child with large headphones on

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Kerry Crowley works in media and is an avid consumer of movies, television, and podcasts alike!

A few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened: my wireless headphones broke. I was stepping onto the train after work, minding my own business, when suddenly the podcast I was listening to cut out completely. After multiple attempts to restart, reconnect, and reconfigure my phone, I eventually gave up; time of death: 5:58 PM. With a sigh, I grumpily settled in for my long, silent commute home.

Like many others in their mid-twenties, I am an avid consumer of podcasts; from comedy to true crime, from scripted series to daily news, I listen to them all. One of the first sounds I hear in the morning is the soothing voice of Michael Barbaro; no trip to the gym or grocery store would be complete without the latest in fringe science from Oh No! Ross and Carrie; even in the evenings, I am lulled to sleep by the marital disputes of Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher. These shows and voices are inextricably linked to some of my fondest young adult memories — most notably, I will never forget completing my first-ever mountain climb while hearing the hosts of How Did This Get Made? debate the merits of Grease 2. (A flawless film by any estimation).

To be fair, this borderline overconsumption of audio is a habit I adopted long before the rise of the podcast; one of my earliest childhood memories involves listening to the Horton Hears a Who! soundtrack on repeat for hours and hours on end (much to the chagrin of my older sister.) From my boom box to the car and beyond, our household was in a constant state of Horton. Still, podcasts offer elements unique from the soundtracks I devoured as a child: they are more personal, more focused on my specific interests, and (if done right) demand one’s full attention. They provide the listener to dive deep into a topic, to get lost in it, and to discover something new — however absurd or profound — along the way.

So you can imagine my dismay that fateful day last month when I realized the familiar voices in my ear would not be joining me on my commute. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was completely alone with my thoughts. It was a foreign and frightening sensation, being alone with myself for that long. Naturally, I panicked. My mind started going a mile a minute, making one to-do list after another and reliving an embarrassing moment from earlier that day over and over again. Suddenly I was in a spiral of unpleasant memories, spanning back to my 6th grade choir concert and beyond.

In that moment, I realized why I reached for podcasts as often as I did: I was using their conversations and stories to drown out the noise going on in my own head. As a person who cannot so much as order a pizza without overthinking every step of the journey, I find myself in constant pursuit of any sort of brain break. I am not alone in this feeling. In a world of complete overstimulation, podcasts can be a safe harbor to destress and recharge. Regardless of the content within the podcast itself, the sheer presence of other voices in the room allows me to immerse myself in a different world and thereby become more comfortable in my own.

Of course, with any benefit that comes from media consumption, one must also acknowledge the risks of overdoing it. My podcast-withdrawal that day on the train was my tip off that I was leaning too heavily on podcasts to mask my reality; I was intentionally ignoring what was stressing me out by injecting my ears with something louder. At that point, I knew it was time to cut back. Since then, I have made a point to be more mindful of my own thoughts throughout the day and to regularly touch base with how I am feeling. Before pressing play on a podcast to cover up what might be happening, I work to first step back and reflect on how I can address my concerns on my own. To be clear, my days of listening to podcasts are far from over; the difference is that now I can be confident that I am tuning in for all the right reasons.

So Siri, go ahead and queue This American Life.

-Kerry Crowley
-edited by Sarah Wolfson
-photo by César Astudillo on Flickr

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