“Note to Self”: A podcast that revived my love of podcasts

I've been listening to podcasts for a "long" time. I remember, back in 2004 or so, walking to work at the Home Depot, listening to IT Conversations, and discovering such interesting and brilliant people as Clay Shirky, and Lawrence Lessig, among others. Indeed, IT Conversations was my TED, before I knew anything about TED.

In that period, of the mid-2000s, I was primed for ideas about information technology; not just about the latest this or that, but the big ideas, about the role of technology now, and our choices about where to go from here. I think this kind of fascination thrived while I was working in an environment, The Home Depot, that gave me very little in the way of inspiration.

At some point, my podcasts list shifted somewhat, perhaps as more organizations discovered the medium, and I began to listen to programs from the CBC including, notably, Spark, Ideas, and White Coat, Black Art. At some point, White Coat went on hiatus or disappeared, so it left the list. I began to listen to Ideas less and less, partly because I began finding fewer and fewer moments in my week where I felt I had the capacity, or interest, to engage with a deep, and often profound topic over the better part of an hour.

Spark retained my interest for a long time. Indeed, even as it shifted from a half-hour format to an hour, I found its conversational, inquisitive style engaging, and its focus on living well with technology just what I was looking for. And, yet, for a reason I can't recall, it too fell off my list.

Most recently, I have largely been listening to podcasts consisting of shallow babble about the latest trends in technology, interspersed with a weekly dose of the National's At Issue podcast, and the occasion taste of Philosophy Bites.

I also subscribe to a number of podcasts about books, stories, and writing which, it turns out, I never listen to. Which may say something...

I've also taken to watching TED talks on the AppleTV in the morning, while eating breakfast (when time and responsibilities allow). I imagine this has as much, as anything, to do with my gradual move away from podcasts. There was something about sitting down and watching that was appealing, and my increasingly scattered brain gravitated to the visual anchor, as limited as it was. Audio podcasts still have their place, particularly as something to listen to while doing various household tasks.

Yesterday, I was looking for something to listen to while I was working around the house and baking some banana bread. I pulled up my list of subscribed podcasts on our Apple TV. I glanced at the usual suspects I have been listening to...and found nothing that caught my attention. I hummed and hawed about picking the best of what seemed like a boring lot, but I just couldn't decide on something I could tolerate.

Just when I was about to give up, and put some music on instead, I decided to search for something new. Initially, I considered trying to find something inspiring about open source technology, but what I found seemed like it was either more technical or less "big picture" than I was looking for.

As I broadened my search for technology podcasts and had just about given up, I came across one called, Note to Self. This intrigued me as, in my head, I tried to unpack what it might be about. As I looked through the episode list, I saw what appeared to be episodes both interesting and practical, a very humanist perspective on a tech podcast. And, indeed, on at least one episode, I heard the show's host, Manoush Zomorodi, describe it as "The tech show about being human."

As I began to listen to more episodes, it occurred to me that Note to Self was about exactly what I wanted it to be about: How to live in our increasingly technological and info-centric world, and enjoy the benefits of that information and technology, without losing sight of what is important about being human.

In many ways, Note to Self reminded me of Spark: Both shows featured interesting people and ideas, and both engaged my mind in a way that felt just right. But where Spark was great for opening my mind to new ideas, Note to Self presented ideas in a more practical context. As Manoush pointed out, in discussing the change of the show's name:

"This show is a place where we find solutions together, both high and low tech ... We're not just talking literal notes. We're here to do more experiments, stories, and reminders about how we can live and think better in an era of information overload."

That's not to say I never got a practical idea from Spark, but rather that Spark is a bigger morsel for my brain, and a different experience to listen to. It creates the same joy in my brain, but it also leaves more loose ends...and takes longer to listen to. And Note to Self prompted me to find Spark again. I subscribed, listened to my first episode in a while, and it's just as delicious as I remember it.

Now, in the spirit of rekindling my love of podcasts, I've reworked my list. While I have kept my subscriptions to Ideas, White Coat, At Issue and Philosophy Bites, I've ditched the tech babble podcasts, as well as most of the books and writing ones.

I've been struggling a lot with the feeling of being overloaded, like I can't accomplish what I want. One of the things I've been wanting to do, is to put fewer things in front of me that don't add value to my life, or don't help me move closer to my goals. I feel like rethinking, and appreciating, the joy of podcasts is one more step in that direction