On Podcasting

I’m working my way through Brad East’s new book, The Doctrine of Scripture. It’s good – a book of the read-one-section-a-day-at-the-most variety. I’ve also added his blog to my RSS feed reader (you should use a feed reader, FYI), and in exploring the archives a bit, I found a lovely, provocative post on giving up listening to podcasts.

As a podcaster and a podcast listener, I have some feelings about this.

First off, the reasons he has given up listening to podcasts relate strongly to the reasons I’ve pulled back from social media, specifically using it for business. I think my last posts were six to twelve months ago, and it’s because I felt myself grabbing for attention. Pick a photo, make a graphic, write a compelling caption, schedule it and hope that people look, notice, like, and share. Maybe that’s not so bad in and of itself, but I have been feeling the effects of having my attention grabbed for. My time trickling away to the endless scroll. My thoughts jumping from one topic to the next, my atrophying ability to focus, even to choose what to pay attention to.

Ultimately, I decided that even if I choose to engage with that platform personally, I couldn’t treat other people that way. I can’t keep adding to the problem – even if it’s the thirteen people to whom Facebook decides to show my posts.

But what about podcasts? Are they just filler, the auditory version of twaddle, filling up space that would better be put toward reflection, musing, even prayer? Do my podcasts trade on the new and novel, promoting a false sense of productivity because it allows for multitasking?

Here’s where I don’t arrive at quite the same place as Brad East. He asks in his post whether we can remember any discrete, life changing episodes of a podcast we’ve listened to. And while I agree with him that there aren’t loads of podcasts that have hit that level, there are definitely podcasts that are consistently edifying. As in, they have challenged me to think, helped me develop habits aimed toward better ends, and actually helped me grow as a person.

So while I can’t point to loads of episodes, I know that The Death of Ivan Ilyich is still with me. And I wouldn’t have read that – or gleaned so much from it – without The Literary Life Podcast. The same goes for Mansfield Park, The Great Divorce, and many other books they’ve read and discussed on their podcast. And in another example, I’m reading and enjoying Brad East’s book precisely because I listened to his interview on Mere Fidelity.

I do have a few podcasts I listen to that are twaddle. But when I’m working on Thinking Love or my podcast this summer, I know which podcasts and which podcasters I take for my model: those that get you to think and help you to learn, but also help you to do those things after you take off your headphones.

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