Are podcasts and audio entertainment the “new normal”, while reading fades away?

Posting will be lighter this week, as duck duties are consuming an inordinate amount of time, especially protecting the brood (and Honey) from people chasing or disturbing them and from marauding drakes with lovin’ on their minds. Bear with me.

In her New York Times op-ed this week, Bari Weiss ponders the increasing popularity of podcasts, particularly those of Joe Rogan, and floats the idea that podcasts are “eating the lunch” of print media. Now I’ve never listened to Joe Rogan, but several of my friends have been on his show, and I know he has fans everywhere—and wields enormous social-media power. I wanted to discuss two issues, but first read the article:

 

First, I am curious about what readers think about podcasts versus print.  While pondering the future of this website—and believe me, I’m not thinking about ending it and taking up podcasting—I do see that many people who formerly ran websites or wrote books, people like Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss, are taking to podcasting. In fact, that is now Sam’s main way to disseminate his views and stay relevant.  Why? According to Weiss, two reasons. First, podcasts are convenient—unlike reading, you can absorb them while doing other stuff:

Reading or watching the news is no longer immersive, as it was when you sat down with a bunch of papers or in front of a living room TV. Now it is a fragmented experience, usually done on a cellphone.

“The problem,” he told me, “is that the cellphone also has YouTube videos of the craziest things ever — babies landing on cats and animal attacks and naked people.”

Why would you read a 2,000-word story about the collapse of health care in Venezuela when you can zone out with some TikToks?

“Nobody ever thought: We need to gear our entertainment, our media, to people who cook, who jog, who hike, people who drive. Even books on tape can require too much thinking.” But a podcast, he said, “doesn’t require that much thinking at all. You get captivated by the conversation. One of the things about this medium in general is that it’s really easy to listen to while you do other stuff.”

I do. While I cook dinner I’m likely listening to Rogan, Sam Harris, “The Portal” or “Red Scare.” I go for morning walks and listen to “The Daily.” You can’t cook or walk while reading.

Journalism is one thing that podcasters are competing with: Why read a profile of Elon Musk with staid quotes when you can listen to him get high and riff for two hours in Rogan’s studio? Television is another.

I have to confess that I’m immune to podcasts. When I want to occupy myself, I read print on paper (I’m now enjoying the hell out of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories), and when I want diversion when I’m cooking or cleaning, it would be listening to music or having television on in the background, just for the sound.  This is probably a character flaw of some sort: I am able to absorb information almost entirely through reading, and don’t really enjoy hearing discussions, even when they’re by smart people on intriguing subjects. (That said, I do watch the evening news and am not immune to discussions like the one I recently posted between Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins.) I can’t even read stuff online: virtually everything I want to read carefully, or post about, I have to copy and paste into a Word document and then print out. Maybe it’s my age—brought up in an era without Internet. (I even remember rotary-dial phones!)

The second reason, and one explanation of why Rogan just sold his show to Spotify for about $100 million, is that podcasts aren’t afraid to take on controversial subjects, and haven’t bowed to what Weiss calls the increased delicacy of the “prestige press” (which presumably includes the New York Times). Good podcasts, unlike the liberal media, don’t have to frame their stories so they don’t get “backlash on Twitter”.  (The NYT, probably to Weiss’s distress, has become more and more a version of HuffPost, catering to the sensibilities of the Authoritarian Left. See here for one example).  As Weiss says:

The timing of Rogan’s rise and the Old Guard’s disintegration is not coincidental. His success was made possible, at least in part, by legacy media’s blind spots.

While GQ puts Pharrell gowned in a yellow sleeping bag on the cover of its “new masculinity” issue (introduced by the editor explaining that the men’s magazine “isn’t really trying to be exclusively for or about men at all”), Joe Rogan swings kettlebells and bow-hunts elk. Men are hungry. He’s serving steak, rare. Condé Nast, GQ’s publisher, has laid off some 100 employees since the pandemic began. Meantime, “The Joe Rogan Experience” has 190 million downloads a month.

Here’s that cover, which I well remember, touting the vices of toxic masculinity and the virtues of androgynous men:

 

Weiss continues:

. . . Indeed, you can rely on Rogan to talk about just about anything at all.

Take the minefield of gender identity. When he talks about the sensitive topic — one that has become nearly untouchable inside the institutional world — there is none of the throat-clearing I’ve become used to.

“There is no balanced perspective to say: Be free! Change your pronouns, change your name, be whoever you want,” Rogan said. “On the Fox News side they want to say ‘This is left-wing lunacy and everyone’s losing their mind.’”

At the same time, on the left, “there’s an aggressive, progressive doctrine that has to be followed, and followed with full compliance and no room for debate,” he said. “When it comes to competition, especially combat sports, with transwomen fighting biological women, people are so progressive they let that slide, to the point that biological women are getting pushed over.”

“Nobody wants to touch it because nobody wants the blowback.”

In other words, and I emphasize again that I haven’t listened to a single Rogan show, he seems to appeal to those who don’t want a heavy dose of social-justice warriorism: to people like Bill Maher, Bret Weinstein, Bari Weiss—or me.

Other reasons Weiss floats for Rogan’s popularity include his strong anti-censorship stand, even for commercial venues like YouTube that don’t have to follow the First Amendment. As Rogan says, “What has made society better today than it was hundreds of years ago is not just our prosperity. It’s the evolution of ideas. Anything that wants to limit discussion is dangerous to the evolution of ideas.” And I agree with him. 

To Weiss, who seems to fear for the future of not just journalism but also her own job (“Every day it seems another blue check mark with a degree from the right college hangs up her pixelated-shingle, while the rest of us avert our eyes, hoping we won’t be next.”), Rogan’s popularity is evidence against the idea that “the elite left controls the culture.”

So, here are my discussion questions for readers. First, do you think podcasting is the future of news and discussion, and will increasingly replace reading, either from a screen or from a paper page? Do you listen to podcasts more than you used to? If so, why? (I, for one, worry that podcasts will replace novels and nonfiction books, even though those kinds of books—including both of my trade books— are on audio discs or download-able.) Do you read a lot less on paper or Kindle than you used to?

Also, do you listen to Rogan, and if so, do you like the show? If so, why? Do you think his success rests on his flouting the guidelines for the “elite media”?

Joe Rogan, from Man of Many

 

120 Comments

  1. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I never listen to podcasts. I guess now I’ll have to listen to Joe Rogan at least once. But I am old — audio books make me fall asleep like the child I once was, at bedtime.

  2. Mark
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I’m sure this same argument was made when radio came out, which makes sense because that’s what they are, really: on-demand episodic radio.

    I never listened to radio (I’m a millennial) but what I like from podcasts I can’t get from reading: I like the dynamic among hosts. You’re listening to a discussion, not an argument. It’s different. It’s just another medium that will co-exist along with everything else, with maybe the exception of old-fashioned radio.

    Podcasts aren’t responsible for my reading less, (If anything, video games and the proliferation of streaming services do that). But I also find it hard to pay attention to audiobooks. For whatever reason I don’t have that issue with podcasts.

    • Ray Little
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Audiobooks are great if you have a long commute.
      I managed to get in Swann’s Way (in translation) Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring in the Bodies, and a brilliant performance by Jeremy Irons of Brideshead Revisited before I retired to read books.

  3. Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “… and believe me, I’m not thinking about ending it and taking up podcasting …”

    Glad to hear it! Yes, podcasting is getting popular, but all serious discussion is still in written form.

    I do listen to podcasts sometimes, while cooking dinner or something, but mostly on a choosey basis when both the host and the guest seem interesting (e.g. Sean Carroll’s podcast with Dan Dennett).

  4. aburstein
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Not a major Joe Rogan listener, but I am a big podcast listener. IMHO, one of the major appeal of podcasts (and especially Rogan’s show) over traditional media is the unfiltered view you get into the mind of the interview subject. Traditional TV will give you a very brief (5-10 minutes if you’re lucky), and often highly edited glimpse into their position, whereas on a podcast you get hours of unfiltered, raw, free-wheeling discussion. It is incomparable to anything found in traditional media.

