September 19, 2019

The Age of the Podcast

“EVERY DAY WE FIND NEW WAYS to be online. One man’s refrigerator texts him alerts about a coolant error. Another’s baby monitor sends photos of his child in night vision. People wielding phones chase apparitions in the park — Pokémon Go, a layer of childhood pixel monsters draped over physical reality — streaming trails of data behind them. There are tablets at the airport, browsers in rental cars. No screens yet on the subway, we think, and examine print ads for a chat-based pharmacy. But then, as if summoned, the screens appear! It’s our stop, crumbling and dirty as ever, newly outfitted with luminous displays shilling an expanding internet of things. Out on the street, a row of boxy storefronts displays the same pastel objects that have been following us around the social networks via tracker pixel. It’s as if the Instagram square has leapt from the screen. We look around, do a double take. Is this the internet, too?

We accept it, we guess. We like the internet. And really, we’d be online all the time if it weren’t for our eyes, those sensitive organs. Sidewalks fill with blue-light protection ads (on screens, of course) while we wait for our phones to learn to track eyestrain. In the meantime, we tear ourselves away to do the laundry and wash dishes, to drive to the grocery store or navigate on foot via . . . our screens. These activities demand the attention of our eyes and hands, for now. But we still have ears and mouths. Alexa! Play the Goldberg Variations. Actually, no — play the Song Exploder episode about Fleetwood Mac!

This is why we love podcasts: they are the internet for our ears. Now we can be on the internet all the time.

Every corner of the internet has its corresponding podcast. We can’t read left Twitter when assembling Ikea furniture — at least, it’s not in the instructions — but we can listen to The Dig’s deep dive on The Eighteenth Brumaire. Reading the New York Times while attempting Times recipes isn’t recommended, but those who want the Gesamtkunstwerk experience can queue up The Daily. If all you watch on TV is basketball and Top Chef, you can listen to a podcast about Top Chef hosted by two basketball journalists. Or say, just hypothetically, you fell off your bike trying to take a selfie, concussing yourself, and the doctor said not to watch anything on a screen, not even Making a Murderer. Luckily for you, podcasters love murder. A woman we know just posted on Facebook, “FAVORITE MURDER PODCASTS??” and the recs go on for days. The gray ellipsis is still bouncing.”

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