Modern life in the 21st century brought change into nearly every facet of life. Smartphones, for instance, are essential to the modern citizen and allow them access to more knowledge than any single individual could have possibly known at another point in history.
Without looking up from their phone, one could manage their finances, schedule appointments, network with friends and employers, play a game and read the news, all while listening to their choice of music.
Unfortunately, this convenience and accessibility proves to be quite addicting, and tech companies know how to exploit this fact. For instance, microtransactions were introduced to games, encouraging money to be spent over longer periods of time. However, most concerning is arguably the distinguishing algorithms of social media that confine us to our own little bubbles, hybridized with a constant flow of sensational news.
Not only are social media users spoonfed the sort of content they have already engaged with, undoubtedly leading to hyperpartisan ignorance, but almost all information presented to consumers is condensed into a three minute video clip, a short article, or an effortless meme.
Modern warfare, it appears, is fought with information and misinformation more than soldiers and guns. There is, however, a sliver of hope for honest, accessible discourse that we never missed until it was gone: podcasts.
Podcasts are generally streamable audio segments with an infinite number of applications. True crime mysteries are popular, as are fictional stories, political and economic analyses, paranormal and esoteric streams, interviews, and the list goes on. Podcasts tend to be between 30 minutes to an hour in length, but can be five minutes or several hours.
Much of what makes the medium so appealing is that any podcast host can discuss anything they wish, so a healthy number of “experts” on a massive range of topics are able to produce streams with relative ease — and for this reason, I believe podcasts have the potential to restore complete and thoughtful discourse to the world.
Take for example “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Each episode lasts nearly two hours with a simple premise: a complete discussion with another person. Throughout the nine years of production so far, Rogan has invited an impressive array of comedians, writers, philosophers, political influencers, athletes and all sorts of scientists and scholars. As a host, he is undoubtedly not an expert in every topic discussed on his show, but his naivety is charming and he is nonetheless extremely good at teasing out information from his guests through an extended, chummy, often hysterical discussion.
Despite the unusual lengthiness of the episodes, “The Joe Rogan Experience” is surprisingly digestible and is very accessible to everyday listeners. In the same way it feels nice to watch a 40-hour complicated narrative story like “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” instead of 40 hours of a sitcom, Rogan’s podcast, among many others, feels breathable and complete. This model of podcasting shows that longform discourse is not only still alive, but in high demand — “The Joe Rogan Experience” tops over 11 million monthly downloads.
It is possible that the nature of podcasts might facilitate the spread of misinformation and harmful conspiracy theories, but thus far, it seems the medium has been less touched by the sorts of corporate algorithms on social media that push rhetoric of this sort into the mainstream. Rather, podcasts are listener driven, often sponsored by one or two small companies at the discretion of the individual or small team of producers. This helps to limit the tight grasp that advertisers have on producers in other forms of media such as cable television.
For heavily invested corporate advertisers, the old proverb “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” rings true. For example, on Facebook, radically partisan media will attract both happy people from one side of the political spectrum and angry people from the other, netting the maximum number of viewers for the sponsor. This only becomes more lucrative for the advertiser as the public becomes more partisan, as the politically moderate are less likely to engage in radical media.
As of right now, podcasting sponsors and creators are not nearly as invested in division, and are instead more concerned with a stable listener base, which ultimately rewards high-quality, thoughtful podcasts.
By no means are podcasts the most popular or mainstream form of media consumption, but that has allowed the medium to be true to listeners who increasingly seem to be seeking out meaningful discourse within a media environment in which information has been masterfully engineered to maximize profit by coddling consumers to engage the most number of eyeballs.
In today’s age of informational warfare, substanceless media, and superficial coverage, perhaps the best thing one could do for their own sanity, if not the greater good, is support independent producers of high-quality informative podcasts. There is something for everybody.