    This, to my mind, is one of it’s greatest strengths.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I like filtered, myself.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 27, 2020 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        For some reason on first glance my brain insisted on parsing this in Valley Girl speak.

  5. ronsch99
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I can read a lot faster than I can listen. I far prefer to read something, and I wish podcasts came with a transcript that I could read.

    I had the same problem with lectures. I went all the way to a Ph.D. only peripherally listening to the instructor while doing homework or working on one of my math projects. Well, not in seminars though.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      You can speed up podcasts or books to 1.5 or 2x speed and still understand and retain what it being said. I know of many folks who do that. Not me BTW. I run stuff in the background when I’m sewing or something and I can’t split my attention that fine. Probably put a needle through my finger or something. And I can’t do an audio book anywhere except in the car.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      For what it’s worth…

      I recently read the transcript of an interview that my son had watched on video. I thought the interviewer was unnecessarily aggressive and that the interviewee did a great job of explaining his position. My son thought the interviewer did a great job holding the interviewee to account and that the interviewee failed to give a good defence of his position.

      I then watched the interview and my son read the transcript and then we agreed if was a very good interview for both the interviewer and interviewee.

    • davelenny
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      Strongly agree about the speed advantages of reading in general, plus the ability to skip and skim as necessary, easily switch to a slower speed, or reread a difficult part of the text.

      Written texts are usually better structured; as Rogan says, ‘Podcasts don’t require much thinking’ but books are bound, organised, ordered knowledge. Even a casual, written internet comment such as this is more considered than the same opinion in conversation would be.

      Because I’ve listened to very few podcasts, and none by Rogan, I might be underestimating the spoken competence of his guests.

  6. Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Joe Rogan, and do listen to his show. Not every episode, but maybe 10% of them, which is quite a lot given how many he produces.

    One reason why I like his show better than the “mainstream media” is that he has true diversity of ideas on there. He doesn’t care if you’re a pariah, unlike the mainstream media who do not want to piss off anyone who might claim victimhood.

    Secondly, he doesn’t treat you like he’s better than you if he disagrees with your perspectives.

    Third, the mainstream media is so predictable on what views you will hear. I’ve heard them all before, but on Joe Rogan’s show I’ve heard new perspectives I’d never considered before.

    Fourth, when I find myself disagreeing with the mainstream media position, I feel shamed into pretending to agree, but with the Joe Rogan experience, the mood is that it’s okay to express my true feelings without having to hide behind a mask.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I have watched only about half a dozen Joe Rogan podcasts, which is pretty good seeing as I’m not a fan of podcasts and tend to mostly avoid them. But, so far, I agree with your impression of him and why he is so popular.

      What amazed me about Joe Rogan is his ability to interview for 1-2 hours people as diverse as the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the theoretical quantum physicist Sean Carroll. That is an extraordinary feat.

  7. Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “unlike reading, you can absorb them while doing other stuff“ well I am not sure I can. Over the lockdown I have listened to lots of radio – I always do. I would say that I have also been more distracted by others things while listening. I cannot really absorb podcasts or radio unless I am actively listening. I have to consider what is being said.

    Someone said that TV was like the radio only thepictures we’re not so good. I cannot let music be background either – I have to actively listen otherwise it becomes aural wallpaper.

    I would rather have silence then. Podcasts I download tend to pile up as it were on various pcs & memory sticks!

    I prefer books!!!

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Couldn’t agree more! Unless the ‘other stuff’ is pretty mindless – even doing the washing up requires a modicum of concentration – I find I can’t do both at once.

      There is quite a bit of evidence that the brain can work properly on only one problem at a time. For instance, using your mobile phone in the car greatly reduces your ability to concentrate on your driving.

      So, for me, a podcast would require most of my attention. And I still wouldn’t be able to go back to check out the earlier bits of the argument, or even if there was one. Reading – in either print or electronic media – lets me do that.

  8. John H Landis
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I would rather read my news and features. I avoid clicking on news stories that are video and not written.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    “First, do you think podcasting is the future of news and discussion, “

    It is *part* of that

    “and will increasingly replace reading, either from a screen or from a paper page?”

    I don’t think reading will disappear. But clearly there’s more to this. See below.

    “ Do you listen to podcasts more than you used to? If so, why?”

    I don’t know. Comes and goes. Actually, since Sam Harris his podcast I skip it, sadly.

    “I, for one, worry that podcasts will replace novels and nonfiction books,”

    if that means the youth of today will “read” less, I do think that is either already true or will be.

    “Do you read a lot less on paper or Kindle than you used to?”

    Yes and … Kindle… sometimes it has to be used…. there are other reading apps too…

    “Also, do you listen to Rogan, and if so, do you like the show? If so, why? ”

    I might if there’s something interesting – I am not listening to every “episode”. I probably listened to some of one. He’s not compelling to me personally in general. But I’ll still check it out if something interesting is there.

    If a podcast was transcribed, that might be different.

    If someone wants to fall asleep they might use something like a podcast to do it.

    Sometimes it is hard to read – noise, etc. listening like to a radio fills that space.

    Podcasts are frequently made into YouTube video versions. Videos serve an important function, for instance watching a math problem get solved, or how to build something, or a demonstration. Etc.

    Skipping ahead in reading a text is easy and accurate. Not so much in podcasts.

    Reading skills are very different from listening.

    This is an enormous topic.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Oh my that was long – sorry!

  10. Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t watch podcasts, and don’t intend to, so Joe Rogan is new to me. I am sad that Sean Carroll has switched to inane twitter and podcasts. I like to read, not listen.

    PS I am mean twitter is inane, not Carroll, although I do not find his twitter feed particularly interesting.

  11. nay
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I am a visual learner, rather than an aural one. I got this from one of my elementary school teachers as I tended to daydream in class. If I wasn’t actively listening (like Dominic #7), I didn’t even hear what was being said. I was like that while reading – the written words so occupied my mind that I wouldn’t hear someone talking to me even when they said my name multiple times. I also prefer my print on paper. Although I now have a Kindle and binge read SF/Murder mysteries on it, I still prefer paper because it’s easier on my eyes and I can quickly flip back to an earlier page – my fingers and eyes remember the physical spot where the information is, harder to do electronically. I say that I’m analog, not electronic.
    Glad you’re not going to give up this website, Professor!

    • A C Harper
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Quite so. I expect that the ability to stop, reread, go back, without any conscious thought is a way of encoding a sense of place on the audio content.

      I very rarely even start listening to a podcast unless a transcript is provided.

  12. Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I enjoy reading and podcasts for different reasons – they’re different kinds of things, like taking a class versus going to a movie versus playing a video game. All can entertain and educate and prompt thought.

    I walk or jog every day (or night), and often listen to podcasts then. I love the thought someone can remotely transmit a version of their presence to someone they’ve never met, doing something they’ll never know, with regularity. Not far from open-ended telepathy, what an alien species in science-fictional world might consider normal.

    Reading is absorption of others’ thoughts as well, but with *isolation* from one’s image of them: you can consider and double-consider every word they picked, use that method to make sure you get their meaning. Podcasts couldn’t replace that for me.

    From what I can tell, Joe Rogan seems like the meeting of a hyper-masculine icon and a latecomer to the intellectual world. His mind is more easily blown by things his guests have thought about since childhood (as well as overly fascinated with drugs, I would say), and he’s full of childhood curiosity which is attractive to swath who’ve ignored discussion long enough to become hungry for it. It feels like he’s catering to that demographic’s demand.

    (Podcasts themselves are traditionally open and free, as well – a quality almost synonymous with “podcast” in my mind – and Spotify is clearly attempting to begin selling Joe’s podcast to his audience, so I lament that element of it.)

    • Historian
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      “Reading is absorption of others’ thoughts as well, but with *isolation* from one’s image of them: you can consider and double-consider every word they picked, use that method to make sure you get their meaning. Podcasts couldn’t replace that for me.”

      I couldn’t agree more. I find that reading is the best way to ponder the message that is being delivered. It seems to me that reading is by far the best means for absorbing and evaluating information as opposed to any sort of verbal communication, which includes podcasts and lectures. I wonder if there have been any studies on this issue.

