“I wasn’t listening, I was just waiting for my turn to talk….” – The Common Man Dan Cole, KFAN
Pros and cons of the free-market podcast world
The final portion of the clear instructions explaining the next activity in my 5th grade remote classroom were still on the tip of my tongue when a student (who seems to be making this a habit) interrupted me with the phrase which makes any teacher’s skin boil:
“So……what are we doing?” Eyes rolled on the zoom call as the clear crime of not paying attention had been observed by many others besides me.
It is frightening to me just how poor of listeners the people in our world have become. While my example is probably not something completely new to this generation, a more novel example can be given: I heard a host on a radio show suggest a certain new sitcom on Netflix was “not the type you’d watch when you are scrolling Instagram or watching TikTok.” Huh? I was not aware that when you are watching certain shows – on a screen – they can be digested while taking in other people doing other things to instantly gratify you….on another screen. We could philosophize the reasons for this multi-tasking movement, but that isn’t the main focus of this article. My main point is this: listening is a lost art.
What I’d like to present to you here are the consequences which have arisen in society as a result of the ability and freedoms for everyone to not just have a voice, but have a prominent voice, through social media accounts, podcasts, and blogs. The idea of starting a podcast has become its own caricature, as the number of people, from celebrities to athletes to the dude who charges you for gas at Kwik Trip, have their own podcast. Is this a good thing?
The reason this came to my mind was because, well, obviously I, too have a podcast! In case you are wondering… my podcast is probably about the same size as the Kwik Trip guy’s podcast…..oh well. Someday, it is going to the pay bills; I just need to keep believing. During a recent training session, I was thinking through some potential show topics in relation to books I had recently been reading and other podcasts and radio shows I had been listening to. Usually, I’ll take in content on training rides and during workouts, process them, and finally, develop a narrative I think is worthy of a post or show. Unfortunately, since it is not my full time gig, by the time I get to doing the actual operation, my point is not nearly as relevant as it had been at conception, and/or I never really polish up the idea to a standard I want to make public. Like other bloggers, I hope to increase the amount of viewership to my site, but the increased realization that quality content does not always align with increased viewership has me a little less motivated to always try to churn out high quality content. If the quality doesn’t really matter, then why not just punch a click-bait article and a picture which turns eyeballs your way?
Shouldn’t the quality of your content separate you from the masses and increase your listenership as opposed to the amount of money you have to market, the title of a post, or how much time you spend commenting on message boards and engaging with your audience? (Ok, so maybe that last point is just a reality of the blogging world…it is tantamount to the daily ‘grind’ that a blogger needs to put in the time doing). What does this say about the free market of sound, words, and ideas? While this post is also probably not too polished, I wanted to throw the idea out there to my listeners/readers and see what sort of other ideas they had on this topic. Plus…..just posting is what brings people to my site, and well….I have to play the game, too.
Typically, the positives in a free and open market, where everyone has the ability to freely develop their own unique ideas and cultivate their creativity is that normally, the best product eventually rises to the top. In technology, cars, agriculture, etc., if you have an idea that is more profitable – that is ‘better’ – eventually you are going to rise to the top and be the victor….and make big bucks for doing so.
Even ten years ago, if you wanted to listen to a sports radio show, the only options available to you were major market radio stations. Every person who wanted to hear a take on the Minnesota Vikings had two or three individuals sounding off on the major issues at hand. Today, there are thousands of podcasts, from those same major market stations to the guy in his basement, all talking about and giving away their unique takes and ideas. The opening up of this opportunity, on the one hand, appears to be the opening up of the market. All of a sudden, competition for listeners has increased exponentially! This should lead to a better product, and I think in some ways it has. The competition has increased, and the quality should, in theory, increase as well. However, the best shows aren’t always going to rise to the top. Why?
