DRMacIver's Notebook

Trivial irritations as inhibiting factors

Trivial irritations as inhibiting factors

Historically speaking, I hate podcasts. I could tell you all sorts of reasons why they don't work for me as a medium - auditory processing issues, the fact that I don't really like receiving information in a spoken format, etc.

I've also listened to a lot of podcasts in the last week, and it turns out all of those reasons were wrong, and the actual reason that I didn't like podcasts was that I didn't own wireless headphones.

It turns out that I think podcasts as a medium are fine. They're not great. I very much don't think they're the ideal medium for many things. But there's a lot of good information available in podcast form, so by picking out the ones that work best for me it's relatively easy to get reasonable benefit out of podcasts.

In order to take advantage of that benefit though two things need to hold true:

  1. There can't be something I'd rather be doing with that time.
  2. The cost of listening to the podcast has to be smaller than the benefit, otherwise listening to it is a net negative.

So for example for (1) podcasts are a good thing to listen to in otherwise "dead" time. e.g. doing chores, during exercise, etc. because they're a good thing for occupying attention then that I wouldn't otherwise be using if that's what I want. This was always true and the benefits of them for that were always present.

But also listening to podcasts on speakers or wired headphones is just that little bit too annoying. Wired headphones to a phone in my pocket during exercise is very annoying - it constrains my movement, there's a risk of the headphones being pulled out, etc. The result was that prior to having wireless headphones it was always just a little bit too irritating for me to listen to podcasts. As a result, having wireless headphones takes the cost-benefit of podcasts from mildly negative to mildly positive.

This, it turns out, is actually a bigger deal than it sounds, because once the cost-benefit analysis is positive I can start to properly get into it. I've even (gasp) listened to podcasts on wired headphones and it was mostly fine, because I'd already done the work to get into it. So I think in the end the cost-benefit analysis of podcasts will be moderately positive - still not my favourite medium, but something I get a fair bit out of it.

None of my original objections were wrong exactly - they're still all things that I expect mean that podcasts will never be my favourite thing, but they were slightly missing the point because what I needed was to overcome a trivial irritation that I didn't realise was there rather than to make podcasts work better for me.