      In any case, podcasts take up too much time vis-a-vis reading. If the habit of reading for most people should diminish or disappear, whether it takes place via paper or on-screen, I fear for a further dumbing down of the human race.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I’m convinced that reading is much the better route to more prolonged and deeper thinking.

        I recognize that people process information in different ways, but those who do so by reading voluminously have a distinct advantage, I think.

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        I would add that the advantage of reading in electronic form is the utility of hyper-links. Being able to go look at that reference yourself, at the moment it is relevant to your own train of thought, is excellent, and something that printed paper can’t do.

        • Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          Yes, and I would add to that the ability to search within the document. And whenever I encounter a word or phrase I am unsure of, I select it, right-click on it, and choose “Search Google for xxx”, “Search Wikipedia for xxx”, or “Google Translate”.

        • JP415
          Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

          That’s kind of a two-edged sword. When I read a Wikipedia article, I can’t resist clicking the hyperlinks until I wind up on some other page that had nothing to do with the original topic. (E.g. I look up radiocarbon dating and wind up reading an article about tortilla chips six or seven links later.)

        • Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          As an author, I love the ability to link a reference to support a point or provide further clarification. Those who already agree with the point, or don’t need clarification, can pass on by. No TLDR.

      • Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        (I suppose we’ve got to make distinctions. Does “reading” as used here include hearing narrated prose? The entire contents of a podcast could be that – it’s just less typically considered to be.)

  13. Roger
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I only listen to podcasts that are closed captioned so that I can read them as I listen and then I put my phone on a harmonica rack if I need to do dishes and then tie on a feed bucket if I get hungry.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Stick a broom handle where the sun don’t shine, you could add floor-sweeping to your multitasking, Rog. 🙂

  14. BJ
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I listen exclusively to comedy podcasts, usually while I’m doing busy work, like getting ready for bed (it takes me about an hour. I’m obsessive when it to brushing my teeth, making my sheets completely straight, etc.). I’ll usually listen to music in the car or doing something like cooking or cleaning. I don’t get any news from podcasts, largely because I want as wide a spectrum of views as possible, and this requires that I look at many different websites/media outlets. If I come across a story that doesn’t sound quite right, seems to be leaving out key facts, futzing with the stats, or whatever else, I’ll try to find other sources to confirm or deny the story’s truth. So, for me, print media is how I get my news. I don’t get any news from TV because I can’t trust any of the outlets on TV; they all have some political bent to them.

    I’ve occasionally listened to Rogan when he’s had a guest I really like, but I leave him alone otherwise. While I like much of what he has to say and his stands on many issues, he’s also prone to given conspiracy theories consideration. It’s kind of a damning statement about media that Rogan has become a “voice for truth.” I can completely see why that’s the case — he’s truthful about what he believes and he’ll cross lines the media won’t — but he entertains far too many BS theories, and he’s still unfortunately more unbiased than most news outlets.

    • BJ
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Oh, and if I really like someone and they’re on a video/podcast, I’ll sit and watch it. I like seeing the people I’m listening to if it’s a serious discussion. A good example is Christopher Hitchens’ debates.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Another thing about Rogan’s podcasts is that podcast discussions between interviewer and interviewee are better when the interviewer can grasp what the interviewee is saying and can therefore ask meaningful questions. This doesn’t happen much on Rogan’s show (in my limited experience of his show).

      • BJ
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I agree, that often happens. Although it is useful in another way, in that he’ll sometimes asks someone like, say, Dawkins a question that might be considered stupid by those who understand what Dawkins is talking about, but is still a question that any laymen would asm.

    • BJ
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I forgot that I do listen to BBC news on TV. It’s difficult to find reporting on Africa and South America. The only time you read about Africa in American news media is when either it makes Trump look bad/good, or it makes the out let’s outgroup look bad. It’s rather shameful how little care there is for international news here in the US.

      Oh, and when there is reporting on Africa in US outlets, it’s often through the lens of critical race theory, which is completely inappropriate. Adherents don’t understand that critical race theory is deeply US-centric, constantly trying to examine issues in other countries through it.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      An hour to get ready for bed, Beej? You putting your hair up in curlers and slathering on cold cream?

      Hope you’re not keeping a paramour waiting on pins and needles in the boudoir, buddy. 🙂

      • BJ
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        I know, I know. It really is ridiculous and an absolute waste of time (1/24 of the day!). My obsessive-compulsive disorder, er, compels me to do what I do. I brush my teeth for about ten minutes and rinse with mouthwash for two. I clean the bathroom countertop for a couple of minutes. I take about fifteen minutes ensuring that everything on my bed is perfectly straight. I spend about ten minutes bumbling around — putting fresh water next to my bed, setting up a Netflix show, adjusting the thermostat, etc. The rest of the time is spent on mostly random things. So I guess it’s usually somewhere between 40 minutes and one hour.

        I will need to figure out how to cut down on all of this when I move in with someone one day, lest they leave a week later because they’ve discovered that I’m bonkers. I can’t let that happen until we’re already married 😀

  15. tomh
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Although I’ve read all my life (and I’m even older than Jerry) the last few years I’ve transitioned into audiobooks. One unexpected benefit is that my wife (of 50 years) and I have fallen into the habit of finding a book that looks promising, sitting down for an hour or two in the late afternoon, and listening together. It’s not something that really works by reading, even reading the same book.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      You could take turns reading aloud to each other, the way J-P Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did (when they weren’t otherwise occupied sleeping with other people 🙂 ).

  16. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Certain podcasts, such as This Week in Virology, are important to me but, frankly, even with nothing much to do, I can never get around to listening to the half dozen or so a week that I’d like to. And, to be honest, it’s reading that’s taking so much of my time!

    • Jim batterson
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes i was introduced to TWiV by a biochem prof several months ago. Only podcast i listen to. Excellent mix of clinicians, researchers, phd, md, public health folks. Though i likely will not continue to listen so often if an effective and safe vaccine for sars cov2 becomes available.

  17. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    As they invent more ways to provide information or entertainment via the web, people will go for it. Who would have thought 25 years ago that everyone would have a smart phone and be getting most of their information from this device. The younger folks will take to it like ducks to water but older people, not so much.

    I have to ask, how much free time do you have or even want to have for these things. I am long retired and it amazes me how much time people with jobs spend on this stuff.

    The only podcasts I am familiar with were some of Harris’s and I specifically listed to one by Rachel Maddow on Spiro Agnew. But I do not normally pay attention to the thousands of podcasts out there. Do not have time for it. My hobby, time permitting is and always has been American History. I get news from the Television and newspaper. So old fashion. I read books, not kindle or audio. My wife was always a big reader and she switched over to audio books several years ago. I cannot listen to books, I have to read them.

  18. Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    First, I cannot absorb podcasts while doing other stuff. Maybe that’s an age thing, as I once listened to music while reading but can’t anymore. In fact, my mind wanders terribly during a podcast, so they are pretty useless for me. I don’t even like the word “podcast”. Whatever happened to the word “recording”?

    I do enjoy music while cooking, where I can usually stop for a moment and “dig”. And, frankly, I do NOT like podcasts or, in general, videos. I have been watching videos by Sean Carroll which are excellent, but I would prefer he wrote a book on the subject.

    Maybe I’m getting grumpier as I get older. I’m certainly doing the latter. Bah, humbug.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Podcast came from the ipod MP)3 player and people produced talking files for the platform. It just stuck. It’s more tech-chic than “recording”.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Getting older: Beats the crap out of the alternative. 🙂

  19. Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I understand the urge to print out articles before reading them. I still do it when I think the article is very important and want to read it without the interruptions of other stuff on my computer (email, blog posts, etc.). At the same time, I do resist it for a number of reasons: it is usually unnecessary, it wastes paper and time, and I feel like I should have more self-control and avoid checking my email, etc. so often.

    I do understand that one big reason to print things out is failing eyesight. However, there are lots of ways to mitigate that problem that are worth incorporating into your electronic reading habits. Here’s my list:

    – Just learning the keyboard shortcuts for changing the text size of the browser window. Ctrl-+ to make things larger, F11 to go full-screen, etc.

