When it comes to aural media, I find that I’m a little behind the times. Until very recently, I had somehow avoided the phenomena of podcasts in favor of what I still consider a more reliable form of narrative, which is the audiobook. I grew up listening to audiobooks in the car during road trips and at home on the weekends when Mom put us to work cleaning the house. I remember very distinctly the little portable cassette player with a retractable handle that I carried up and down the stairs before I graduated to a smaller one that used headphones and clipped casually to the waistband of my sweatpants. We still have the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books on cassette, though certain tapes are guaranteed to unravel if you try to listen to them now.
The thing is, I love audiobooks. I love the way my imagination thrives off the words in my ears. I love that I feel like I’m back in kindergarten at story time. I love the way many narrators create voices for the characters or have an entire cast read the book as though it were a play. And I love all of this about podcasts too.
Audiobooks have saved me from abject boredom on the fourteen-hour drive between my hometown and the city in which I completed my undergraduate degree (a trip I made between four and six times per year for those four years). Now, in my graduate studies, they save me time by letting me listen to class materials while I do necessary things like grocery shopping and laundry and suffer the two to three hours per day that is my commute. They are almost too convenient to be real since most libraries have access to lots of downloadable audiobooks.
But people keep talking about podcasts, often with such glowing and reverent adoration that I felt like a stick in the mud for not listening to any, and now that I have, I get it. It’s still a story, but there’s something more immediate about a podcast, more personal, as if you, the listener, are part of a conversation as opposed to a silent member of an audience. Podcasts feel alive, engaging in their immediacy in a way that only a truly talented audiobook narrator can compete against. As if that weren’t enough incentive to listen, podcasts are almost always free and you can download and listen to them immediately. In fact, it’s probably one of the many reasons podcasts became so popular so quickly. It’s essentially personalized radio, where the topics discussed are catered to your interests. If a good history podcast turns your cranks, there is no reason to sit through an hour of people talking about cats (unless that also turns your cranks), especially if you aren’t paying for either of them.
The truth is, the only problem with both of these forms is that the other form exists. Now that I’ve discovered several fantastic podcasts, I want to dedicate as much of my listening time to them as I once did to audiobooks, something physically impossible since there are only so many hours in a day. And yet both industries are still growing at astonishing rates, with many publishing houses opening audio divisions each year (with Ooligan being one of them in the near future!). When you consider the benefits, it’s easy to see why they are growing. The constant problem with print books is the growing competition for people’s eyes and attention, but aural media is something you can participate in without taking time away from anything else, which is perhaps why more and more people are turning to them. The future is looking bright for aural media, and like all technology, I expect it to evolve into something even more amazing.