I was recently told that millennials need something to do with their fingers. It may be for this reason that they were slow to embrace the ever resurgent podcast.It seems that simply listening with nothing to tap or swipe was perhaps too alien a concept to them. So, as a reformed, post-millenial with self-induced R.S.I., I have a lot of catching up and podcast listening to do.
I spend a lot of time travelling and even more time listening. My fingers rest motionless by my side as I immerse myself in the spoken-word. The airport lounge becomes the perfect place to catch up on interesting podcasts like Reply All, Call Your Girlfriend, Another Round, Longform, For Colored Nerds, or my current frequent flying companion of choice The Microbiome Podcast. There is no better accompaniment to airport people-watching than listening to scientists talk ‘lactobacillus plantarum’, and the other bacterial inhabitants of our digestive tract, for forty five minutes. Yes, I’m ‘that’ guy, the one at the dinner party with the sometimes interesting, but more often useless banter. But where else would I have learnt that the consumption of potato starch can elicit incredibly vivid dreams?
It’s actually quite hard to find a more intimate medium – I very easily form an affinity and familiarity with the hosts. Audio on demand is a very personal experience, uninvasive like broadcast radio, but deeply enriching. Spending time listening actually enables your mind to get a workout – part mindfulness, part cerebral stimulation, the antidote to our saturated hyperstimulated ‘swipe left, swipe right’ world. Listening to podcasts can help attune our ears to the world around us. I often find myself both snapping a picture of the skyline and filtering the hell out of it, but also recording the sound of what’s going on around me for future use, so that when I close my eyes and give my fingers a rest, I can immerse myself in a world of remembrance and imagination and reopen them more aware than before.
I travel almost weekly from London to New York and pretend that wi-fi enabled transatlantic travel had never been invented, giving myself seven uninterrupted hours to indulge my ears. Given that my job is to create, listen to, and commercialise podcasts, it may look on these flights or other such journeys like my eyes are closed in wry contemplation, but I am most definitely working.
However, I’m not doing my job if I can’t share the wonder of podcasts with the aforementioned tapfocused millennials. At Acast, we’ve sought to satisfy this audience with two innovations. Firstly, we add rich media to podcasts – think of them as pimped footnotes; pictures, videos and links to the subjects being referenced within a podcast, but all within an engaging, and ultimately shareable feed – fingers duly occupied. The second is to create content that appeals to a new, broader, more diverse audience – the non-public radio audience that is seen as the traditional mainstay of podcasts. Listening to others speaking is much underrated – we’re happy to put on our uniform, white earplugs to listen to Adele sing ‘Hello, from the other side’ but if she spoke it, we’re somehow not as interested. But listening is sensorial, it’s one of the major ways we learn and grow as people – add visuality to that and the opportunities abound. It’s no secret that Instagram is my feed of choice when not tuned into Acast. When I travel, it helps me keep up to date with my little girl’s various art, swimming and knitting exploits. A project that I’m seeking to make happen is to give a voice to that feed, and to others’ Instagram feeds, to bring to life the story behind the picture – a new layer of context, familiarity and connection. Imagine hearing your favourite travelling Instagrammer narrating their journey around Tulum, or the Swedish archipelago on Midsummer’s eve? Travel podcasting is akin to frequentflyer miles and over the counter sleep-aids. I anticipate new formats, location activated travel guides and a wonderful world where our eyes are up contemplating the marvels of the traveller’s world, not head down in a guide book fumbling around ruins.
Adam is Global Director of Content at Acast. When not listening to podcasts, he runs, consumes live bacteria and is a unique resource for wi-fi and phone-signal free holiday destinations.