    – I find that some pages do not have sufficient contrast to make the text easier to read so I use a Chrome plugin called High Contrast that lets me change it. That really helps sometime.

    – It is well known that reading text with wide columns is harder than with narrow ones. It’s something about the eyes having to travel so far from left to right that is bothersome. This can be adjusted for most websites with another plugin called Narrower.

    – There are also many tools available with electronic text that aren’t available with printed material. Search, bookmarking, the ability to copy a phone number or address directly to my phone to be dialed or mapped. Pushbullet is a tool I use that really helps with this.

  20. boudiccadylis
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Like many here I’ve read for many years. I do however read books by audio recording. When asked how I could keep up with the story I referred to the years spent before my family had t.v. I listened to radio for stories and music. So I was accustomed to it. I don’t today watch t.v. it never caught my attention for any particular reason.
    One of my biggest current technological errors was to sign up for facebook. What a nightmare that is.
    There are pods presented by sewing and cooking persons but I’ve never listened to them.
    I do read, love to read,print as well as the audio. It’s just I have to be selective as my vision will tolerate only so much.

  21. Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Here are my thoughts on podcasts. I’ve heard of Joe Rogan but have never watched his podcasts until today. I skipped around in his latest one with Elon Musk and found it to be kind of lightweight. I’m sure Rogan has some plan for what to talk about but it is too close to two guys shooting the shit for my tastes. I prefer podcasts with a little more meat and more closely controlled and driven. Sean Carroll does a good job though I only listen to perhaps 30% of his based on who he’s interviewing.

    While Bari Weiss is correct in pointing out that one can do other things, such as walking or cooking, while listening to a podcast, I find it difficult to really concentrate on what’s being said. It becomes just background noise. Music is better for that purpose.

    As far as whether podcasts are the wave of the future, I have my doubts. I think they are currently popular because they are cheap to produce. They are also heavily promoted as so many in the media business are searching for whatever is going to be hot in future and trying to gain real estate in it. Someone would only pay Joe Rogan a lot of money based on the expectation of future advertising revenue associated with it. That is very different than ACTUAL advertising revenue. It is very cheap for them to see if people listen to Joe Rogan AND respond to ads. It doesn’t mean that people are responding to those ads. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      “Joe Rogan…kind of lightweight…Sean Carroll…a little more meat”

      Then have a listen to Joe Rogan interviewing Sean Carroll:
      Episodes #1003. #1151, and #1132 on YouTube.
      Warning: the average length is about 2.5 hours!

      This alone is extraordinary – that he could hold 3 separate interviews with a theoretical quantum physicist for a total of 7.5 hours.

      And the fact that Sean Carroll would think it worthwhile to return twice is actually not a bad recommendation.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 27, 2020 at 6:16 am | Permalink

        Just wanted to note that the 3rd podcast is #1352 rather than #1132.

  22. Reggie Cormack
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never listened to Rogan but having done something painful to my neck making an unwise lift of a heavy piece of furniture on the second week of lockdown I’ve found that listening to BBC, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, podcast to be a life saver. Reading has been a no-no as holding my head up has been impossible. Thankfully, as you can see by my writing this, my sore neck with accompanying numbness are on the wane. So podcasts definitely have their place.

  23. Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only listened to a few of his podcasts: Pinker, Weiss, Downy-Jr, and the epidemiologist who uncovered information about COVID-19. I like his take on some health issues and I like that he takes the listener through how he was once (and to some degree still is) prone to conspiracy theories.

    He’s remarkably level headed, but he doesn’t have a scientists mind, i.e., he doubts somethings when he should trust them, and believes some things that he should definitely doubt more.

  24. Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I only listen to Sam Harris’s podcasts. (I am a supporter.) I also listen to NPR (classical and news).

    But my preferred mode is reading. I admit to being a little sorry that Sam is putting his energy into podcasting rather than writing more of his excellent books. But I understand the reason: Monetizing one’s work in the age of the internet.

    I am certain that people will be reading less. This has been going on since TV began. It’s just going faster now.

    I stopped watching TV (almost completely, with very, very few, brief exceptions) in 1987 (33 years now). I found TV boring and went full over to reading (and I read 90%+ nonfiction). Now, when I happen to see TV, I find the spastic production values (and especially the commercials (gag)) pretty much un-watchable. I missed the whole video game thing, so the values just turn me off.

    I find it odd that people tout the unfiltered nature of internet inputs. That just means: No quality control (e.g. editors, producers). I prefer to buy books after the filter of good editing and selection have been applied.

    Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. The internet is at least Sturgeon’s Law squared or cubed (99% or 99.9%).

    How much time does one have to shovel the horse crap to try and find that pony?

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I should also say that I read the vast majority of my books on my Kindle (Paperwhite). I don’t miss paper books much (except for a small minority: I buy art and photography books).

      Mainly, the Kindle allows me to own a lot less physical stuff. And carry a huge library around with me in my pocket. And I think the UI is nearly perfect.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        I still much prefer paper books. I’m not dead set against e-books at all, they are certainly convenient and more practical in just about every way. But for no good reason I just like a real book. Especially if it is something I really like I enjoy having a well made, beautifully crafted book in my hands. But I prefer even mass market paperback books over e-books.

        • Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          I totally appreciate the beauty of a finely produced book (I’ve got a few really old or unusual (long out of print) books which I cherish).

          We recently found a little hard-bound notebook in my Mom’s things that was notes from the early 1800s (ink and quill) from her family in the deep south. Fascinating.

          But for the generality of my reading, I really prefer the Kindle.

          And I can read it silently and even in the dark (doesn’t disturb a sleeping spouse). I thought I would just use it for travel; but it rapidly became my medium of choice.

          I find it easier to handle (especially for long/large books) and so reliable and with such a long-lasting battery that the convenience is a huge plus for me. It sits on the table, open, with no action on my part (I can read while I eat, easily).

          I can change the font size instantly. I recently bought a (hard copy) Penguin Classics translation of Cicero and was appalled at the font size (8 pt?): I anticipate needing stronger readers just to be able to read it.

          I’ve donated two pickup truck loads of paper books to our local library system, so far.

          • darrelle
            Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            I think what I’m really afraid of is if I go “e” I’ll never go back!

        • BJ
          Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          I like books for aesthetics/tactility, but also for the same reason I have an enormous DVD/Blu-Ray collection: I don’t trust that the digital copies of media will be around forever. Even if e-books are DRM-free and are simply files on your computer, they could be easily lost at some point. But I will never buy a digital movie, though I may rent it.

          • max blancke
            Posted May 26, 2020 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

            I used to be a big collector of DVDs and then Blu-Rays. I am a huge movie fan, and used to spend around 8 months each year in places where there was no TV, theaters, or internet.

            But now, I travel with three 5tb hard drives. That allows me to keep a vast film and TV collection. I am always downloading.

            The stuff that is important to me is also kept as backups in the vault. That especially includes images. I used to keep two identical hard drives of important files. Both were in my computer case, but only one would be hooked up at a time. I did not expect the case itself to be dropped from 60 feet to the concrete when my gear was being moved from a ship to the dock by crane.
            These days I keep important backups on a mix of hard drives and SSDs, and always in different places.

            • BJ
              Posted May 26, 2020 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

              Haha I too have all of my important files double-backed up on two separate external SSDs. One is connected to my TV and the other is kept in a drawer in another room.

          • Posted May 27, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            The main reason I scanned all my film originals was the ability to back them up.

            Printing without passing through an additional lens (enlarger lens) is also a big plus. The current photo inkjet printers are amazing. My inkjet prints are superior to my regular enlargements (and I’m (was, should use past tense, I no longer own an enlarger!) pretty serious about printing photos: I follow Adams’s methods in The Print, supplemented by logic from The Zone VI Workshop.)

            And using SW instead of a dedicated space (darkroom) and chemicals is also huge. Once I discovered the SW and how to use it, there was no going back.

            Current lenses and sensors are so good I need never worry about larger formats. Even my micro 4/3 16 Mpixel sensor kicks the crap out my Rolleiflex on 6 cm film (Schneider optics from the 1950s, great stuff at the time).

