Go back in time

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The podcast column

Recently, I deleted all the podcasts off my phone. Then I deleted my podcast app.

I’m not quitting podcast listening — far from it, I seem to be getting through more episodes than ever — nor am I about to become like that annoying man who threw all his electronic devices in the bin and moved to the woods but somehow keeps writing in the Guardian about how great his life is now.

No: I’m just rewinding a bit, back to about 2007. Before I had a smartphone, when I had an iPod. I used the desktop version of iTunes to browse, download and manage my podcasts, and then I loaded the episodes I wanted to listen to onto my iPod. I used to sync it every couple of days to refresh it with new downloads and to clear out the ones I had already listened to.

I liked this way of doing things. Having a huge hard drive at my disposal, as opposed to a tiny amount of phone storage, allowed me to keep as many episodes as I wanted after I had listened to them. I used to make playlists of favourite episodes on particular themes — a practice I’m now reviving with the Sunday letters you would be getting from me if you became a paying member. As annoying as iTunes is as a piece of software (why do you move all the menus every update, Apple, why??), moving my podcasts around inside it nourished my deep love of databases and archives.

And then, like everyone else, I got a smartphone and fell into the “it’s just more convenient if this is your one device that you use for everything” trap. I lost my beloved iPod Classic in a house move and by then, Apple had stopped making them, so I didn’t replace it. Podcasts became just another thing jostling for space on my phone, which I would periodically have to delete in order to receive an email.

A few months ago, the podcast app that I had been using (AntennaPod, if anyone wants to avoid it) inexplicably wiped itself clean one day. I opened it, and everything was gone: all my subscriptions, all my downloaded episodes, the lot. With the help of some excellent people on Twitter, I mostly recreated several years of subscribing and downloading in Pocket Casts, only to have to do this again not long after because I dropped that phone in the sink and it drowned. (No, I do not back my phone up in the cloud, I probably should but deep down I believe it’s just yet another way for Silicon Valley to spy on me.)

The final straw came when I was assigned a book called How To Break Up With Your Smartphone for a magazine piece, which you can read here. I followed the steps in that book to reduce my reliance on my phone a bit, which has naturally led to me using it less — according to the monitoring app I now have on there, I’m down from 3+ hours a day to about 1.5. I recommend installing one even if you aren’t trying to use your phone less, as it throws up some fascinating data about your usage patterns. (I’m using Offtime on Android, and presumably there are iOS ones too.)

That’s all fine, except that my phone was also my podcast-listening device. How was I supposed to follow the book’s advice and keep my phone in another room when I wasn’t using it as, um, a phone, and still keep up with all my shows? After a week or so of being grumpy about this, I realised the solution was to return to my old ways.

I found an iPod Classic on eBay for about £80. I plugged it into my laptop and spent a very enjoyable hour resurrecting my iTunes podcast database, and then synced my shows. That was a few weeks ago now, and I don’t miss my podcast app at all. Nothing against the app — Pocket Casts is very good — but with the iPod I can’t get distracted and go on Twitter when all I actually wanted to do when I picked the phone up was press play on the new episode of The Allusionist.

This reminded me of something Lauren Shippen said in the interview I ran a few Tuesdays ago, about how because you usually download a podcast in advance of listening to it, they’re often a good break from our always-on multi-tasking way of life. Using a device that can’t actually connect to the internet is just taking this one step further. I’ve definitely noticed that I’m getting through more episodes a week (presumably because I’m doing less pausing to watch a pointless video on Facebook) and that I’m remembering more about them, too. Essentially, it’s a better quality of listening.

So, that’s my advice for you this week: put your phone in a drawer and go back in time.

The podcast recommend

Darrin Z writes:

“I remember watching Logan’s Run on cable when I was about 16 years old. It blew my mind and I thought it was one of the greatest movies ever. I watched it 10 years later and realised how bad it was. This podcast is a group of twenty-somethings that review movies from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Sometimes I laugh and agree, some times I grab a nearby cane and shake it at the internet yelling ‘Get off my lawn!’.”

Do you have a podcast you’ve been listening to that you’re burning to recommend to someone? Tell me about it! I’ve set up an easy submission form here where you can do that. With your permission, I’ll include the best recommendations in a future edition of the newsletter.

The podcast links

  1. Want To Make A Living As a Podcaster? This Entrepreneur Is Pulling It OffForbes (I’m very not sure about his ‘virtual assistant’ business, though, hmmm).

  2. Some great points about The Nod and Bodega Boys hereConstant Listener

  3. Tour Marc Maron’s Garage Before He and His Podcast MoveNew York Times

  4. Stop The Madness & Start Putting Your Podcast First Right NowFirm Voice

  5. Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman’s New REM Podcast is as Wonderfully Weird as They’ve Ever BeenIndiewire