The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Podcasts don't work for me


I don't listen to podcasts. The format has never appealed to me. I am a visual learner. I love to read. Reading allows me to jump around, skim where I think it appropriate, moderate my pace, and return to passages that are important. With reading, I can easily highlight, or copy and paste a key phrase into a blog post. Moreover, much more care is put into the printed word. Authors (present company included) labor over every sentence, word, and syllable. Podcasts are different. Less care is put into the spoken word. Unless the narrator is reading from a transcript, we are left with the normal flow of conversational english. Sentences run on. Other sentences are cut short. There are stumbles. There are jokes that sound funnier in the narrator's head. And so on. Moreover, with a podcast, I need to follow the narrator's plan. Sure, I can play it at double-speed, but I am still stuck with his chronology. Even with time-markers, it is tough to jump to specific portions. You can't CTRL-F an audio file. The thought of devoting a full thirty minutes, or an hour, to someone else's thought process is too much for me to commit. I move on my own track.

More and more podcasts have started to transcribe their dialogues. (Tools like Otter, which I use for my classes, are very helpful). Still, reading a transcript of a podcast is not a pleasant experience. All of the quirk of conversational English are printed in black-and-white, for all to see. Every lawyer has experienced this disconnect when reading a court-reporter transcript of a hearing. What the court-reporter heard is very different from what the lawyer thought he said. (Court reporters usually let attorneys submit revisions after the hearing, though they don't always accept those edits).

I realize that my position leave me out in the cold. There are many, many excellent scholars who record podcasts. (Co-blogger Will Baude just launched a new one this week!). I regret that I'm missing out on these insights, but I am simply going to have to pass. I feel the same way about social media. I have been off Twitter for nearly 15 month, and feel wonderful. Most of the content on Twitter is dreadful. But there are occasional diamonds in the rough.  Hopefully, new ideas developed in these podcasts and on social media will make it into the printed format soon enough.