            Mainly: With all my backups, I need never fear losing my images.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      I, too, support Sam Harris’s podcast and listen to it from time to time. Otherwise, I don’t spend much time in that sort of activity and it hasn’t replaced reading.

      I also watch Brian Dalton’s stuff, come to think of it. I suppose you’d call that podcasting, too.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Technicality: You want the complement of the square of the complement. 90% squared is 81%; 10% squared is 1%; the complement of 1% is 99%. There ought to be a more elegant phrase than “complement of the square of the complement” but if so, I don’t know it.

  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ll say it :

    Why Evolution Is True – The Website- would not work as anything but a readable page.

    Small note : “podcast” is a catch all at this point- consider the NPR offerings: Wait Wait, Car Talk, Hidden Brain,… not sure if everything is podcasted…,

  26. azwangster
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Podcasts are great for my morning walk. Love Freakonomics, Pitchfork Economics, Science Friday and Peoples Pharmacy. But then I bring a book outside to read in the afternoon. Each has its place.

  27. azwangster
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Podcasts are great for my morning walk. Love Freakonomics, Pitchfork Economics, Science Friday and Peoples Pharmacy. But then I bring a book outside to read in the afternoon. Each has its place.

  28. Julian Cattaneo
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I listen to some podcasts. But I prefer reading; I don’t listen to audiobooks. On the other hand, while I’m slightly older than Jerry, I don’t have a problem reading off a computer or iPad screen

  29. cbranch
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been listening to a number of podcasts regularly for a while now (Sam Harris, Sean Carroll, FiveThirtyEight Politics, Preet Bharara), others occasionally (Very Bad Wizards, The Argument) and many more only an episode or two. Plus Andrew Yang just started one – quality is hit or miss so far. Anyway, a few points come to mind:

    – Sam Harris says (in at least one podcast episode, which sadly I can’t easily find and reference, which is a major downside for me BTW!) that for him the distinction was between producing books (not journalism) and podcasting. With a book, he can get his ideas out to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people about a year from now, given the logistics and speed of publishing. With a podcast, he gets them to millions of people in hours or days. This doesn’t explain why he stopped blogging – the reason for that, I think, is that he has said much of what he wanted to personally say, and now finds more value in inviting others, contributing his own questions and commentary to the discussion, then listening to them. And as Harris has also said, the value of podcasting over cable news is the amount of time – you get a lot more from a guest by talking for an hour or two instead of a five minute sound bite.

    – Not interested in Rogan (I think I’ve listened to an episode with Harris, and the one with Yang). For me he came across a bit too proud of himself for what he’s doing, reveling in being edgy and a little obnoxious – same with Dave Rubin. The new mainstream media? Certainly not these guys in particular, but media outlets can benefit from good podcasts; FiveThirtyEight’s is the best example I’ve found. As for long form journalism, I have various news organizations in my Feedly feed, and so far my attention span has been up to the task of reading articles from The Atlantic or The New Republic (as long as they’re interesting) without being distracted by a cat video.

    – I’m reading more books then ever (40-60 a year – maybe more this year!) so I personally don’t see podcasts replacing that. The publishing industry as a gatekeeper is a bit of a problem, since as Harris mentioned, even if you can get a book deal, it will be months or years before anyone can read the book. If self-publishing could self-organize itself such that readers can easily avoid typo-filled badly-edited junk, that might help books compete better.

    – Twitter, BTW (since I see it mentioned in the same breath with podcasting) is to me a whole different story: a ridiculous form of communication created for people with short attention spans. I’ve been saying from the beginning that it was a passing fad. Okay, apparently the world disagrees with me on that.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Pretty much agree with all of your take except for twitter (will explain). Got hooked on Sam Harris have been a patron from Day 1. His podcast is like being able to access my own custom media channel. He has intelligent conversations and I have learned a lot from listening to his guests and have found recommended reading material from his show. Yes, if your goal is to reach as many people as possible then a podcast is preferred over a book. And they are great if you commute (I don’t). Stay Tuned and The Daily are my other two favorites.

      Joe Rogan is a populist and a kind of poor-man’s Sam Harris. Most of his listeners are younger and male and the show has kind of a “bro” mentality. I’ve listened to a few shows that were decent but overall I don’t care for his schtick. He’s kind of a 21st century Howard Stern.

      I read almost entirely on Kindle unless a book is not available (like an older book). As soon as I began reading on a Kindle I immediately began reading more books. Another big plus is a browser plugin called Send2Kindle which allows you to send web content to your Kindle. So, say I find a link to a long-read in the Atlantic or other publication, I can send it to My Kindle to read later when I have more time.

      Regarding Twitter: I think a lot of criticism about Twitter is because people don’t understand how it can be utilized. Yes, any idiot can post something worthless but a lot of us use it as a curated news feed. So, I try to only follow people that I respect and that have interests similar to mine. I follow several climate scientists, biologists, academics, journalists, authors, congresspeople, lawyers, etc. Almost daily I am referred to content that I might have otherwise missed or not run across—there’s only so much one human being can cover in a day. When used in this way it is a valuable information tool. It’s a bit like creating a custom newsletter of all your favorite intellectuals and what they are reading or talking about and delivered to your inbox daily.

      • cbranch
        Posted May 26, 2020 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for validating my thoughts on Rogan! Regarding Twitter, yes, I’ve heard that reasoning before from other users, but it hasn’t caught on for me. I think I use Feedly in a similar way though.

  30. Jim batterson
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I am 72, a visual learner and do not absorb much just listening to thoughts going by me once. I like (have)to go back and read material several times, often underlining and writing notes in the margin. I once tried to listen to a book on tape while driving a two lane back road with no stoplights and virtually no traffic for 70 miles between suffolk and richmond va at dawn once a week. Not only did i not absorb the marerial, but i also missed several speed limit changes from 55 to 35…so i did not absorb the audio book material AND put myself and others in danger. So i stopped. I listen to one podcast because it happens to be relevant at this time: This Week in Virology. But even with this excellent show, i sometimes find my mind wandering. Bottom line is that i love books, 90% of them nonfiction, but that just may be how i have grown up and been educated. Perhaps by force of habit, i also read a daily print edition of wapo home delivered, a selection of weeklyand monthly magazines and journals, and,of course, weit daily blast! I have no prediction on the future of podcasts as that will be determined by a younger generation.

  31. Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I read a lot less than I used to, I would estimate 70 to 80 percent less due to the consume of youtube (podcasts, vlogs, blogs, live streams and due to Netflix. I really regret this, I am sad about this change but I can’t help it. it is like my brain would drive me to choose on those new media sources over the books that I liked to read so much in the past.
    And thinking about the reason why my brain is pushing me towards the new media I believe there is only one good explanation: The pleasure, the satisfaction for mind and mood is just much bigger than it would be while spending the same amount of time with reading.

  32. jwwalker
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been listening to podcasts more lately, thanks to the pandemic. I’ve gotten in the habit of exercising on my elliptical machine every day, and I listen while doing so. I’ve been following a weekly podcast called The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and was about a year behind, but now I’m caught up and must find other things to listen to.

    I’ve also read a bunch of books I had been meaning to read, so it’s not an either/or proposition.

  33. dogugotw
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Print for me. I can read without bothering my partner or wearing earbuds/headphones. I can skim an article quickly or reread a section which is impossible with audio. Most umm people uhh are bad uh speakers. Add to that I am not an auditory learner and podcasts lose.

  34. Ray Little
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I find podcasts a time-waster. I can read a transcript about 2-3 times as fast as I can listen to a podcast/interview. Also, I can skim, and knock off if I find I’m not interested.

  35. Jeannie Hess
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy podcasts a lot but I really only listen while I’m out in the garden doing rather mindless things.

  36. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you in preferring reading to listening for absorbing information. I do a lot of reading online, but when I really need or want to grok a piece, I print it out and take a highlighter and pencil to it, keep a pad at the ready for jotting down notes.

    Back when I was doing a lot more driving, I enjoyed books-on-tape, and later both those and podcasts, especially for knocking down mile-markers on the interstate, when travelling from county to county for court hearings. (City driving, especially during rush hour, requires music to sooth the savage beast.)

