A podcast listener’s experiment

A month of no podcast listening
A podcast listener’s experiment
Photo by Austin Distel / Unsplash

A month of no podcast listening

Time Frame: 29 January 2023 to 28 February 2023 inclusively

Why undertake this experiment?

In 2014, a change in my role at work resulted in a commute of two hours each weekday. There are many things one can do and I did them all; reading, playing games, listening to audiobooks, music and, of course, podcasts.

Since 2018, I no longer had a two hour commute. However, I still have many podcasts that I find the need to listen. My brain organically presses play whenever I am bored. This habit extended to working hours as well. I told myself that I can focus on my work and also listen to podcasts. This, until recently, did not impact my work deliverables. However, last year, I started a new job where I have zero experience and focusing on work is paramount.

The quantum of my podcast problem is:

  • I am subscribed to 28 Podcasts
  • I listen to 80% of all the episodes released
  • Podcasts released weekly in total are approximately 20 hours... 80 hours a month
  • Podcasts released fortnightly in total are approximately 3.5 hours... 7 hours a month
  • Podcasts released monthly in total are approximately 4 hours

Every month, I listen to 73 (91 x 80%) hours of podcasts. Equating to approximately 18 hours of podcast every week. To be honest, I only did the above calculation one day before starting this experiment. The trigger for me was when I saw the following in my podcast app:

Weirdly, it hit me hard when I saw I had listened for over 181 days. This figure is understated because over the years, I have used various podcast apps with Castro, likely adding at least another 100 days.

Despite occasionally pruning my podcast garden, there is always something to listen to and just being bored is always difficult compared to how easy it is to press PLAY. The same applies to movies, tv shows, YouTube and many more. The path of least resistance.

The Experiment

I went in COLD TURKEY.

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”

In preparation, I:

  • deleted all podcasts apps from my MacBook and iPad and Apple Watch.
  • I did not delete the iPhone Pocket Casts app.
  • I removed the Pocket Casts app from my home screen and disabled search ensuring when I do search for Pocket Casts, nothing shows up. Turned off the relevant search settings ensuring, Turned off Siri and Search in Settings for ensures I cannot search for Pocket Casts and the iPhone will also not suggest this app anywhere.

The obvious question here is why not uninstall the app from the iPhone. Two reasons:

  • I wanted occasionally to check what episodes I am missing out on and whether I should really skip it or listen to it.
  • To keep all my Pocket Casts settings intact such as skipping intros and outros

Like quitting an addictive drug, the first few days, withdrawal systems were powerful. The brain organically wants to listen to podcasts at every opportunity. I attempted to supplement it by listening to LOFI music on Spotify or Apple Music. I figured, I need something in the background that does not attract my attention.

It is a weird feeling... There was no one talking into my ears and strangely, I appreciated it. If there is no one is always talking in your ear, then the opportunity to listen to one’s inner self arises. I found, I was thinking more about things that are important to me. Ideas were coming to me to tackle work problems or just life in general.

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice.

It is not all roses. Sometimes podcast listening is good way to kill some time; for example, grocery shopping. Like most things in life, moderation is the key. The intention was never to quit permanently. Cold quitting puts things in perspective. After the first 3 days, when I opened Pocket Casts, I saw over 15 podcast episodes. None of them felt as I wanted to listen to them urgently. I archived all of them to start with a lean slate. This process was repeated every couple of days. There are only a few episodes that I really wanted to listen to:

  • Decoder episode: interview with Mozilla CEO (I read the transcript instead)
  • More or Less Behind the stats: I always find this podcast entertaining and informative.
  • Freakonomics: Why we hate air travel
  • Freakonomics MD: What is stopping us from curing rare diseases

I did not give in. I stayed true to no podcast listening. Interesting, most of the tech podcasts that I regularly listen to (e.g. ATP, Connected, Verge Cast) did not seem important enough to listen to. It's mildly interesting how these podcasts can rehash the news for hours on end. I mean it's an interesting conversation but certainly not something I have to listen to. I can do without.

What happened after the experiment?

1st March came and so did the new Castro beta build. However, my attitude towards podcasts had changed my this. I ruthlessly archive/delete podcast episodes. If the podcast episodes is remotely uninteresting in proportion to the dedication of time it demands, I quickly delete and move on. I listen to far less podcasts these days. I focus on podcasts that are more educational/informative as opposed to purely for entertainment. Majority of the tech podcasts are purely for entertainment.

The other significant change was I disabled the option to auto play the next podcast episode. This has been incredibly effective because it time I intentionally decide what to listen to next or not listen at all.

This experiment turned out well for me. I finally have distant myself from podcast. I no longer see podcasts as something I really have to do or manage. Importantly, I am no longer a podcast completist.

This experiment was a useful exercise. Yes, it’s thrilling to challenge one-self to do something different. It's easy to do something new. It isn't easy to NOT DO something, especially something one has been doing every day for years.

There will be many more experiments. In fact, I already started my second one.

Hold on... there’s more