As new technologies continue to rush into our lives, it is critical that we ask ourselves how they will affect us, and how we can use them for our greatest benefit.
For the past few years, we’ve been doing that somewhat successfully with smartphones and social media.
Today many people know that, if used excessively, those technologies can have a negative impact on our mood, productivity, and life satisfaction. As we became aware of their harm, we started devising systems and tactics to avoid abusing them.
But what about podcasts?
Somehow, they have flown under the radar of technology critics. There seems to be an underlying assumption that more podcast consumption is always good.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that podcasts are amazing.
Thanks to podcasts, we can listen to the smartest people on the planet talk right into our ears, for hours. And it’s (mostly) free!
It’s safe to say that some podcasts significantly improved my life.
But can you reach a point where you listen to podcasts too much?
I think I reached that point.
I used to fill every empty moment with other people’s voices in my head.
Brushing my teeth…Walking outside…Cleaning the house…Working out…Folding clothes…Driving…
Every day, we can easily fill all these seemingly void moments with podcasts.
But should we?
On the surface, it seems that the answer is a loud and clear YES!
“I’m just going through the motions, I might as well learn something. Why wouldn’t I?”
WHY LIMIT PODCAST LISTENING?
Podcasts are tricky.
You only need to put on your headphones, and you can listen to them at all times.
While listening, you get the dopamine rush that comes with the feeling of learning and using time productively.
On top of that, the never-ending stream of new enticing episodes can create a fear of missing out on great content.
In that way, it’s easy to see why some people (like myself) can become addicted to podcasts. They are always available and seem to provide all upside with no downsides.
However, podcasts deprive us of some rare and much needed quiet moments in our modern lives.
As humans, we evolved for most of our history in silence.
Until the invention of the radio in the early 1900s, humans mostly spent their time hearing the sounds of nature and of other people around them. Other than that, people spent time in silence, with their thoughts and emotions.
Allowing thoughts and emotions to come up, silence lets your conscious mind connect with the far more powerful and intelligent subconscious, producing a number of benefits.
When feeling low, being in silence, and facing one’s emotions is particularly uncomfortable.
That’s why on-demand distractions (such as TV, social media, video games, and drugs) can be so attractive and addictive. In that sense, podcasts can become another distraction to avoid dealing with our unpleasant emotions.
Distractions are the painkillers of emotional pain.
In the short term, it feels better to get distracted. You treat the symptom, numb the pain.
Yet, if you never treat the root cause, the problem will get worse. In the long term, suppressing emotions can have drastic repercussions on mental and physical well-being.
On the other hand, in silence, as thoughts and emotions bubble up from your unconscious, you are forced to become aware of them. In doing so, you can process them in a healthy way.
What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. You are always a slave to what you’re not aware of.
– Anthony De Mello
This partially explains why meditation is so beneficial.
In the silence of meditation, you let the truth about yourself come up. You get in touch with your deepest Self and understand how your mind works. As a result, you become more mentally stable, less affected by fleeting thoughts and emotions.
SILENCE IS ALSO LINKED TO BETTER PHYSICAL HEALTH.
While most of these studies focus on noise from traffic or construction, some research also points to negative effects induced by in-home sounds such as TV, loud music, and appliances.
These effects seem to be explained by the fact that noise triggers the brain’s fight or flight response, causing a release of cortisol and adrenaline, two main stress hormones.
SILENCE AND CREATIVITY
If you are a creative person, you might think:
“This doesn’t apply to me. I need to consume as many inputs as possible to form connections and come up with new ideas”.
That might seem true at first, but don’t forget that most people get their most brilliant ideas when they let their minds wander, free from distractions.
Derek Sivers, one of the most creative people out there wrote:
“Silence is a great canvas for your thoughts. That vacuum helps turn all of your inputs into output.”
It’s no coincidence that nowadays most people report having their best ideas in the shower. That’s one of the few places we still allow ourselves to be alone with our thoughts.
Your creative genius resides in the unconscious mind. To harness it, you must create quiet space to listen to it.
HOW TO ALLOW MORE SILENCE
I still struggle with this.
I think I’m addicted to podcasts.
I recently started to consciously ”schedule” some times to listen to them, and allow the rest for silence.
For example, listening to podcasts makes me enjoy working out, so I’ll usually listen to podcasts then (as a reward). But while doing other activities that I used to combine with podcasts, I just keep quiet.
At first, silence will be really uncomfortable.
On top of the unpleasant thoughts and feelings that may show up, you could feel unproductive doing your laundry or cleaning your house without a podcast on.
But here’s the trick:
You can use every empty moment as an opportunity to be mindful.
No matter what you are doing, you can focus on the sensations in your body and observe thoughts coming and going.
Every time you feel an urge to get your phone and start a podcast, use that as a mindfulness bell, a reminder to be mindful.
Simply observe the urge and come back to your activity.
Your mind will thank you.
Mindfulness is one of the most “productive” activities you can engage in.
Better than any podcast.
Final Note on Music:
I made podcasts the focus of this essay, but music can also be seen similarly.
I love music, it’s great, it can lift my mood, help me relax, etc… But listening to music all the time can also become a distraction from our deepest thoughts and emotions, depriving us of the few quiet moments in our modern lives.
Previously Published on giorgiop.com