    I’ve long made a practice of reading a book before falling asleep. When suffering from eyestrain, I’ll put the book down and pop on a podcast or video lecture or something of the sort, but will usually drift off shortly after it starts playing. In this sense, I suppose my life since advent of the internet has been a longitudinal study in the efficacy of hypnopedia. (For the record, I have no conscious recognition of having thus learned anything, although sometimes when writing, a turn of phrase will come to me seemingly too easily, so I wonder if maybe it’s something embedded in my subconscious because I “heard” it while sleeping.)

    Falling asleep in this manner can also lead to some odd places per the YouTube algorithms. Just this weekend, for example, I put on one of the hundred million or so YouTube videos of Christopher Hitchens, since I hadn’t heard the old boy expound in his inimitable style in a while. I woke up in the morning to some Muslim imam barking at Dawkins in a debate about religion.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Maybe it would be better if you delete this video from your browser history, so that YouTube doesn’t think it would do you a favor by continuously recommending videos of all kinds of religious people who hate atheists in general and Dawkins in particular. After all, you have “consumed” the Imam video, albeit with your eyes closed, something Youtube cannot know yet.
      (For the identification of videos consumed in sleep, an algorithm will surely be developed in the future…)

  37. Karen Fierman
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I subscribe/listen to Sam Harris podcssts; that’s WHERE I first heard(heard of) Jerry Coyne! Reading (actual books), though, is my forever fave form of ingesting everything (except food and drink). Many of my friends have ceased reading (esp. BOOKS) and spend most of their time listening to pods, watching vids (Ted Talks, whatever). It’s amazing to me how book-reading has gone out of favor and fashion. I’m glad I’ll be departing this vale of cyberspace in the not-TOO-distant (I’m 79).

  38. Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    For reading online, I recommend a decent ipad tablet (religious war, I know, don’t add me). The displays are super crisp, brightness can be adjusted to any situation and they work reliably. Together with “read-later” apps (e.g. getpocket), it’s superior to everything else. I love paper and print, but the convenience and quality just beats it (except reading in bright sunlight). For example, I make a raid on a magazine and fill the “read later” backlog and can then read through everything when I have the time (including without internet connection).

    I also listen to streams and podcasts occasionally, but that has to match the situation. I found Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” engrossing, and that’s like an audio book, demanding attention (check e.g. Celtic Holocaust). When I am semi-distracted (or need semi-focus) I can sometimes tolerate the equivalent of radio chatter, e.g. the Wisecrack podcast. I used to listen to Sam Harris and heard a few episodes of Joe Rogan, but it usually just doesn’t match the mental space. It’s not interesting enough to focus on (and set time aside) but also not “light” enough to put on in the background. But I guess for a lot of jobs it’s “just right”.

    Bari Weiss mentions it in passing, but the weakness of journalism is a main reason why I don’t care. Especially the cultural stuff is terrible. I suspect an entire generation is lost because Weiss’ colleagues have been found pushing “just so” narratives too often. We’re now stuck with “culture war” narratives that are just arrant nonsense. Why would anyone care when such “journalists” only flaunt their illiteracy and paucity of thinking? It’s probably incompetence, but maybe they also know what they did. They produced clickbait and trollish pieces because it made their house a buck. Now there are consequences. I have to admit that I have an alarmingly low opinion of such journalists (with a few notable exceptions). Some bloke on YouTube is of course not inherently better than a journalist, but culture/oped journalists demonstrated that the reverse is just as true.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Oh, yeah! I forgot that I had listened to, and really enjoyed, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History!

      • Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        I had Carlin recommended to me by many people. I tried him (only the free stuff on his site; which is a small minority it seemed to me).

        I found him making too many big leaps without support for my comfort level. Maybe I’ve listened to the wrong episodes. (I have read a lot of history.)

        • darrelle
          Posted May 27, 2020 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          I’ve never listened to Carlin so can’t comment on him specifically, but uhhgg. I hate exactly that. It’s a standard tactic in nearly every US documentary from any of the major broadcasters except perhaps PBS. It sets the quack detector off instantly.

          The other standard tactic I hate is the constant recapping and subsequent low information content. After every commercial break they recap what’s already been covered and maybe dribble out one tiny bit of relevant information before the next commercial break. In this way they end up taking 42 minutes to relay about 4.2 minutes worth of useful information.

  39. Adam M.
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like podcasts, or for that matter, videos, because they tend to be too long and contain too many disfluencies and discursions that should be edited out (but aren’t), and because not all podcast and video platforms let you change the speed.

    For example, I greatly enjoyed Sam Harris’s articles, back when he used to write them, but his podcasts are at least an hour long and I’ve got stuff to do so I can’t really be bothered. (I don’t believe in listening while doing other things, unless the other things are completely mindless. I’m not that good at multitasking…)

  40. EdwardM
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I still read a great deal, books mostly (the kind that you hold and which have pages), because it is a habit from childhood I enjoy above most others.

    I rarely listen to podcasts except when a topic interests me. I don’t think there is any reason for my preference for books over electronic media except that I much prefer fiction for my entertainment and it’s much better to read fiction than it is to listen to. IMO, of course.

    I think readers, especially readers of fiction, are a breed that while they won’t go extinct, are fading rapidly. Which is, in a deeply personal way, entirely apt.

  41. Charles Jones
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I love listening to podcasts while I do things like mow the grass or waterproof the basement floor.

    Two recommendations:

    Crooked Media is a podcast outfit run by a bunch of former Obama people. Pod Save the World features Tommy Veitor and Ben Rhodes, the later of whom was Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor. He helped open Cuba and negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, among other things. I love it when they interview high-level people who have actually conducted foreign affairs and who are thus exceptionally insightful when it comes to what’s going on today.

    Lovett or Leave It has more of a comedy bent, but it also does a great job covering things that are mysteriously ignored or under-reported by the New York Times and NPR.

    For example: Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the Trump administration was training a Saudi Al Qaeda operative to fly military aircraft? Shouldn’t we be investigating how many others we’ve been training? This would be a MAJOR scandal in previous years. I think we could back off some of the COVID-19 coverage to focus on other things that are also important.

  42. Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s interesting that people are happy to listen to a 3 hour podcast. Who would’ve watched a 3 hour interview on TV? A podcast offers the chance to be less stilted and scripted and more direct.

    However, air heads like Joe Rogan should not be seen anywhere a serious conversation… but then again neither should Charlie Rose either.

  43. darrelle
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m unsure about these modern terms and I don’t know if “podcast” means sound only. Whatever the case may be, I don’t really like sound only podcasts. I’ve rarely listened to any. I do like video podcasts, or whatever such are actually called, quite a bit. I can’t say why, exactly. I also like reading quite a bit. I think both formats have advantages and disadvantages compared to the other.

    In a live back and forth conversation you get an opportunity see the subjects views in “real life,” as it were. You get to see and hear all of the various communication channels that can’t be conveyed via the written word. Such as vocal inflections, tone of voice, facial expressions, laughing, snorting, gesturing and body language of all sorts.

    The written format, on the other hand, allows the writer the opportunity and the time to really think about what they want to say and how best to say it. It also often allows them to present a lot more information period. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will take advantage of the opportunity. But when a writer does it affords the reader a much clearer understanding of the writer’s ideas.

    Ideally to best understand a person’s ideas I like to have a variety of relevant material in both media.

  44. Posted May 26, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I do like good podcasts – Sam Harris is one of the best, in my opinion, and he even sometimes speaks with evolutionary biologists (I think PCC(E) was his first official “interview” podcast). I think he occasionally gets too fixated on certain issues over time, but he’s miles above most other media. I’ve also found introduction to many fine thinkers by listening to his podcast, and have ended up buying their books and following them.

    I also like audio books for computing.

    All of the above, however, is presenting an ongoing problem for me in that I’m developing ever-worsening hearing loss, especially on the right side, with accompanying severe tinnitus. This makes me ever more frustrated that Sam Harris doesn’t write more books or blog. It’s his call what to do with his time and attention, of course (and he’s a specialist at paying attention to his attention), but I can’t help but whine about that.

