‘Podcast listening carries with it a faint aura of cultural snobbery’


From New Republic:

We are living through a great flowering of the podcast industry, whose province of iTunes is something like a frontier boomtown right now, teeming with hastily erected new storefronts. The podcast form has been around since about 2004—it is kissing cousins with the iPod, in that way—but it was only in 2014 that the idea struck gold. That would be the Serial moment, when Sarah Koenig’s twelve-episode exploration of a long-forgotten murder in Baltimore morphed into an amateur crime-solving hobby for millions of bored listeners. Before that, podcasts were a thing audio nerds did and talked about. Now, in the comfortable, educated, middle-class households of America, podcasts slot pleasantly into the routine of daily life. They help pass the time commuting on a crowded train or cleaning the bathroom. The experience lies somewhere between binge-listening and background noise.

Even though podcasts share no particular style and very few conventions, a sense of high purpose lingers around them. Podcast listening carries with it a faint aura of cultural snobbery, a notion that to cue up an episode is to do something highbrow and personally enriching, whether it’s a history lecture broadcast from a university, or an amateur talk show recorded in someone’s garage. Both types of show are somewhat educational, in the sense that they expose listeners to unfamiliar subjects and subcultures. But the essence of a podcast is to be esoteric, specialized. And sometimes it’s hard to draw a line between the specific and the trivial.

Americans, of course, have been listening to the radio for more than a hundred years. But radio is different: Beamed out to a broad audience whose choices in programming are limited by their physical location and the time of day they tune in, radio aimed from the start to reach anyone and everyone who happened to be listening. It couldn’t be too weird or off-kilter; it couldn’t be about individual obsession. It had to be about the shared stuff of public life.

No longer. If you care about a subject, there’s a podcast for it.

“Voices of America”, Michelle Dean, New Republic