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The idea, she explained over lunch this week, is simple. Haultain always maintained a relationship with America. For decades, that relationship was forged through watching The Wire and reading books like The Art of Fielding and stacking up back issues of The New Yorker next to her bedside. Haultain’s husband and daughter can recite every line from the Australia episode of The Simpsons.
But around the time Donald Trump announced he was running for president, podcasts began to elbow their way into that relationship. These days, the person explaining the wonders and outrages of America is as likely to be New York Times podcast host Michael Barbaro as it is Homer Simpson.
“I listen to The Daily,” Haultain said. “I listen to Up First on NPR. I listen to Trumpcast. I listen to Ezra Klein on Vox. I listen to Mike Pesca on The Gist. Then I have a whole bunch of historical ones. I just listened to Slow Burn on Slate.”
She has also listened to This American Life, Serial, and the Bela Lugosi–Boris Karloff episodes of You Must Remember This.
Haultain works for an Australian foundation that focuses on legal issues, so her media diet can’t be totally American. She listens to local news while riding the light rail to work each morning. But on the way home — and at night, and on weekends — the voices in her ears are Barbaro’s and Pesca’s and Steve Inskeep’s.
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Meet the podfasters, a subset of podcast obsessives who listen to upward of 50 episodes a week, by, like Kenny, listening extremely fast. They’re an exclusive group: According to Marco Arment, creator of the Overcast podcast app, only around 1% of Overcast listeners use speeds of 2x or higher. (An app called Rightspeed, which costs $2.99, allows you to listen at up to 10x.)
Podcast consumers listen to an average of five podcasts per week, according to a recent study, which seems like a nice, manageable number: enough time to listen to a true crime podcast or two, a long comedy podcast, maybe a dash of politics. But for some people, that’s just not enough: Over 20% of podcast consumers listen to more than six per week, and podfasters — well, they listen to a lot more…
You could read these tendencies as a symptom of our sped-up culture, of a listening population too impatient or distracted to listen to anything for longer than, say, half an hour. But also, in the same way that peak TV and streaming has led to a culture of bingeing shows, we’re now in peak podcast — there are a lot of good shows, and not enough time to listen to them.
But in conversations with people who listen at speeds higher than 2x, it became clear that many podfasters are above all, completists. That is, they have an almost obsessive need to listen to every episode of a podcast that they decide to commit to.
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That’s why I’m an enthusiastic user of the accelerated playback option for podcasts and audiobooks. Modern digital compression software allows me to listen to, say, an hourlong episode of “This American Life” in just 30 minutes, with the pitch of the voices normalized to eliminate the “chipmunk” effect. I can now listen to a book as fast as I can read it.
Listening at double speed — the 2x setting on your device — gives me all the information and entertainment in half the time. And it gives me an extra half-hour in which I can enjoy more podcasts, read, watch TV, practice the fiddle or chat with my wife, Johanna — a conversation sure to be pleasant as long as I avoid this particular topic.
Johanna knows very well how meticulously the producers of many of today’s best podcasts work on pacing their shows, carefully mixing the audio elements for maximum effect. And to paraphrase her argument, she considers 2x-ing them to be as artistically blasphemous as 2x-ing a symphony or speed-reading a poem. You miss so much!
Yes, I counter, but you miss even more when you listen at 1x because of all the podcasts you never have time to hear because you’re … sitting through … dramatic … pauses.
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On the Mend app, users are introduced to an animated avatar of the Mend founder, Ellen Huerta, and her reassuring voice offers guidance on how to move forward, with topics like “detoxing” from your ex; redefining your sense of self — even how to get a better night’s sleep.
“It’s this charming and endearing voice of a friend,” Ms. Scinto said. “And there’s a line, ‘We never get tired of hearing about your breakup,’ and those words are like an oasis in the desert.”
Geri Dugan, who works as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Chicago, knows all too well the mixed emotions that come after a love affair ends. After being stunned by a relationship that didn’t work out, she said, she felt like an “emotional basket case.”
Ms. Dugan found Mend through Ms. Huerta’s podcast “Love Is Like a Plant.” Now, for more than eight months, she has been applying Mend’s daily regime, which includes monitoring one’s self-care, journaling exercises, a Spotify playlist and a book club on Good Reads. She has also navigated through difficult days with support from Mend’s Facebook group.
This episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier Podcast recently had an interesting discussion of the misinterpretations of people’s behaviours based on mobile device usage. Starting around the 15 minute mark, they share stories like: someone thought another parent was being rude at a presentation because they kept looking at their phone, but that person was actually using it to take notes. Or another person kept looking at their watch, but they weren’t checking to see how the time was dragging; instead they were waiting for an important message via their Apple Watch. They recommend warning someone if you’re expecting a call, “my babysitter might be calling me, so excuse me if I glance at my phone.”
This is a fascinating episode on viral videos (is every moment being orchestrated?), here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
ALEX: So this was Fall of last year, after Pizza rat, the video of a rat carrying a slice of pizza down a flight of subway stairs, went viral. And suddenly the internet couldn’t get enough of videos of rats carrying things. And Zardulu, apparently, wanted to manufacture one of these videos. So she says to Eric, “Here’s the plan. It’s gonna be a video starring you and a rat. But not just any subway rat, a rat that I trained. You’ll sit on the subway. The rat will crawl onto you, step on your phone, take a picture of itself, and then you will leap up in feigned surprise and run away. And I will be recording it.”
ALEX: So, the since she has a social media presence I tried getting in touch with her [Zardulu]… And I was telling her that learning of her existence totally changed the way that I saw the world. And she eventually declined to do an interview by not really responding to me anymore, but she did say at one point “Be assured that the breadth and magnitude of my work would astound you.”
PJ: Was it true, what you said, that it was making you see the world differently, see the city differently?
ALEX: Yes. I have put my phone down. And I watch people now. And I am suspect of everyone.
PJ: I’m a, I’m I like that this has happened to you. I’m moderately skeptical. Like, you think everybody could be part of a Zardulu hoax?
The latest episode of the always excellent This American Life podcast opens with a story about young girls interacting with Instagram. Here is part 1 and here is part 2, worth a good listen.
Three teenage girls explain why they are constantly telling their friends they are beautiful on Instagram… [before] describing the complex social map that is constantly changing in their phones.