Why I’m letting go of podcast guilt

Sometimes all you want is the audio equivalent of a Big Mac

If there's one problem that podcasts definitely don't suffer from, it's a lack of depth. You don't have to look far to find a wide range of shows full of thoughtful commentary, insightful analysis and in-depth investigation on everything from the cultural impact of fast food to the social context of protest movements. 

As the podcast market matures, more publishers and networks are investing in the space, which means more high-quality content on top of the raft of independent shows that continue to hit the feeds. This should be an ideal situation for a podcast fan, and indeed, there's never been a better time to enjoy some intelligent audio storytelling. 

However, this can be a bit of a double-edged sword, and I've recently found myself quite literally spoiled for choice. There’s such a wealth of good podcasts that it can become overwhelming; it’s the same problem I find with Netflix. There’s too much to choose from, so rather than committing to something new, I just end up going back to the same old favourites I’ve seen time and again.

This will be a familiar problem to anyone that has a stack of highbrow nonfiction books and classic novels on your nightstand or bookshelves, that you keep promising yourself that you're going to start working your way through any minute - just as soon as you've caught up on your Twitter feed.

Part of the reason I struggle to work my way through all of the things in my Netflix queue is that many of them demand a certain level of concentration that I can't always commit to after a busy day - and the same is true of podcasts. While I know that the likes of Tortoise’s excellent Pig Iron podcast is both nuanced and entertaining, I can’t quite summon the effort to give it the time that it deserves, when what I really want is the audio equivalent of comfort food. 

In my case, that’s nonsense chat podcasts like Quick Question with Soren and Daniel - the kind which feel like listening in on two friends having a phone call. They’re not particularly educational or enriching, but they’re warm, familiar, and exactly what I crave when I need some audio content that I can use to just shut my brain off for an hour or so. I love podcasts, and they’re a rich, vibrant medium, but there’s no faster way to turn podcast listening into a chore than by forcing myself to work my way down a checklist of prestige shows that I’m not really in the mood for. 

By the same token, I’ve resolved to stop beating myself up for spending my free time consuming content that isn’t podcast-based. Whenever I’m listening to music, watching an episode of something on the train, or even just killing time with some YouTube videos while I wait for the kettle to boil, there’s a nagging sense of guilt that I should be using this time to catch up on my ever-expanding queue of podcasts, but this self-flagellation is unhelpful. 

In fact, it’s healthy to spend time with other forms of media, as it gives a useful sense of context and perspective that enriches my podcast experience when I do come back to them - as both a listener and a creator. Podcasts - especially serious, high-quality audio content - continue to hold a special place in my heart, but it’s important to maintain a balanced media diet. Indulge in fine dining, by all means, but there’s no harm in having the occasional cheat day.