Tuning In Or Out

Riding up to the office in the elevator last week a friend of mine asked me if I ever listened to RadioLab. The answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” But when he started hashing over the most recent episode and he saw my eyes glaze over, I had to tell him I just don’t listen on a regular basis. He asked me why not.

The answer is longer than the seven floors of our elevator ride. And I’ve been thinking about it now for a good few days, so seems like decent fodder for a post.

RadioLab, if you haven’t listened to it before, is probably the closest to a TV program I’ve ever come on the radio. The lead voiceovers weave in and out of background sound and general sound effects in such a way as to make it nearly impossible NOT to start visualizing what you’re hearing come out of your radio speakers. Apart from the actual presentation, the subject matter is always solid too.

So why don’t I listen more often if I’m such a fan?

Well, the truth is that there’s a lot of really good stuff out there. Except for the one month of soccer’s World Cup in 2002 I’ve never had cable living out here in Minnesota. And I haven’t lived with a TV set since 2006. So it wasn’t until I let the iTunes store overwhelm me that I realized just how much there is you could miss if you don’t pay attention.

My weekly podcast downloads–some were daily–included news (ScienceFriday, NPR Story of the Day and World Story of the Day, On the Media), politics (Meet the Press, It’s All Politics), cable (Bill Maher’s Real Time), culture (This American Life, Speaking of Faith, TED) and more. That’s a lot of content. There was never anyone handing me an assignment to listen to all of those programs, let alone every installation of them. And yet, if I spent the time downloading it, I generally felt I owed it to myself–even the show’s producers–to do so.

Can you start to see why it’s a good idea I don’t have a DVR [were I to own a TV]?

At some point, it became clear that trying to keep up was bringing me down. Less enjoyment per minute of each podcast. Less free time spent talking with my family. Less nighttime with my nose in a book.

About a year ago, those reasons above made it clear I had to start detaching from all that content. I’ve kept up with It’s All Politics and Bill Maher. Every so often a TED clip finds its way onto my Pod or Pad. But I’ve stopped pulling in the rest.

I know I’m missing something I could put to good use–whether at the office or kvatching with friends and family. But I don’t miss feeling stressed about getting through all that content every week. It really was an example of the Law of Diminishing Returns.


2 thoughts on “Tuning In Or Out

  1. Over the course of my education and career, I have been exposed to similar overloads and over the years have had to develop ways to cope. I have not limited my intake. Instead, I figured out how to scan and dwell only on the items of true import. I found that walking away from entire content streams deprived me off stuff I really needed to absorb……

    • Totally get the feeling that I’m missing out on stuff that I need to absorb. For both work, personal interest and family. And yet there’s simply too much out there to be able to absorb it all, no matter if I actually had taken that speed reading course in high school. Yup, still regretting not having done so! 🙂
      I’m sure there’s a better, more up-to-date stat out there but I don’t have it handy. But for one example, look at how much video is uploaded to YouTube every minute: 24 hours (http://mashable.com/2010/03/17/youtube-24-hours/).
      Also of interest, and on-topic: NPR had a similarly-themed story as my post. No connection, I’m sure, but good food for thought. Even though by linking it here I’m adding even more to the volume of content fit for digestion: http://www.npr.org/2011/02/20/133748222/media-black-hole-so-much-news-that-well-implode.

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