I listen to a lot of podcasts and make a concerted effort to find pods that are focused on different topics and offer different perspectives than my own. Of course, some of what I listen to is just plain fun and puts a smile on face. As I have thought about this more, I found that my podcast listenings fall into three main categories: enlightenment, education, and entertainment. In case you’re worried, I’m choosing not to refer to these as the “3 E’s” going forward, although the draw to do so was compelling.
Although I recognize that I have learned a great deal though podcasts, I can’t help but feel at times like the stakes for me are pretty low. I plug in with the hopes of learning something new about the world, history, myself, or just to escape reality and have a good laugh or discover some great new music. Am I a better person for it? I assume so, and I hope that is reflected when I take out my earbuds, but I also feel like I can dip in and out of these conversations as it suits me and sort of take what I want from each new thing I listen to. It feels important, but sometimes not essential. I doubt this is the case for everyone who is listens to a lot of podcasts and I’m certain it’s not the case for a lot of creators. For some, these conversations are the very definition of essential and help individuals navigate a world that can seem impossible at times.
As an example of this, there was a recent article on the Economist’s website about a podcast in Jordan called Eib, which translates as Shame. The podcast is in Arabic so I have not listened to it, but according to the article, Eib focuses on “the stories of ordinary men and women who have pushed back against the strict social codes that govern identity, gender and sexuality in the Arab world.” In some cases, the topics being discussed are literally life and death, like the mother who worries about the physical safety of her effeminate son, but in other instances it’s just an opportunity for people to discuss the challenges of the world and find community. Ramsey Tesdall, one of the creators of the show, points out that “sometimes even sharing love or talking about love is considered taboo” in the Arab world, so Eib provides a safe space where strangers can open up to one another.
Kara Swischer often talks about how the world has become very twitchy and podcasts offer a break from the twitchiness and provide an opportunity to be quiet and engage in something more deeply. This is certainly true, but I think the appeal of podcasts goes beyond that. Regardless of where we live and our cultural identities, we are all human and as such we rely on one another to make sense of the world. In addition to the 3 E’s (sorry), podcasts can provide that space and that feels essential, even for me.