Thursday, October 17, 2013

Radio on

I'll bet a lot of people who know me well think of me as an early adopter. I enjoy new technology, I like to try new ways of doing things, and figuring out how to integrate new processes into my life and work. I tend to be enthusiastic about innovation.

So it's got to be a little confusing to those people that some of the commonplace technologies of the last five or ten years are things that I've only recently, maybe even reluctantly, adopted. I've told many people the story of how I finally started carrying a cell phone only three or four years ago, fully a decade after most people in my shoes had become tethered to them. Some people wear their refusal to give in to cell phones or some other type of networking or availability technology as a badge of pride. Me, I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to join in. I inconvenienced everyone else for years because of my belief that I was different, that there was no need for me to be like them.

Similarly, I heard my friends talking about listening to podcasts for years and years. They'd talk about the ones they enjoyed, the ones they learned from, the ones that they follow week after week. And although I understood the concept, and I've had an iPod since they were invented, I never thought they were for me. When did people listen to these things? I didn't have a commute. When I exercised, I needed energetic music, not people talking. If I tried to listen to something other than music while working, I lose the thread of it, and suddenly I remember to listen and I have no idea what they're talking about. When else could I put on headphones and listen to some program? It would take time that I would rather use for doing other things, for writing or reading or watching something, none of which I can do while listening to a podcast.

The moment that changed was last year, when I decided I need to stop running. I had injured myself a couple of times, and the effort of pushing past that pain to keep on doing something I really didn't enjoy that much, just didn't seem worth it. I couldn't seem to break through the plateau and lose any more weight, or get any noticeable increase in endurance or speed. At the same time, I had known for years that I needed to find a way to integrate strength training into my life, but because just getting through the cardio was so time-consuming and took so much willpower, I couldn't stomach adding a whole other regimen on top of it.

What I decided to do was replace running with walking, and to do my walking in a practical fashion. Instead of walking around a track or around town, for exercise only, I would walk to places I needed to go anyway. Then my workout time could be devoted to weight training.

So I started walking Cady Gray to school, a thirty-minute round trip. On the way there we talk together, but on my way back, I'm alone. Then frequently I pick up my satchel and head on to my office, another fifteen minutes. When I go to the gym, I don't need uptempo music in the weight room. You lift for a minute or two, and then you rest. There's a lot of downtime.

And that's when I started listening to podcasts. And because they're stories, I didn't want to just turn them off when I'm done with the walk or the workout. I turn on the speaker to my phone, or hook them up to the stereo in the car, and keep listening while I run errands, or walk from one side of campus to the other. Podcast listening went from no part of my life, to seeping into more and more parts of my life from the gym and the sidewalk where they started.

There's nothing more annoying that the person who just got into something trying to tell you all about that thing. I'm just scratching the surface of the world of podcasts. What I really like about them, though, is that essentially they're radio on your time rather than broadcast time. I've always loved radio. (Maybe that's another post.) When DVRs came around for TV, I wondered whether such a thing would ever be possible for radio, and I felt a little pang to think that nobody would spend time building anything like that for what was considered a moribund medium. But now I understand. The energy to make radio timeshiftable and portable went in a different direction than the DVR, one that's not as closely tied to the continuous, clockbound nature of broadcast radio. People are making more radio than ever. I'm glad I figured out how to fit it into my life.

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