  45. pablo
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I love listening to podcasts while walking or driving. I often turn the speed up to 1.25 or 1.5 because the slowness of some people’s speaking voices drives me crazy.

    • Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      This. I have a 45 to 55 minute commute each way, depending on traffic. I used to listen to books on tape, but there are so many good podcasts, I usually choose the latter.

      But as ronsch99 and Ray Little point out, reading is a much faster way to gain information. And it is easier to review important points after reading or as you go along.

  46. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Is it that there is a fundamental limit to composition of ideas in written word compared to speaking?

    I think it is different for sure but I still think composing thoughts live requires skill and can articulate substantial ideas. But this would have to be a very talented speaker.

  47. Andrea Kenner
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I started listening to podcasts about two years ago, while on a business trip. I had trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar hotel room, and I figured, “What the heck.” I’ve been hooked ever since.

    One of my favorite shows is Lovett or Leave It, which offers a comedic take on current events. I have also listed to Al Franken’s podcast, The Daily, Gaslit Nation (among other political podcasts), and various recap podcasts about popular music and TV shows.

    I still read quite a lot, but it’s mostly newspaper articles. When I was still riding Metro to the office, I read ebooks on my iPad. I am currently reading a (gasp) paperback book, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and really enjoying it.

    I think I tried listening to Joe Rogan once and really didn’t like it. The take was too macho for my taste, I guess. But I can understand why other people might like it.

    P.S. For some reason, I never got into audiobooks. I’m not sure why.

  48. grasshopper
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I have developed a great interest in the conflict in the Pacific in WWII. Print books are a boon when flipping back and forth to maps. Using a bookmark on a Kindle to flip between text and map is a process I find ponderous and disruptive.

    Podcasts I find to be time-wasters. Hosts and guests seem to spend too much giggling at each-other’s wit, rather than presenting structured topics that flow. Comments suggest that I should look at podcasts again.

    If you like radio plays and drama then archive.org is the place to go. Just about everything ever done by the BBC seems to be available to download or stream to your device.
    The following link will get you started.
    https://archive.org/details/@pigman58?&sort=-publicdate&page=1

    For books that can be borrowed and downloaded for fourteen days, register for free at open library.org. Here is one book that is highly recomended.
    https://openlibrary.org/search?q=why+evolution+is+true

  49. JP415
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I rarely listen to podcasts because I prefer reading. Reading is better for absorbing complicated ideas for several reasons:

    1. You’re not distracted by an author’s personal appearance or voice — he or she becomes kind of a disembodied intellect transmitting ideas from one mind to another without any friction. It doesn’t matter whether he has a shrill voice or a weird accent. The emphasis is purely on the messages, not the messenger.

    2. Written language is (or should be) edited, so there are no “uhs” and “ums” and throat-clearings getting in the way of the ideas.

    3. It’s easier to read a passage over if you misunderstand it instead of having to rewind the podcast.

    4. Written language is usually more concise then spoken English.

    5. Written language can be more structured than speech. Writers can use subheadings, bullet points, numbered lists, or tables to help their audience absorb complex information. This is especially useful for technical subjects.

    For these reasons, I’m pretty confident that written articles won’t disappear any time soon.

  50. grasshopper
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Here is another book from openlibrary. I recommend it to PCC(E) and duck lovers everywhere. It is called “Make Way for Ducklings”.

    https://openlibrary.org/works/OL4638388W/Make_Way_for_Ducklings

    It was a serendipitous discovery I made while browsing the open library, and I immediately thought of Botany Pond. It turns out to be quite a historical book.

    From Wikipedia:

    Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. First published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of mallards who decide to raise their family on an island in the lagoon in Boston Public Garden, a park in the center of Boston.

    Make Way for Ducklings won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey’s illustrations, executed in charcoal then lithographed on zinc plates.[1][2] As of 2003, the book had sold over two million copies.[3] The book’s popularity led to the construction of a statue by Nancy Schön in the Public Garden of the mother duck and her eight ducklings, which is a popular destination for children and adults alike. In 1991, Barbara Bush gave a duplicate of this sculpture to Raisa Gorbachev as part of the START Treaty, and the work is displayed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park.

  51. Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I run a lot, between six to eight hours a week, and that’s down from what I would do a year ago, so podcasts are a great way to spend the time. I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks, but less so lately. They’re also great when doing yardwork. I know many people like to listen to podcasts while driving, but I don’t commute. When I’m cooking I prefer to listen to music though. I’d like to read more than I do, but the days are just packed.

  52. JP415
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t even read stuff online: virtually everything I want to read carefully, or post about, I have to copy and paste into a Word document and then print out. Maybe it’s my age—brought up in an era without Internet.

    I’m only 40 (on the cusp of the Millennial / Generation X divide) but I have the same experience. It’s easier to read things on the printed page because many websites are cluttered with flashing advertisements, video clips, hyperlinks, animated headlines, etc. Reading an article on CNN or the San Francisco Chronicle website is like trying to read in the middle of a carnival—a constant assault on your senses.

    Also for PCC and others: there’s a browser extension called Print Friendly that allows you to remove advertisements and graphics from an internet article so you can print it without wasting paper. (You can also enlarge the font size as well.) It has a few bugs, but overall it works pretty well.

  53. Carl
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I am a hard print guy. I prefer Hard print. My job, Coding SQL and command tables for Crystal, Is such that I’m too engrossed and basically zone out anything I’m listening to. I can go through a whole albums or playlists Without remembering anything. I lament that podcasts seem to be the way of the future. I don’t believe you can get the same amount of “understanding“ from a podcast. I have listen to Joe Rogan periodically, But I am not a big fan. PS I would rather read the Selfish Gene or Faith versus Fact. I am positive, while I have no evidence to back this up, that listening to a book or article or a podcast would enlighten me as much as the tender page

  54. Posted May 26, 2020 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    The more podcasts I listen to, the more books I buy! I also like many history podcasts, favoring the BBC podcasts including “Great Lives,” “In our time,” and the “History Extra podcasts.” My favorite stateside history podcast is “Tides of History.” These shows often interview authors with interesting books that I end up buying.

    As a;ready mentioned, many podcasts are simply recordings of shows, like Science Friday on NPR. I enjoy having the opportunity to listen when I can, or dive into the archives for older shows.

    Personally, I find it great way to keep up on some things. For depth, you can’t beat a book.

  55. JezGrove
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I very occasionally read e-books, but only stuff I am only likely to read once and not want to check later. (Most recently, the Woody Allen memoir Apropos of Nothing.) I mostly listen to live radio, but have sometimes listened on catch-up services like BBC Sounds.

    I don’t envisage a time when either format will replace my predominant use of actual books and live radio broadcasts.

  56. aljones909
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    In the car, walking or cycling – I’m usually listening to a podcast. A 10 minute TV or radio interview is just frustrating. It’s usually 1 hour, 2 hours…on podcasts.
    I’d recommend:-
    “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe”,
    “The Comedy Cellar: Live from the Table”,
    and “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History”
    Carlin has just completed a 3 parter on Japan’s involvement in WW2. Just over 13 hours!

  57. max blancke
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    I drive cross country four to six times each year, as well as long drives between the ranches of my family and my wife’s family.

    Podcasts and audiobooks are how I survive. I don’t listen to them at any other time, but I constantly listen to them on those long drives.

    I like Rogan’s show. It is easy to download, and there are lots of choices of interview subjects. I have no interest in MMA, so I have not listened to those, but nobody else has experts with such a diversity of views on air. Rogan himself holds views I disagree with, and he is not really all that bright. But he does a fine job of getting his subjects to speak frankly, and is willing to ask them tough questions.
    Of course he has some guests who hold extreme views. I think that is an advantage for him. I am not at all threatened by the idea that people whose views I disagree with should have an opportunity to explain their perspectives.

    Probably my favorite podcast is Hardcore History. I also have enjoyed some of the podcasts hosted by the BBC.

  58. Deodand
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I do listen to podcasts, mostly of a skeptical nature, but also read. Anecdotally, in my area there is a surviving second hand bookshop that did a much heavier than normal trade in the leadup to the Coronovirus lockdown, with people buying books in bulk.

