Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Essay: How Do You Listen to Podcasts?

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

This might sound like a stupid question but how do you listen to podcasts? There are many things we take for granted but I usually find it helpful to analyze my own processes, including the "automatic" ones.

To start off, I started listening th podcasts several years ago--back before the term "podcast" caught on and I was still on dial-up Internet. Of course back then, I wasn't in a podcast-listening frenzy like I am now. There were two sites that I frequently visited for podcasts, The Agony Column for my fiction needs, and Mortality Radio for my gaming needs. I'd download the said mp3s then listen to them on my computer, usually playing Minesweeper or Solitaire to distract my other senses.

And then around a year ago, I arbitrarily decided to seek out other podcasts--specifically the RPG-related podcasts. (This gave birth to my weekly compilation of podcasts which is based on SF Signal's model of compiling news tidbits.) Now, I listen to dozens of podcasts every week, some five minutes long, others a whopping two-hour podcast. With my day job and all, I'd say it's impossible for me to listen to all of them and still be sitting in front of my computer.

So what's changed? Well, first off, I have an mp3 player (a Zen: Vision M for those who are curious). All the podcasts that I've downloaded gets uploaded to it (and I make the most out of its bookmarking feature--handy when you're listening to a 2-hour podcast and your daily commute is only 30 minutes). The second is that I walk to work which consumes 30 minutes on each trip. That's already five hours worth of podcast listening time even if I do nothing else.

Now here's the first thing I noticed about my podcast listening habits: I multitask when I listen to podcasts. Before I owned an mp3 player, I was already doing this--by playing games. Currently, it's part of my routine going to work. I don't think there's been any point in time (aside from "resting my eyes" or sleeping) wherein the only activity I was doing was listening to podcasts. And when I want to devote time to listen to podcasts, I find something else to do such as a) playing video games and turning the music off or b) transcribing texts.

For your approval, I think Greg van Eekhout best describes the experience: "Podcasting is the first time short fiction has been presented in a format that takes advantage of suburban sprawl and boring cubicle jobs."

Of course my caveat there is that it not only applies to short fiction but to everything else (I'm listening to gaming podcasts after all). Feel free to share your own experiences or refute this thesis.

Now the other topic I want to bring up is the order I listen to podcasts. Again, this starts to matter when you're listening to dozens of podcasts every week, not so much if you're subscribed to just one or two podcasts. Basically, I have four podcasting "piles":

Pile A are the podcasts I listen to immediately (or as soon as I find the chance to) once I download them. In the case of my own podcast downloads, these are usually the D&D-related podcasts, or an interview with a game designer or author I really really like. The other week for example, I immediately listened to Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing's interview with Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman because I enjoyed the latter's short story, "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", and I needed to interview him for the Nebula Awards Blog.

Pile B are the podcasts I'll listen to eventually. I faithfully follow these podcasts, I just don't get to them immediately. For example, my current playlist includes podcasts I downloaded a month ago. As much as I love Rick Kleffel and The Agony Column, most of his podcasts fall under this category (the exceptions go to Pile A). The good news here is that I listen to each and every show. The bad news is that I'm not able to give timely feedback.

Pile C are the podcasts that I follow but I don't download each and every episode. With these podcasts, I'm selective as to what episodes I actually download. Some episodes might fall into Pile A. Some into Pile B. Some not at all. It varies on the content that they come up with.

For most people, there is no Pile D. But I want to categorize them anyway. For the most part, these are podcasts that keep track of but I don't download or listen to. This only comes up because of my weekly RPG podcast listing and my contributions to SFF Audio.

In a perfect world, I'd be listening to all the podcasts that I'm aware of but unfortunately, there's simply not enough time. And the fact of the matter is, I've had to drop excellent podcasts simply because I need to prioritize every else I'm doing. There's only so many things I can do when listening to podcasts: I can't write, I can't read, and I can't blog.

Still, I've managed to expand my knowledge and repertoire, converting what would otherwise be a monotonous task (i.e. working the photocopier at the office) into valuable "learning" time by listening to podcasts.

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