Since the appearance of Serial (a non-fiction investigation podcast series) in 2014, podcasts have skyrocketed in popularity. Last year alone Spotify spent over $400m on podcast content and distribution companies, and according to Music Oomph there are now over 700,000 podcasters and more than 29 million episodes available.
I’m a big fan of podcasts, I probably spend at least five or six hours listening to them a week, which is apparently pretty average. I would say I spend more time listening to music, whether it’s when I’m studying, commuting or trying to sleep.
But what about the people who listen to more hours of podcasts? In an article on The Cut, author Sirena Bergman said she listens to 35 hours of podcasts a week, in probably most of the situations where I would be listening to music.
So, are podcasts good for your health?
Well, maybe not. According to some research, silence is beneficial to Hippocampus cell development. The Hippocampus being the part of your brain that deals with memory, emotion, and the nervous system.
Our brains need time to absorb and process information, said professor of communication Michael Grabowski, “That’s something that we do in silence, by actively disengaging from digital technology and focusing on the physical world around us.”
However, the opinion of publicist Kara Silverman is podcasts are a healthier alternative to the “junk food” of YouTube and TV. “Podcasts feel like a way to educate myself, a positive use of my time,” she said, “so I don’t really think about the possibility that I’m spending too long listening.”
It seems that although we think of podcasts as a passively consumed media, it engages your brain and becomes a conscious effort to listen. This means that when we begin another activity, as most of us do, while listening to a podcast, we are essentially forcing our brain to multitask. This can be detrimental to our productivity in the task we are completing, and impede the intake of information from the podcast.
But in our modern society, silence can be a scary idea too. In one study in 2015, they found that sudden silence was as much of a stressor as sound. They also found that the complete absence of sound made mice more alert rather than calm. This could be because, in a wild environment, the experience of complete silence would be so irregular that the animal would be more alert for what might happen next.
Silence is said to be good for our imagination, our understanding and processing of information, and an important part of our lives. But if you’re anything like me you’ll probably sulk if you forget your earphones on a long bus ride.