Why podcasts > most things online
Aka how I first tasted blood with a murder investigation
A year or so ago, around the time I quit my full-time job and started working from home, I noticed that screen time was making me jittery. Since I now rely solely on it to get work done and feel connected, everything I see online seems to require some sort of response from me—file, share, comment, retweet, copy link+email with incisive comment. At the very least, I have to scroll, scroll, scroll. I always have about 7 tabs open with articles I mean to read. I want to read them. But I keep hurtling past, looking for more sharp things to snag my attention on, more tabs to open. This ride was making me sick, but I couldn’t stop.
Around the same time, I started listening to Serial (by the way, season 2 of Serial will be out in September 2015). It was a good companion on walks. (Music was starting to stress me out too—I could never find that one perfect song, so I’d keep skipping tracks till the low hum of irritation was all I could hear.) How a long-winded, inconclusive investigation into a murder that took place 16 years ago managed to engage and thrill, I can’t explain. But it did and it was the song I’d been searching for.
You can listen to a podcast in complete passivity: no one’s nudging you to share or comment. It’s still too niche a medium to have much annoying buzz around it, plus there’s a sense of discovery every time you listen to something good. Bonus: it spares your eyes the backlit bombardment.
Soon, podcasts became little pools of clear reflection amid chaotic colour and noise. First, there’s the almost tactile pleasure of hearing a human voice this close. Through earphones, it acquires this gentle thrumming effect. Then, narrowing your focus to just voices puts you in an almost meditative state. And if you pick podcasts like the ones on this by-no-means-comprehensive list, you’ll hear something interesting every single time.
In this research-driven podcast from the Audiomatic network, journalists Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian scan the overlaps between science, culture and history for new truths. Episodes investigate everything from Himalayan earthquakes to the strange rise in twin births.
Till you get your hands on the second season of Sarah Koenig’s polarising podcast (out this fall), tune in to Criminal’s crisp 20-minute episodes, similar to Serial in narrative style. The series draws you in with intimate, interview-led accounts of chilling crime stories, like the story of the ex-con out to avenge his sister’s murder. The search for the killer leads back to his family.
Hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt are cool nerds snooping around the dusty crevices of the World Wide Web for a good story. Their droll humour will have you hooked to the most insipid web scandals, whether it’s the illicit trading of domain names or an interview with the most wanted man in cyberspace — the inventor of pop-up ads.
This American Life
This American Life—home to the creators of Serial—narrates journalistic stories backed by excellent reportage and a compelling voice. Each weekly episode presented by Ira Glass has a theme that is covered in ‘acts’. Each act focuses on a different aspect of the theme or takes it a bit deeper. Each episode is only available for a week after which you have to subscribe to access it or stream from their radio for free.
Death, Sex & Money
It’s all the three subjects we don’t talk about, but really should. The host Anna Sale is good at drawing out the most fascinating confessions from the people she interviews. They are regular people with highly irregular experiences: a woman who married the gay father of her child, a husband who has had to admit his wife in a psych ward, a funeral director who cares too much. This podcast contains all the thrill of eavesdropping on a private conversation.
Invisibilia delves into the world we cannot see with the most cryptic themes—how to be Batman, the secret history of thoughts—fleshes them out with science and research, and tells these stories with all the old-fashioned tools of intrigue, like cliffhangers and red herrings. Absolutely riveting stuff.
– Deepa Menon and Vatsala Chhibber