February 15, 2010

Sophisticated Taste

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Normally this here column is all about music. But lately my ears have been a bit preoccupied with a different type of listening. Namely, podcasts. Yes, those audio files that are just like what’s on the radio (heck most of them are even aired on the radio first!), except since they have a snazzy name, I sound slightly erudite or nerdy, take your pick, when I say that I’m listening to podcasts. Well, these podcasts I speak of have been distracting me from keeping tabs on the music scene as I usually do. Instead, I’ve been busy filling the space between my ears with interesting stories and funny anecdotes and culture news and game shows. I. Just. Can’t. Get. Enough.

But what is it about these podcasts that have got me hooked? Up until last June I never used to be able to pay attention to simple talk radio. A ten-minute sound byte of everything newsworthy on 1010 Wins was too long to keep me from getting antsy. But just like the snap of two fingers, I suddenly became really, really good at listening to voices unaccompanied by music. Just plain old talking that happens to stream through my computer. While I am fully aware that podcasts are no great invention –– just the same thing that’s been broadcast over radio airwaves for nearly one hundred years –– the fact that I can download them at my disposal on iTunes makes me feel so advanced when listening. But let me be honest, most of the podcasts I listen to come from PRI or NPR, and you won’t be shocked by the fact that the “R” in both of those acronyms stands for Radio –– advanced, I think not.

While I’m willing to acknowledge that outside of my Justine-is-technologically-slow-bubble, listening to podcasts is the equivalent of taking about fifteen communication steps into yester-century, I still feel super hip every time I finish an episode. It’s an unmatched sense of look-how-cool-I-am, I’ve done absolutely nothing, but since I’ve sat numbly by, absorbing prose read out loud, I’m with it. But in reality land, it’s much to the contrary. The shows I’ve slowly become obsessed with have been broadcasting for years… years and years before podcasts came along. So why at the ripe age of twenty-two am I just figuring out that they exist (in their least original form, nonetheless)? And even worse, why do I find them so satisfying that I’ve been putting my latest indie British imports on hold to hear them?

I think the answer is two fold.

One, is my parents. While I love them dearly and hold their educations in high esteem, I think they are the only white-upper-middle-class couple mildly interested in the arts who never listened to National Public Radio a day in their lives. Therefore, as a child growing up under their roof, neither did I. In fact, I only recently learned about National Public Radio via the television. It was when I was flipping through channels and stumbled upon Ira Glass hosting his made-for-TV version of This American Life on Showtime. Now if that isn’t a way to learn about a radio show, I don’t know what is.

Second, is me. I’ve been joking to my friends for a few months now that I’m an old hag. I’ve been on this campus for more than three years, long enough to know my favorite restaurants and bars and cafés around Ithaca, and in a few months time I’ll be off to other lands to do less exciting things than bum around the 14850. But with this impending departure comes the realization that I’m getting a bit older and, dare I say, more sophisticated. I am starting to become that white-upper-middle-class demographic of NPR listener that my parents never were. Although I think I’m blooming early into my newly acquired old age, I’m quickly opening up to this whole learning-about-random-factoids-in-my-free-time thing that old people and NPR listeners alike generally enjoy doing.

As a music obsessive, must-listen-to-every-mp3-reasonably-possible-and-sometimes-unreasonably-possible, the last few months have been the very first time in my life where I have found that there is something to hear besides the sounds of rock. More shocking, what I’ve been hearing, I’ve sometimes been enjoying more that when the music industry has had to offer me. Of course, I’m not giving up my music collection anytime soon. I think the neat, little point that I’d like to make is that you never know when you’re ears will like something, so make sure you’ve got them open wide all them time.

Original Author: Justine Fields