Adapting to the Age of Information Through Podcasts

By: Eli Saperstein  |  August 23, 2021

By Eli Saperstein, Opinions Editor

I have always been fascinated and interested in so many different topics. I’ve wanted to learn about philosophy, history, politics, and so many other subjects in a more formal setting than “just” conversations with friends and acquaintances. The reason for this is that in my experience, my peers and I generally rehash the “topic of the day” that happens to be getting more screen time, usually due to current events, filtered through our particular political lenses as opposed to increasing our knowledge about a particular issue. Unfortunately, as an accounting major, I cannot learn about these topics in a class or dedicate a worthwhile amount of time reading up on these subjects or pursuing these topics in another, more formal setting. Even though the information is easily accessible because every single topic ever discussed or thought of is on the internet at this point, I do not know where to start, since there is no direction or guide for me to follow. I know the information is out there, but in my experience, there is no natural starting point for me to begin my course of study.  

In the past, when people wanted to learn more about various topics, they opened up a book. We all know the story about how Abraham Lincoln walked miles to borrow reading materials, and these weren’t even necessarily educational! Needless to say, he later became one of the most memorable presidents to date. I can only imagine it had something to do with his character and drive to acquire more knowledge.

We all wish we could be more knowledgeable, but in the age of instant gratification and constantly being busy with other responsibilities, opening up a book and being able to take the time to sit down and delve into the content is a luxury only available for many on Shabbos (Sabbath), if ever.

When was the last time you opened a book and finished it when it wasn’t required reading? Of course, many of us have the opportunity to read on Shabbos (Sabbath), but even so, is reading once a week enough to satisfy one’s desire to know more about the world we live in? Our generation, a generation with more information at our fingertips than existed in every previous generation combined since the dawn of civilization, is facing a problem like no other. We, unlike many previous generations, have too much information readily available. Another factor in the steady decline in time spent reading is our many other modes of entertainment. Given a choice between an educational book or a thrilling TV series, many of us know what we tend to choose. We now have more content that has been created for public consumption than one can consume in a lifetime. We are living in a generation of information overload. It is now not a matter for most if they will be filling up their time so much as what they will spend their time on. 

Listening to podcasts might be the perfect option for those of you who, like me, have always wanted to learn about your particular interest at a higher level but also, like me, have never had the path or the conviction to open up a book dedicated to the topic. However, suppose, despite all the obstacles, you are still interested in learning about your favorite topic of interest and more. In that case, I know that I have significantly benefited from listening to podcasts and would definitely recommend them as a medium to learn! Listening to podcasts is an easy, convenient, and generally free way of learning about your favorite topic that requires a lot less effort on the “student’s” part!  

I, like many others, used to doubt the efficacy of listening to a podcast. So many people do not have the right approach or sometimes even the right voice for podcasting! Who to spend your most precious resource, time, on? I’ve resolved this issue, at least for myself, by multitasking while listening to podcasts. Going about my daily life while listening to podcasts allows me to listen at my leisure without dedicating a specific amount of time to learning about the subject I am interested in. Of course, it is best to listen to a podcast while you are doing something that doesn’t require too much concentration; otherwise, it can lead to more wasted time in the future. 

Of course, like any other method of obtaining information, podcasts have their problems. In my experience, there doesn’t seem to be a way to verify the trustworthiness of any given podcast. One can only assume that a recognized podcast does its own fact-checking. This is a concern for me because it is so easy for anyone to make a podcast. Like with any other source of information, it is best to take what you hear with a grain of salt and verify what you hear. 

With the explosion of podcasts during the pandemic, podcasting has become a perfect example of quantity versus quality. Choosing a podcast and sticking with it can be difficult as some podcasts are little more than nonsense designed to be entertaining and advertising bait. Some, of course, are very informative, but ads on a podcast can be very disorienting and can quickly make you wish you never began the podcast in the first place. Another issue that I’ve encountered is, as anyone who has ever had that high school experience where the author of whatever novel you read in English class was bland or difficult to understand, podcasts are no different. Communication styles are different between the spoken word and the written word. While this may seem obvious to everyone, many podcasters don’t seem to realize that! When discussing podcasts with my peers, another issue that frequently came up was that the choice to listen to a particular podcast or not really depended on how the person sounded! Whether it is a poorly edited podcast or simply the podcaster’s voice, that can be the difference between an enjoyable podcast and one where you will not listen to the next episode, assuming you can get through the first one. However, having a nasally, high-pitched voice or otherwise less appealing voice is not necessarily a dealbreaker. A perfect example of this would be Ben Shapiro, a talk show host on the Daily Wire, who has mentioned that many people have told him that they don’t like his voice! However, despite all this, he seems to have many who listen to his show. 

There are so many genres of podcast entertainment; while most are generally designed to be informative, there are as many podcasts as there are topics to talk about. For example, I initially began listening to political podcasts like The Ben Shapiro Show and NPR’s Politics Podcast. However, over this past summer, I began to listen to all sorts of podcasts like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History to delve into my deep-seated interest in history a bit more on topics covered without nuance in elementary school. It was an eye-opening experience. When I was looking for something a bit more profound and philosophical, peeking behind the curtain of why society is the way it is and what it potentially could be, I would listen to Stephen Partons’ Society In Question. 

I listened to podcasts about the Israel/Palestine conflict, realizing just how little I actually knew about the history of events that occurred. I also learned an incredible amount about the effects of the atomic bomb and how it impacted not just peace, but war. While these podcasts reflect some of my more “constructive” interests, I also absolutely loved listening to more fun, fandom-type podcasts for Avatar the Last Airbender and Harry Potter universes, which are some of my favorite topics of discussion. Thanks to me getting introduced to podcasts such as Potterless and Avatar: Braving the Elements, I have been able to learn more about these fandoms without having to “work” for them (or rewatching for the tenth time) and spend my time researching these (while fun to talk about) not necessary bits of information. There are, of course, so many other genres of podcasts but the ones I have listed reflected my particular interests.

There is so much information available to us so easily that it is overwhelming, and yet we rarely do anything to change that. Now is a perfect time to begin listening to your favorite podcast. However, be warned, before you start listening to podcasts 24/7, think about when is a good time to listen to podcasts. This is not a simple yes or no question, as different podcasts have different required concentration levels. For example, some might decide to listen at work, but depending on how engaged you need to be at your work, you need to determine whether you should be listening to a more or less focus-intensive podcast. Work is not the only place you can listen to podcasts, of course. On the road is a typical time to listen to podcasts, but again, the rules of the road and the podcast should be considered before you do. Personally, I generally listen to podcasts when I do something that requires little to no concentration, like the routine cleaning of my pristine room, or folding laundry, or packing to move into my YU dorm room. Something you can do by rote and is generally a frustratingly dull and tedious task can now be turned into a fun, productive, and enjoyable time. Happy listening!