I think it's safe to admit that we openly talk about the podcasts/documentaries/interesting cultural exhibits we have recently seen, but don't mention the other hours spent surfing social media or casually checking up on the gossip pages. Of course we all feel good stocking up on all of the political and economic news, but one Guardian writer has questioned whether we are doing ourselves some harm when we constantly consume information.
Oliver Burkeman points to the fact that the brain needs quiet, but the trouble with the constant stem of information is that it never gets any. Podcasts and news apps, and the other endless ways to consume information, means that times that were once 'quiet' time (exercise, the walk to work, doing the washing up) have become times when our brains are constantly engaged.
While it can never be a bad thing to learn more and build knowledge, Burkeman is right that our brains need some time to digest. Mindfulness has continually crept up the news/well-being agenda in the last couple of years and it's all about living in the moment. Studies have credited it with having amazing capabilities to aid our stress-filled society - but how can we achieve mindfulness when we are always plugged into something?
So, naturally, I was intrigued by a recent essay on New York magazine’s website The Cut, by Sirena Bergman: “I listen to 35 hours of podcasts every week. Is that… bad?” Her conclusion: yes, partly. The brain needs silence, and the trouble with audio – like mobile internet, too – is that it doesn’t simply replace other forms of entertainment; rather, it seeps into the gaps (commutes, housework, exercise) that you might previously have used to be alone with your thoughts. Podcasts improve my daily life immensely and I’ve zero intention of abandoning them; but Bergman draws attention to an important truth about the content we incessantly consume: it’s quite possible to get addicted to stuff that seems edifying and intellectual, as well as to brainless nonsense. Indeed, for a certain kind of person, it’s probably easier.