Because the audience is not one made up of good listeners. Beethoven is not on the AT40 list because Cardi B’s music is of a higher quality – it’s because the listenership’s ability to discern which is better is not what it once was. (This again, is a really fascinating discussion…but I can’t go too far into it. Basically, when music was only available to the public through radio and live performances, humans’ ears were much more finely tuned to taking in a performance. If they could only listen to their favorite song once a week on a nightly radio show, you can bet they would listen on a much deeper level than we do today. Thus, they were able to pick out the depth in musical construction that exists in great classical works, something you and I struggle to do today unless we are music majors and have studied how to listen to that type of music. Listening to high level music requires intense engagement on the part of the listener. It isn’t for the person who wants to be instantly gratified…easily. You have to work to listen to classical music. This is why it is placed in elevators, too. The body just ‘turns off’ to something it knows it can’t invest in. I’d imagine that in the 1700s, people would have been stuck on elevators more often as they took in a great classical work…just my two cents.).
We lack intelligent, capable, talented, perceptive listeners. At least right now.
Right now, people are consuming things, but they are just consuming what is right in front of them. Thus, it is the show, blog, station, website, etc., that has the most means of paying to have their product in the front of the line that gets the most views. Thus, they get even more advertising money and become even bigger. A worse consequence is that those views are the ones which set the narrative and consequently develop the culture around stories and issues in our country and the world, even if they are less than accurate in many, many ways. It is almost as if, because our world is not a discerning population of discerning listeners, they aren’t doing the work of filtering. They just take in what is placed in front of them and don’t think disciplined or critically about it. So, has competition as the ultimate tool of fairness finally lost? I don’t think so.
I believe that eventually, we will see a breakdown. Eventually, people are going to realize how ridiculous some of the largest voices in media really are. Then, they are going to turn to different sources. By listening to those sources, they will develop a better ‘intelligence’ when it comes to listening, filtering, and discerning. Eventually, this ship will be ‘righted,’ but for now, the smaller, often ‘better’ voices are left speaking to an audience of 20 or 30 people….not 20 or 30 thousand people…( or 20 or 30 million people).
Here is an interesting thinking point to ponder, however, as you think about the process by which people evaluate the voices they hear: what is going to be their ‘standard’ for determining if a ‘take’ is right or wrong? I might just leave that there and let it simmer…..the presuppositionalists in the room can feel empowered.
In closing, I have a few more thoughts. First of all, I think the fact that more people can voice their opinions through social media, blog posts, and podcasts is in fact a good thing. It will raise the game of everyone in this sphere as they fight to rise to the top. Our nation is by far the best in the world in basketball largely because the competitive landscape is much more vast here than in other countries. The same can be said about cross country skiing in Norway. So, the fact that we are sitting down and developing stories, even if only a dozen or so people will see them, does have value and meaning. Not only will it potentially shape those few souls, it also contributes to enhancing the wider scope of journalistic media. However, the growth of the ‘little guys’ trying to churn out quality content is dependent upon an audience capable of receiving it.
This brings me to my final point: work on listening. Try to be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.’ Think about how deeply buried that incredible standard is in our world today? It takes a lot more effort and energy to be a great listener, and if anything will set you apart, it just might be that skill. It takes humbleness, patience, and trust, however, to really cultivate it, because our tendency is to cry out what is on our hearts in order to be helped, fed, nourished, and satisfied. Listening well means to follow the line of reasoning of another person, which means you have to sideline your own opinions and agendas first. As I will tell students in my class: “You have to follow their line of reasoning before judging their line of reasoning.” But, this takes patience – to wait and work to understand what another viewpoint is before you judge it doesn’t fill MY cup. Finally, it takes trust in the other party to allow you, later, to convey your thoughts on the matter. But it is worth it.
What podcasts and shows do you listen to? Why?
What sources do you read? Why? Are they good? By what standard do you determine their quality?
I’d be curious to know….
For what it’s worth….I decided to just type this and post…no proofreading, no editing….we’ll see how many views I get…..