I just re-subscribed to the Fresh Air podcasts because Terry Gross is, in my opinion, one of the few really great interviewers working today.
But there’s a problem. The last time I was subscribed, the sheer volume of quality podcasts she produces in a week quickly lead me into what I’ve come to call “New Yorker Syndrome”, where I fall progressively more and more behind as the fat weekly magazines relentlessly arrive and arrive. Back issues of the magazine began to stack up on my reading shelf, each filled with articles demanding to be read. Eventually, as the accumulated unread goodness grew to threaten all my available future free time, I finally had to pull the plug and unsubscribe. Better to not know what you’re missing than to be confronted with it, mocked by it, on a daily basis. (And yes, after unsubscribing, I did finish my pretty impressive backlog of accumulated issues. I had to. That’s the problem.
I know the problem is me. For some reason I can’t seem to skip over anything. It’s all so good!
I have always felt compelled to read the Atlantic, the New Yorker, even Newsweek (way back when) cover-to-cover, only skipping articles about food or golf. I finally dropped them all, opting for the internet and its bite-sized journalism (Slate, Atlantic Online). For longform nonfiction reading, I use the Instapaper app. Yes, I currently have about 200 articles awaiting my attention on the iPad, but somehow a few billion ones and zeros is far less intimidating than a hoarder’s stack of glossy magazines hovering over my nightstand.
But Fresh Air is a podcast, which makes it harder to deal with.
You can read while watching TV, or sitting in the park, or even on the toilet. For me anyway, the printed word melds seamlessly with just about any other activity. (Let’s be clear. The “printed word” is now pretty much limited to what appears on my iPad.) I read everywhere, at all times. That’s my rep. I’m comfortable with it.
Podcasts aren’t as adaptable. At least not for me. I can’t listen at home or at the gym. I pretty much have to be driving around in my car. I seem to have developed the attention span of a gnat, and the act of driving is needed to absorb my excess bandwidth and minimize distractions. Even the best podcasts can’t rivet my attention by themselves.
If I’m parked while listening to a great story, someone just has to walk by leashed to a funny looking dog and my attention flies off. Two minutes later, I’m back but now I have to rewind the audio because the podcast has moved on without me and I’m now lost. Again, the obsession to hear every word.
Terry Gross is worth giving it another try. My new app lets me approve each individual episode before download. I will try to pick and choose, and I’ll skip all but the most interesting of her seven hours of podcasts per week. That should keep things manageable, I hope.
God, I’ve been such a wreck since Google Reader shut down.