A Reconsideration Of Podcasts

They can be entertaining. They can be interesting. They can, on rare occasion, be enlightening. They can. They rarely are. Yet, Jane Coaston says today’s column will be her last at the New York Times, not because she’s gone legit but so that she can focus on her podcast, The Argument.

This is my final newsletter for The Times, and I’ve valued having this space in which to wax philosophical about sports and culture and history, but I’m looking forward to focusing on my podcast, “The Argument.”

Ironically, she pens her final “newsletter,” which isn’t remotely a newsletter (but who would begrudge the Times for mislabeling something) as she becomes president-legal.

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, As I look forward to marking my 35th year on Earth (finally, I can make a run for the White House!), I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned so far in my life and what I want to take with me for the next 35 years. Who do I want to be when I’m 70? What do I want to accomplish?

One of the things that few ponder about the information and opinion they consume is how much of it is written by people of, say, “limited” life experience. At the ripe old age of 35, Coaston is a vet. You don’t make it to the Times (via Vox) without having paid your dues. In contrast, the vast majority of the names you regularly hear, the voices upon which you rely for your most serious beliefs, ponder what they should do for their next birthday party, bouncy castle or bowling party? But I digest (Sorry Beth, last time I’ll use this joke).

I don’t like podcasts. I’ve made that clear in the past. I’ve been asked to be on a few and politely refused, not so much because it was much of a burden (although some were, as they were primarily a guest joining a podcast as an homage to the glory of the host, who was less than glorious) as my desire to avoid being hypocritical. If I won’t waste an hour of my life listening to tripe, I won’t ask you to do so either.

Even though I might put in tedious effort to be as correct as possible in my words, as opposed to those who have the facility to get 12 things wrong and tell 72 lies in a single MSNBC interview podcast, it is still a subpar delivery method for actual thought. Even twitter, which I thought was bad at 120 characters and didn’t improve upon its doubling, has the virtue of being written, and thus subject to ordinary scrutiny, insufferably shallow though it all may be.

But in her final newsletter, Coaston raises the issue of how hard it is to admit error.

In my life, I’ve frequently been wrong. I’m going to assume you have, too. And if you’re anything like me, you are awful at admitting it.

I’ve been wrong about football coacheselections and political parties. I’ve asserted facts on Twitter and in my living room that turned out to be fiction. I remember arguing vociferously with my third-grade teacher about how I knew the rules of go fish and she didn’t. (You won’t believe this, but I was wrong then, too.)

Some proclamations of what the future will bring can be disproven by hard, cold facts. At least to those of you who care about such things. Others are more a matter of sense and sensibility. When twitter first came on the scene, I declared that I would not twit because I have nothing to say that could be captured in 120 characters.

Seriously, who has the time for this?  Who cares? If you want to know what’s going on in the life of the people you care about, speak to them. Can’t you see the kid with the crackberry flipping back and forth between Facebook and twitter and blogs and email, all while you’re sitting there trying to have a conversation. He’s living online and ignoring the real person in front of him. This is progress?

Yet, here I am, 14 years later, twitting away. A regular twitting fool. Coaston was wrong about the Wolverines’ coach. I was wrong about twitter. And we were both wrong about many other things. What those things are or how wrong is a matter of some dispute. People tell me I’m wrong all the time, by which they mean they disagree with me. That’s fine. This is America and you’re allowed to disagree all you want. And a few even go so far as to explain why they disagree in a coherent and persuasive way. Very few, but a few.

And if I’m persuaded that I’m wrong, I will admit it. That I don’t admit it when you told me I’m wrong doesn’t mean this isn’t true, but that you didn’t persuade me. Some people are shocked to learn that their saying “No, you’re wrong” is not a sufficiently moving argument to make me curl up in the corner and weep out my change of heart. But I digress (See Beth?).

In the spirit of Jane Coaston’s final (for the moment, at least) newsletter in anticipation of her turning her full attention to her podcast, I’ve decided to reconsider my views about podcasts, cheap shallow talk intermingled with cutish banter having no bearing on the subject at hand and involving people whose personal lives are now shamelessly sucking up your podcast time with their gushing expressions of adoration of their puppies when the reason you tuned in was the fear of Iran’s possession of nuclear bombs.

So I’ve reconsidered. I still hate podcasts. Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovery.

17 thoughts on “A Reconsideration Of Podcasts

  1. Joe O.

    And here I am, ice skates in hand, anxiously anticipating a pristine sheet of ice. And then it’s revealed… hell has not frozen over.

  2. Bryan Burroughs

    To be fair, you’ve frequently used way more than 120 characters to say nothing. I wouldn’t know anything about that myself, though…

  3. orthodoc

    saying “I still hate podcasts” can be parsed, at least in the case of the semi-famous who get invited, into “I won’t listen” and “I won’t go on one”

    I can’t argue about the first part, de gustibus etc, except to say that I have learned a lot from podcasts like [names redacted to avoid the shilling charge] where the hosts choose diverse [original meaning] guests wisely. I got to learn about new things. Overall, my time was well spent (though that may be a statement about my lower opportunity cost…).

    I can’t say you are wrong about the second part either– it’s your time, after all– but I hope you’d reconsider, at least in some cases. If nothing else, broad exposure, especially on a podcast where the hosts asks open-ended questions and gives you the space to answer, might win souls for the various points of view you offer here. And to the obvious rejoinder, “Let somebody else make the case”, I say [argument redact to avoid the attempted-tummy-rub charge]

    1. SHG Post author

      Talk is cheap. I am not.

      There is a link in the post that goes into greater depth about what I find wrong with podcasts. That you feel that your time was well spent listening to podcasts is your right as an American. Whether you learned new things or not will be determined when I grade your test.

  4. Jeff Tyler

    Dalton Trumbo once said; “Words are lost on the air, the spoken word. You never know really what you said in the last conversation, whereas if you sit down and write a concise definition of your problem it commands the man’s attention.”

    Makes a whole lot of sense to me, which is probably why I read a lot more than I listen to podcasts.

    Jeff Tyler

    Anchor Point, AK

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