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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Eaton: The podcast revolution

How disembodied voices are getting me through the pandemic.

As Minnesota enters a new era of COVID-19 restrictions, I can’t help but reflect on the last nine or so months during which many of our lives have changed dramatically. If you told me a year ago that I would be completing the first semester of my final year of college entirely online via Zoom, I probably would have laughed in your face (and then asked what “Zoom” was). Now, I often dread the thought of staring at my computer screen all day instead of attending in-person lectures. I even miss the awkward silence of having a professor ask a question and not receive an answer — it’s somehow worse over Zoom. But most of all, I crave the time when my eyes didn’t ache at the end of the day, and my screen time report at the end of the week regularly stayed below a few hours.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the balance of our lives. Too much screen time, too little social time. We get college classes without the opportunity to easily form connections with our peers and professors and work meetings without the chance to maintain coworker relationships through small talk. But, we are resilient. As the world slowed to a halt mid-March of 2020, there was one area of the world that didn’t pump the breaks: podcasts. Podcast consumption across the world significantly increased in March, though the United States saw a decline. Many U.S. consumers listened to podcasts during morning commutes, but the shutdown caused listener numbers to drop when that morning routine was interrupted. But by June of 2020, consumption numbers increased back to where they started, though the listening locations had changed dramatically.

I used to be an avid consumer of online news publications. Now, after a day of online readings, lectures, quizzes and homework assignments, the last thing I want to do is stare at my screen just to learn what’s going on in the world. And so enters the podcast. Podcasts are, arguably, the perfect medium and news platform for a pandemic world. They’re flexible, ranging dramatically in length and topic, so there’s truly something for everyone. And as you listen to a podcast over time, the host becomes more than a disembodied voice. You form a connection and come to understand their personality and tendencies. To an extent, it helps with the absence of social interaction that many of us have been struggling to fill.

Best of all, you don’t have to look at yet another screen. Personally, I like to listen to my podcasts while I’m working out or on a walk. The variety of podcasts available to choose from vastly supersedes the amount of content available on video streaming sites like Netflix, and they range in time from a quick five- or 10-minute catch-up to two-hour-long productions.

In this uber-visual world, it can be hard to find time to go screenless. And now, when social interaction comes at a potentially high cost, sometimes screens are our only tie to the friends, family and coworkers we used to see every day. Try listening to a podcast, and give your eyes (and mind) a break from the hectic, stressful world we live in.

Never listened to a podcast before and don’t know where to begin? The Opinions Desk has you covered.

I recommend “Crime Junkie” for a dose of personality and some bone-chilling stories or Code Switch” to learn about how race impacts every facet of the world we know (it sounds heavy, but it’s amazing).

Other recommendations include “My Favorite Murder” for more true crime, “The Daily” for a deep dive into the news story of the day, “Revisionist History” (because who doesn’t love Malcolm Gladwell?) and “Where Should We Begin?” for human vulnerabilities at their finest.

And, of course, the Minnesota Daily’s podcasts, “In the Know” and “The Weekly Rundown.”

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