Spend any time with me and a phrase you're likely to hear (other than "How can the dishwasher be full already?") is "I heard [insert fascinating fact] on a podcast".
According to the fittingly named Podcast Addict phone app, I’ve spent 31 days and 22 hours listening to podcasts over the past couple of years, which includes 15 hours and 16 minutes last week alone.
That doesn't mean I spent my leisure time staring at a wall with my ears wide open. It means I spent 15 hours and 16 minutes cooking, tidying, putting on my make-up, driving and, yes, dealing with the dishwasher, while accompanied by the spoken word. It’s just like listening to the radio – any task that would otherwise require me to listen to my own thoughts can be carried out while I listen to other people’s.
What is a podcast?
It’s a form of on-demand audio media. Many people, at least in the UK, seem to think that podcasts are simply radio shows you download from the BBC website. Well, some are, but you’re missing out if that’s the extent of your podcast experience. The majority are made specifically as podcasts, usually as part of a series, and are researched, recorded and produced for listeners to access via their computer, tablet or phone. You can download individual episodes to listen to when you want, or you can stream them if you have a reliable wifi connection.
Episodes can be any length, from 5 minutes to (in rare cases) a couple of hours. Most on my playlist are between 20 and 50 minutes long – again, like a radio show.
Anyone can produce and upload a podcast although, believe me, the quality varies. BBC domination aside, I generally find American podcasts to be much more engaging and professional than British ones - the Radiotopia suite springs to mind. A downside is that most podcasts keep stopping for adverts from their ‘sponsors’, which is a bit tedious if you’re used to the ad-free BBC or Netflix. But apparently UK listeners like me are happy to put up with such ads, as long as the podcasts remain free to access and the ads are relevant to the subjects being discussed. (Some podcast presenters put their own entertaining spin on the ads they’re asked to read, integrating the ads with the show itself – thus reducing the chances of the listener skipping forward to deliberately miss yet another plug for Squarespace or MeUndies or ZipRecruiter.) (Apparently brand recognition works.)
Who listens to podcasts?
Well, who watches TV or plays football? Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. Recent(ish) statistics suggest that 40% of the American population has listened to a podcast, although in Britain it’s only 24% – perhaps fans of the spoken word in this country are diverted by BBC Radio 4 or Five Live, though in the US, NPR seems offer a parallel service to that of the BBC in the UK.
Some research suggests podcast listeners are ‘loyal, affluent and educated’ – and not necessarily young. I know a man in his mid-70s who likes nothing better than to plug in his headphones for some introvert time with the latest episode of his favourite science show.
Far from being the latest newfangled fad, podcasts are really pretty mainstream. They've been around for quite a while by today’s technology standards, gaining momentum in 2004 to the extent that ‘podcast’ was declared 'word of the year' by the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005. There’s even an International Podcast Day™ on 30 September. No wonder the advertisers are so keen to jump on board.
What can podcasts be about?
Part of that mainstream appeal comes from having more than 250,000 different podcast series to choose from (and those are outdated 2015 figures). Inevitably, content covers almost any subject you can think of. A recent iTunes chart indicates that British listeners are most likely to download podcasts in the genres of sport, news/politics and comedy (all usually produced by the ubiquitous BBC). Sport and politics not being topics on which I wish to spend my leisure time, I subscribe to 13 of the top 100 podcasts listed, which is not many considering I follow nearly 50 overall but quite a lot considering how many thousands of series I could choose to hear.
What (other) podcasts do I like?
These days, I never listen to the radio, or watch ‘live’ TV for that matter. For me, the appeal of on-demand media is the ability to control the content. I generally listen to factual or autobiographical shows. In the mood for on-stage anecdotes? Play The Moth or Mortified. Hungry? Play The Sporkful. Fasting? Play The Obesity Code. Fancy a bit of contemporary socioeconomic theory (and who doesn’t)? Play Freakonomics.
I'm a novel-reading dervish but perhaps I’ve just not discovered a decent fiction podcast yet – most scripted shows are ‘docudrama’ style, often based on the discoveries of a (fictional) investigative reporter, a trope that gets tiresome pretty quickly. The ones that involve real acting are even worse – country house murder mystery Deadly Manners may feature the fabulous (and fabulously different) talents of Kristen Bell, Ru Paul and Denis O’Hare but even that stellar cast couldn’t actually make it any good.
OK but how does this tie in with editing?
It doesn’t, directly. I just love podcasts.
You might have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any shows that are specifically aimed at, or about, editing the written word. That’s partly because I’ve not found one I want to listen to. If that's what you're looking for, my SfEP colleague John Espirian has some suggestions, as has The Bookseller here and here. My favourite shows are not obviously related to my profession but, in my opinion, are just as immersed in narrative, structure and storytelling. I'll describe some of those in more detail in my next post (Episode 2, in podcast parlance, and, yes, it will include That One).
Here are some ways my listening habit influences my work.