  59. phoffman56
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Well, there’s reading and there’s reading.

    From Brit TV several decades ago:

    Humphrey: “The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.”

    
Hacker: “Don’t tell me about the press, I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
”

    Sir Humphrey: “Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun ?”

    Bernard: “Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.”

    • BJ
      Posted May 26, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      My favorite show about politics ever! I naturally own all the DVDs.

  60. gscott
    Posted May 26, 2020 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m still a reader rather than a listener, although lately I’ve been spending a lot more time watching YouTube videos – there are actually some very well-done and/or interesting channels*.

    As for podcasts, the only one I listen to is “The History of English”. The evolution of the sounds of English over the centuries is something that you can’t really put in print, and the roughly one-hour segments are perfect for a drive up to the mountains.

    I find that I’m fairly unusual these days in that I have no need for a soundtrack while I’m cycling – my son, OTOH, says things like “I have to stop now, my iPod is out of juice”.

    *Despite Kitman’s law: “On the TV screen pure drivel tends to drive off ordinary drivel.”

  61. Posted May 26, 2020 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I don’t watch podcasts or most other films. I read. A lot. Why? I can read so much faster than I can listen! Reading keeps my attention better, too.

  62. Posted May 27, 2020 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    When Sam Harris changed over to podcasts, I saved them for awhile, but didn’t listen. I am saving Sean Carroll’s podcasts for later. Like many of your readers, I prefer reading books. My husband and I used to listen to audio books when on long trips. Otherwise, no. I had never heard of Joe Rogan until now and doubt that I would listen to him and his guests.

  63. Posted May 27, 2020 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    I don’t think so.

    Podcasts are generally personality driven, whereas news strives for the opposite.

    When you’re reading a print article, to some extent you are looking for specific stuff in it, which is easier to do in print than it is in a time stamp.

    You can read more critically than you can listen because it is that much easier to go back and check stuff later.

    This is why radio and TV haven’t taken out print, and podcasting is basically the same experience as talk radio.

    Now just like with radio and TV it isn’t print reigns supreme, its just different media have different strengths.

  64. Posted May 27, 2020 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve never heard of Joe Rogan, but I do listen to a lot of podcasts. However, they haven’t displaced my reading, they have displaced my music listening. Basically, I listen to podcasts when driving or walking or doing some other task that would be otherwise quite boring.

    A lot of the podcasts I listen to are really the online versions of various BBC radio shows e.g. The Infinite Monkey Cage, More or Less and Wittertainment.

  65. Posted May 27, 2020 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    ‘So, here are my discussion questions for readers. First, do you think podcasting is the future of news and discussion, and will increasingly replace reading, either from a screen or from a paper page?’

    I think it’s more likely to go the way of diversification- even if podcasting becomes preeminent, there will still be a place for the old media. Just like TV; streaming and Netflix etc have challenged its dominance, but TV is still around, it’s just adapted itself to the new age. I think news and print and reading will do the same. What form that will take, though, I don’t know.

    Then again, I suspect, there is also a reactive factor. Some people don’t like the new-fangled stuff and yearn for the days of yore, including young people, so there will always be a market for that sort of thing, I think. The old media have proved incredibly durable already. I think they’ll survive- even if in etiolated form.

    This Pew survey shows that physical books are still the most popular form of written word consumption: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/25/one-in-five-americans-now-listen-to-audiobooks/.

    ‘Do you listen to podcasts more than you used to? If so, why? (I, for one, worry that podcasts will replace novels and nonfiction books, even though those kinds of books—including both of my trade books— are on audio discs or download-able.) Do you read a lot less on paper or Kindle than you used to?’

    I hate reading on a screen! I much prefer the physical artefact. The only appeal of Kindles and suchlike to me is the storage issue- I have so many physical books it’s hard to keep them! At least with an e-reader, you could have an entire library without taking up any space in the physical world.

    I do listen to podcasts more now, but I see them as secondary to reading. I like Sam Harris and Two for Tea, haven’t listened to Rogan but see the appeal, and I find it relaxing to lie back and listen to a conversation. Or to have one playing while washing the dishes- but then I like music for that, too. I don’t listen to podcasts regularly, I just occasionally pick and choose conversations that look interesting; reading is primary for me.

    ‘Also, do you listen to Rogan, and if so, do you like the show? If so, why? Do you think his success rests on his flouting the guidelines for the “elite media”?’

    As I said, I don’t listen to Rogan, but I’ve heard a lot about him and I can see the appeal. He’s an ordinary guy who talks to interesting people and is engaging and entertaining, so he bypasses the ‘stuffier’ old media. Plus I think the free speech aspect is a huge part of the appeal of him and podcasts like Sam Harris’s in general. You can discuss any topic you like without being censored by an editor.

  66. Jim Swetnam
    Posted May 27, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    For all of you who have effusively praised Rogan here, you do know that he’s said he’s going to vote for Trump over Biden, right? That says it all.

    • Jim Swetnam
      Posted May 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      I have only a limited exposure to Rogan, so after I made that comment, in fairness, I listened to some more of his podcasts. He can sound quite reasonable. Still, Trump is a hard and fast litmus test for me. Trump has failed as a president and as a human being so spectacularly and comprehensively that even if someone could prove to me that he has done some good I can’t see how it would ever out weigh the harm he has caused. If that makes me closed minded, so be it, but I think it is just recognizing an enemy when I see one.

  67. revelator60
    Posted May 27, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Like PCC, I am immune to podcasts. I find their popularity mystifying and annoying. If I’m driving or doing domestic drudgery, I prefer having music on (I love the thrill of cranking up the volume while zooming down the highway—you can’t get that from a podcast!). Like PCC, I absorb information mostly through reading. Since I am a relatively fast reader I get irritated by the pace of podcasts—why spend an hour listening to something whose core information I could read in 15 minutes?

    Weiss asks “Why read a profile of Elon Musk with staid quotes when you can listen to him get high and riff for two hours in Rogan’s studio?”
    Because I don’t want to spend two hours in the company of either bozo just to get information. Why waste two hours of my life getting information that could be obtained through 10 minutes of reading?

    On to PCC’s questions…

    “Do you think podcasting is the future of news and discussion, and will increasingly replace reading, either from a screen or from a paper page?”

    Podcasting is the future of punditry, not news.
    Sadly reading is already in decline; perhaps there will come a day when serious readers are an even smaller minority than they are now.
    Our culture will be screwed if podcasting displaces reading, since Mr. Rogan admits that a podcast “doesn’t require that much thinking at all.”

    “Do you listen to podcasts more than you used to? If so, why?”

    I only listen to a podcast if it contains information not found elsewhere and if no transcript is available. My answer is therefore a very slight yes.

    “Do you read a lot less on paper or Kindle than you used to?”

    No. But there is so much to read on the internet that it does interfere with my book reading. I read more seriously on the page than the screen.

    “Also, do you listen to Rogan, and if so, do you like the show?”

    Nope. I remember watching Rogan on the excellent sitcom “Newsradio” but that will remain the sum of my acquaintance with the man.

    Plus, isn’t Rogan one of those awful people who slobbered over Sanders but decided he’d rather vote for Trump then Biden?

  68. Wunold
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    I’ll leave the final answer to the title’s question to sociologists or whatever field of science is appropriate, though I doubt it will do more than radio, tv, or YouTube already did – or apparently did not, since people still do read.

    I personally don’t see them as rivals rather than companions, because I tend to read in different situations than I listen. Reading usually takes all my attention while listening allows other activities at the same time. Two typical examples for the latter are the quiet later afternoons of my office job, and playing the sandbox computer game “Minecraft” in my free time. 🙂

    In this day and age, I should mention that I don’t own a smartphone, so I don’t have a little sound machine with me every moment of my life. I’m using either my laptop, my desktop pc, my wifi radio for that.

    Last, but not least, I also switch to podcasts or debates that I don’t have to follow visually when I’m too tired to read … and sometimes I’ll slumber away under the continuous flow of their talking. The deep, calm voice of The Thinking Atheist podcast’s host Seth Andrews is particularly suited for this effect. 🙂


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