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I knew things had gotten out of control when I started inventing reasons to go out. Chores that I could have tackled together I would spread out throughout the day, maximising my opportunities. It was ridiculous. Instead of stopping at the post office on my way to the supermarket, I would split it into two separate walks. What should have been a 20-minute round trip became an excuse to be walking around for over an hour.
Was it claustrophobia? Procrastination? No, something far worse: podcast addiction.
I was an early adopter of podcasts, listening to them on my iPod Shuffle (remember those?) while walking to and from work in China. Suzhou is not the most walkable of cities and podcasts were a great way to pass the tedium of those long flat roads. I found a great podcast that got me into running, and then I discovered the BBC’s catalogue of offerings. By the time I finally got a smartphone capable of playing podcasts I was listening to podcasts about two hours a day – at 2x speed – meaning four hours of audio daily.
And yet, despite my dedication, that little unread badge kept going up and up. Twenty unlistened-to podcasts, then 30, 48, 67. It was stressing me out.
Because of the deliberate way that I approach everything, I am very specific about how I listen to podcasts. I have to listen to every episode and it has to be in order of oldest to newest – like watching a TV show or reading a series. I didn’t treat them as individual entities. So, daily podcasts were a nightmare to keep up with, and even weekly ones would build up. I had set myself an impossible task.
I would go on long 20km hikes just to try to get the number down. Often, I could get it into low double digits. But something would always come up – a trip somewhere, several days of partying – and the number, which had been briefly bearable, was suddenly a nightmare again. If I was walking with someone who wasn’t chatty, I would get anxious, thinking about how I could have been using that time to churn through a couple of episodes. I would turn down offers of car lifts and take bus rides instead because it gave me more time to work through my backlog. My conversations with other people invariably contained the words ‘I was listening to a podcast about…’ or ‘I heard about that on a podcast’ at least several times. I was a podcast addict.
I was podcast girl.
What made this all even more infuriating was that I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying listening to them. Some podcasts I kept in my playlist simply because they’d always been there, but I could tune out completely when they were on. So, what was actually the point?
And despite all my commitment, all my continuing, all the excuses I made and long walks, I could not reach podcast zero.
It made me wretched. There was nothing for it. I had to kill the podcasts.
As I mentioned, I’m a very deliberate person. So, I did this the way I go about everything – all in. Before uninstalling my podcast app, PocketCasts, I first unsubscribed from all of my podcasts. Why? So that even if I were tempted – no! no! I change my mind! – I’d have a hell of a time trying to get them all back. So that was it.
No subscriptions, no podcasts, no app.
I started walking around without my headphones in, listening to the world instead. It was weird at first, not having a constant conversation coming straight into my head. But it didn’t take very long to get used to it. In fact, until I sat down to write about this experience, I hadn’t thought about podcasts at all for about two weeks. This thing which had been a constant in my life for the past 15 years, which had caused me so much anxiety, was just suddenly gone.
Will I ever go back to listening to podcasts? I’m not sure. If I do, I will not be a completionist. I will just listen to an episode here and there rather than trying to kill myself by listening to every single thing ever made.
If you are finding that podcasts are ruining your life, there is help for you. It’s called the delete button. It may just save your sanity.
How about the other side of things? The joy of creating a podcast? Have a read of this