Commuting is something that New Yorkers ritually complain about—the overcrowded trains, the too-hot or too-cold cars, the breakdowns, line suspensions, and the general chaos of the system. Which is probably why you see so many riders with earbuds in; it’s a way to insulate yourself from the chaos.
A fan of NPR’s This American Life since college in the early aughts, I recently turned to podcasts as a way to occupy the time spent traveling between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan every day. I had grown tired of scrolling through the never-very-good news on the New York Times and CNN apps and wanted something less soporific than listening to music. I figured spending the time being amused, spooked, or intrigued was a better way to go.
I soon discovered new favorites—Late Night Whenever, Spooked, and Stuff You Missed in History Class—in addition to old standbys such as Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour, and the aforementioned This American Life. And I began to look forward to getting to the Canal Street station at the end of every day. Rather than zoning out to music or feeling angry about the latest headline, I’m engaged in a story that transports me from the grimy subway.
And, it turns out, I am definitely not alone. Twenty-six percent of Americans aged 12 and over—approximately 73 million people—have listened to a podcast in the past month, up from 9% in 2008. My daily habit is pretty common among active listeners as well: We average seven podcasts per week. I have determined that the genres that appeal more to me than others follow certain criteria. They are all nonfiction, which is interesting because I read far more fiction than non-, and they all have to tell me a story that’s quirky or unexpected in some way. I tried very hard with Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast after hearing friends gush about it, but whatever it is they’re selling it is clearly not for me. I am less into episodic content as well, preferring to be able to dip in and out of topics as the mood takes me.
So when I look around on the train I wonder, who are the other podcastees? What are they into? And on the rare occasion when I see someone stifling laughter, I wonder if they’re listening to one of my favorites as well.