Become a podcast addict like me
In my next post (Episode 2), I’ll recommend my top ‘loosely related to language’ podcasts. And then, in the post after that (Episode 3; I did warn you I’m obsessed with podcasts), I’ll recommend other shows that I simply enjoy.
Inspired? You can usually listen online via the source website or, if you’re away from your computer, download an app (there are lots) for your phone or tablet and subscribe to whatever takes your fancy. Simply Google a subject you’re interested in, along with the word ‘podcast’, and off you go.
As an example, I just tried typing ‘ukulele podcast’ and found OokTown, which has more than 60 intriguingly titled episodes...
Excuse me, I’m just off to empty the dishwasher.
I'm going to type this post without going back for corrections. That means typos, soelling mistakes and badly expressed sentences will all be left instacvt (that was supposed to read 'intact'). I'm a pretty fast typer (typist?) this days but that foens't mean I'm accurate so i do spend a lot of time deleting or retreating back to where I was to correct the typo wit its little red wavy line that's, well, waving at me. There are four so far, plus another typos that (oh, five) that hasn't been fagged (six!) flaggrd up because they are actual words that are spelled (spelt? which is also a type of flour so I'm not sure why that's been underlined) correcty (correctly) but of course are wrong in this context. If I were (was?) writing this in Word (whch I'm not) then running a spellcheck without reading through it manually (I think that's a sexit word (! sexist, obviously - sexit isn't an appropriate word for this post) but there are few gender-neutral equivalents) (Where was I?) running a spellcheck without reading through it myself would only pick up, what, 85% of the errors and of course also wouldn't flag up these long, rambling sentences and the glut of brackets that, some might say, make the text difficult to read.
Another thng I can't do in theis post is go back to restructure sentences or put in additional thoughts. Which now makes me wary that I've started this new train of though too early. Perhaps I should have developed the idea of how spellcheck isn't enough (hmm. shoulf I vapitalise / capitalise 'spellcheck'? Normally I'd check to see if it's a brand mae , argh, brand name pf Microsoft. I've just checked - no, it's a genric / generic term but it'soften spelt / spelled as two words, depending on the source. That's interesting: my software has underlined 's;pelt' (or 'spelt' actually) but not 'it'soften' - is that a real word? What a shame you, the reader. won't be able to see all the red squiggles when this is posted. I could do a screnshot. Hang on a mo...
I have to admit that I made a typo (I typod. Typo'd. Typoed?) while saving the image file - but the thought of seeinf 'Uncorrected scrennshot' every time I open that folder annoyed me so much that I corrected it. Anyway, as you can see, there are plenty of red lines, which I would normally acoorect / correct ht the 'lazy' way by right clikcing on the word and selecting the correct spelling from the optionsd. Obviously, I do know how to spell those words but it's a little quicker to get it done automatically than to go and do it myself, which in any case, as you can guess from my lack of typing skills so far, may introfuce more errors. But, stop a moment! Is 'spelt' actually wrong in this context? Only if you're AMerician, apparently. But I'm not American so it's correct. My Weebly spellchecker (or possibly my Chrome spellchecker) accepts only American spellings. I can probably change the settinfs to a British English dictionary but, If US English is the default, how common is it for people to do that? Obviously, I use the English British (argh) fictionary in Word, at least, if that's what's requiredfor the work I'm doing. (Rest assured, clients!) What wlse? Ah, 'fagged' instead of 'flagged' isn't underlined at all - that could be an embarrassing mistake incertain contexts. And 'pf' is apparently a 'real' word. Really? This link suggests it's short for perfective aspect (Pasted from the link: "The perfective aspect is a feature of the verb which denotes viewing the event the verb describes as a completed whole, rather than from within the event as it unfolds. ") Oh, of course. That's such a common abbreviation , evidently, that it's not worth drawing attention to it, according to the spellchecker (spell checker?). Then why does 'perfective' now have a squiggly line under it? It is, apparently, perfectly acceptable, even if only linguits / linguists know what it means.
I'm putting in a header here to break up the text
Anyway. You can see my point. you pobABLY (darn caps lock being so close to A) you probably can't see my point all that clearly, but you get the gist. (I need to improve the formatting of that header but I can't go back anf do it, huh.)
To summarise in a handy 10-pojnt list that's so beloeved / beloved of bloggers:
Still playing with your fidget spinner? Keep up! The newest craze is painting rocks and leaving them around town. Yes, really. It's not litter because it's art.
My county, Norfolk, is, as usual, right on trend. The Norfolk Rocks (UK) Facebook group has gathered more than 34,000 members in just a couple of months, and the feed is full of photos of happy children, and almost as many happy adults, brandishing their painted treasures. Whether decorated with toddlers' scribbles or full-blown works of art, you'll find the stones in parks, in shops and on sea walls, ready for the lucky finder to admire, keep or rehide (a word that's too new for spellcheck to recognise).
