Excursions by Amit Gawande

On Podcasts, News and Well-being

I have lately felt hindered by the time I am listening to the same repetitive thoughts from other people on podcasts. Experts talking about, dissecting, the tech news. Or blabbering about something I would not be interested in typically.

I realised it had become a problem when these podcasts kept playing as static noise in the background — irrespective of whether I was working or driving or eating breakfast. In that sense, I agree with CGP Grey’s thoughts on podcasts as he dialled down his consumption on the internet.

But podcasts have taken too much ground in my mind: any moment of idleness can be instantly filled with the thoughts of others.

I firmly believe that boredom is good for brain health, and I’m banishing podcasts for the month from my phone to bring boredom back into my life.

I had cut back on my podcast subscriptions just a week before CGP Grey first talked about his experiment on Hello Internet. And the way, he worded his reasons for why giving up on podcasts was a key part of his experiment to reduction just persuaded me to go ahead with my plan.

So I have 10 subscriptions (down from 35) now, with just 3 technology related podcasts. One releases on Monday, another on Wednesday and the last one on Friday. That’s it, the week’s quota of the technology news is covered. One podcasts is a microcast, arrives on Monday. There four are the only ones that are set to auto-downloads. All the remaining 6 are released without any fixed schedule. I decide whether to listen to them only after I read what they are about and if that interests me.

I have been on this diet plan” of podcasts consumption for at least a month now and I am already observing significant differences. I am listening to music, a lot more, again. My mind has become curious again - there is space for some thought experiments. There are times when I just don’t carry my headphones with me even when I am going to places alone. Anyway, with nothing to listen to, there is no incentive to carry them along. So I either read on my phone or just talk to people around. Surprisingly, I find it a lot better, more effective use of the time.

However, this also means I have some time to fill during my drive to office or the morning/evening runs. To address that, I have renewed my Audible subscription — listening to Audiobooks would at least be better than podcasts. Or so I think, for now.

No-news Experiment

I was also on an experiment 3 months back where I had decided that the only way I would consume news would be via my morning newspaper. And my hypothesis was I would feel a lot less burdened to know what’s going on and so be a bit more focused on the work at the hand.

As an extension, I had also uninstalled all the related apps. No Twitter. No news apps. No notifications from social apps (Messages, WhatsApp). The idea was it is just better to stay away from the temptation to check what’s going on.

I am glad that I have following the set rules for 3 months now and I thought it would be right moment to update on that experiment.

It indeed is a not less burdensome to be away from the news. I do not think I have missed anything major or urgent in these last few months. Newspaper provides me with the detailed reporting and not just blurbs. Opinion pieces provide better context on the important ones. The useless news, whose whole purpose is to satisfy the need for the news website or TV channels to keep reporting” something, anything new, get filtered out by the editors. After all, there is a limited pace to fill in the pages on the printed paper.

So I am no longer bludgeoned with a constant stream of everything that’s negative. With that, I think there is a lot less crap in the world than I was made to believe.

Is it bad out there? Sure. But at least I ain’t bogged down by the insignificant drivel that the world is full of.

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