train on my way to work or wherever, was I’d listen to music and read a book. But now, I listen to podcasts. I can’t read and listen to podcasts because the combination of words entering my brain through my eyes and my ears simultaneously is too confusing and I can’t absorb either.
In order to keep my hands and eyes occupied during these journeys, I dip into Twitter or Facebook, not really reading anything, just skimming through it. Sometimes I play pointless games on my phone. Sometimes I just stare at it, searching for hope and meaning.
The joy of podcasts is that you can be introduced to a huge range of information and ideas and possibilities as you skip from In Our Time to Vitriola Music to The Allusionist to Love + Radio to Criminal, Reply All, Kermode & Mayo, Radiolab, Strangers, This American Life, and the Beef & Dairy Network. A book requires commitment and dedication. Podcasts allow you to be more capricious. I guess the analogy is closer to a magazine than a book, but it’s a magazine someone has made by stapling together a bunch of pages from other magazines.
But I’ve found that I absorb this information in a different way, compared to if I were reading it. I think I have quite a visual memory, and so when I see something in a book that interests me, I’ll remember the cover of the book and with it, its title and the name of the author. I’ll remember if it was near the beginning of the book or towards the end, if it was on the left hand page or the right, at the top of the page or at the bottom. This means if I want to go back and check something, I have some useful starting points that will point me in the right direction.
With something I was listening to, I lose that visual connection. And instead, I create other visual connections, but once that are of no use to me. I’ll be trying to remember something someone said but have no idea who it was or what podcast it was on or even exactly what it was that they said, instead, all I’ll be able to remember is where I was when I heard it.
If it’s only a half-remembered fact, where I may have forgotten the crucial details or the names or the dates or whatever, I’m not even able to try to look it up online. All I am left with is “Well, I remember that I was walking across Waterloo Bridge and it was really windy” and you can’t really google that.