It's got me thinking about beauty and art and shared experiences and how much fun it is to paint a stone despite having no artistic skill whatsoever.
And it's also made me reconsider 'serendipity', that delightful word that perfectly summarises the joyful happenstance (another delightful word) of discovering a pretty stone in the street.
The OED Online defines serendipity as 'the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way'. Merriam Webster's definition is even more appropriate: 'the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for'. It goes on to describe the rather, well, serendipitous story of its origins as both a word and a concept. In January 1754, serial letter writer and linguistic inventor Horace Walpole described the discovery of an interesting fact as:
'... almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word… I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip” [Sri Lanka]: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...'
It's rather handy for dictionary compilers that Walpole not only appears to have created a new word but also took the trouble to claim the credit for it.
As a (serendipitous) aside, Merriam Webster lists other words that were first recorded in 1754, including avocado pear, consensual, disgusting, extravaganza, face mask, polymorphous, postbox, prima donna, self-importance, unsportsmanlike and washing machine. One wonders how they communicated in 1753.
However, 'serendipity' wasn't really used beyond literary discussions and statistical research until the 1950s, when a sociologist called Robert K. Merton saw it in a dictionary and decided that it supported his theory of the impact of unintended consequences of intended actions. Fascinated with the concept, he and a historian, Elinor Barber, published a book that delved into the semantic history and complex meanings of serendipity (The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science, in case you're wondering). Richard Boyle, in a fascinating review of the book, describes how it subsequently caught on to the extent that it became the tenth most common boat name in the US and in 2000 was voted the most popular word in the English language. (It's not my favourite word, by the way. I prefer 'actually', which is less poetic but just as interesting for being simultaneously useful and pointless. But that's a whole other blog post.)
It's often claimed to be untranslatable but actually (yes, I know) only in the sense that other languages have adapted it to their tongues. Wikipedia lists versions in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. Happy discoveries can apparently be made anywhere.
Boyle's review complains that the concept of serendipity is now overused and misused: these days, he says, 'it is taken to mean little more than a Disney-like expression of pleasure, good feeling, joy, or happiness'. Dumbed down it might be, but I still think it has particular connotations that make it an evocative name for everything from AirBnBs in Texas to 'global consultancy services' companies. And, of course, it's the perfect word for the pleasure of finding a little piece of art in an unexpected place.
Apologies in advance if you're going to spend the next few days staring at the ground. Happy hunting!
PS: This post was going to be called '5 reasons why editing rocks', until I serendipitously became distracted by the concept of serendipity. I only mention it now because editing does rock.
Anyone would think we’d got our work/life balance pretty well sorted. After all, seven female self-employed editors had taken a weekend away from our usual home responsibilities to gather around a kitchen table in a chic London suburb (one remotely), leaving partners, pets and kids to sort themselves out while we discussed our careers. Of course, you could also argue that we were missing precious family time by choosing to work on a Saturday, but we all felt liberated by the opportunity to focus on ourselves for once.
So the discussion about work/life balance, coming at the end of a long, hot, productive day, was well timed. But first things first – what exactly does it mean? And does it matter? Work is part of life but has anyone ever, honestly, achieved the perfect balance with their personal time? After all, we would all far rather work from home, with all its domestic distractions, than in a noisy, stuffy office with a two-hour commute.
When life gets in the way of work
Clearly, enjoying your work is key to making long hours easier to manage. Sometimes writing a blog post or proofreading an intriguing book doesn’t even feel like proper work. But then there are the endless, stressful, troublesome projects that take forever to disentangle and straighten out. Either way, it’s easy to blink up at the clock and wonder if that time should have been invested in our families instead. Will the kids’ memories of their childhood be their mum, harassed, at her desk, snapping ‘Make your own dinner!’ when they poke their heads round the door?
Perhaps it’s because we’re women. Perhaps, in allowing ourselves to take charge of domestic routines, our generation has failed to take forward the lessons of feminism. Even if our partners willingly contribute to the household chores (and, on the whole, they do) we still help to perpetuate the myth that we can achieve it all. Is it entirely fair to complain about our husbands’ full-laundry-basket-blindspot or should we take responsibility for deskilling our men when we insist on doing all the ‘wife work’?
It's time to take control
Whatever our personal circumstances, we agreed that it was the ‘life’ part of work/life balance that’s often the problem. We all hate those pick ‘n’ mix days that involve short bursts of work interspersed with personal obligations. Whatever we often tell ourselves, work is far more controllable than the randomness of our personal lives. But how can we control it without obsessing about losing income? Well, we had plenty of ideas:
In short, we must fight our inertia and take time out of that endless busy-work, even if it’s just to identify exactly what needs to change in our current routine. But don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done. Nobody can do it all but everybody can find ways of making life work for them.
Now, I’d better go and do some proper work. It’s either that or hang up the washing.
My book review blog: Ju's Reviews