Podcasts: Looking at Literature’s New Future

I love books; they are physical, tangible, wonderfully smelling objects that transport you to a different place, but even as a literature student I find it hard to read for fun in term time - I’m not the only one. Whether you are commuting to work, doing chores, working out, or simply too tired to pick up a "leisurely" book , podcasts have become a popular alternative. After all, they're on demand and always available. Even after a long day, I can stream my favorite podcast and just listen which is something not always possible with a book. But what does this mean for the future of literature?

By now we probably all know what podcasts are. They are usually audio files, but can be presented as videos as well. But, for me, the true value I ascribe to podcasts is their versatility. A podcast can become anything you want it to, they can cover any topics you can think of and they can be executed in whatever form you wanted. But I am not the only one who recognizes their appeal; in fact, podcast consultant Adam Weiss discovered that “over six million people in America listen to podcasts daily.” Broadcast technology and smartphone usage have increased so much that it has permanently changed how we access news, communicate with the world, and even buy and sell products. 

In addition, it has revolutionized how and who accesses information about science, design and research in general. Instead of reading studies online - which frankly can be too costly for the wider audience - podcasts have created a more interactive and engaging way to share new information. There are podcasts like Twenty Thousand Hertz investigating the idea of sound and 99% Invisible which focuses broadly on aspects of design, and there are even podcasts on astrophysics such as Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk. However, it’s not just for adults! NPR has a podcast catered specifically for children called Wow in the World which has drastically changed the listeners' demographics and the way young people acquire knowledge about the world. 

But, podcasts can also allow for more creative freedom. You can mix format, music and location in a podcast to transport the listeners just like a good book is capable of doing. For example, Fashion No Filter brings luxury fashion to your doorstep by recording in places such as a designer’s personal closet or Paris’ most prominent ateliers. The personal and adaptive qualities podcasts require to become successful are what makes these audio files inspire such curiosity in the various topics made available - far more than if these topics were simply written down.  

The influence this form of media has on communication today is that is that it makes language more colloquial, engaging and everlasting. As the hosts uncover the chosen topic, the experience seems almost conversational, breaking the fourth wall constantly. They record a moment in time exactly as it was, preserving the audible aspects of life. The information is not thrown at you or strung out like a mystery, rather it manipulates temporality for both the audience and the speaker in a way books can’t. No matter how fast you type, write or print books, conventional forms of literature will always be restricted to the past, never breaking through time quite the same way. Even though we know podcasts are recorded in the past and are often edited, cut and merged, the sounds, voices and general noise allow them to exist in the present moment every time you click ‘play.’ 

                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo by Mike Willson