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Skipping ‘Serial’: Why I’m Ignoring the World’s Hottest Podcast

Skipping ‘Serial’: Why I’m Ignoring the World’s Hottest Podcast
Skipping ‘Serial’: Why I’m Ignoring the World’s Hottest Podcast
Rob Walker
·Tech Columnist

It’s official: “Serial” is the hottest podcast in the history of the known universe, the most significant moment in audio since the “War of the Worlds” broadcast, and the most innovative development in communication arts since the smoke signal. In fact, it’s a breakthrough symbolizing the Great Podcast Renaissance of 2014.

As Yahoo Tech’s designated podcast geek — I subscribe to dozens — I ought to be able to tell you all about “Serial” and why you simply must hear this show.

But I can’t. Because I haven’t listened to it.

I’ve certainly listened to people talk about it, for many weeks now. If you’ve missed the news, in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Business Insider, The Tufts Daily, Fast Company, and basically every publication with bylines, “Serial” is a weekly podcast in which reporter/host Sarah Koenig (and I assume her staff) revisit a 1999 Baltimore-area murder over multiple episodes.

People tell me it’s incredibly addictive; other people simply tweet that it’s incredibly addictive.

I mentioned this to my wife a week or so ago. She never listens to podcasts. But she decided to check it out. She has now listened to all nine installments and is awaiting the next episode. It’s pretty interesting, she tells me.

I’m sure it is! In fact, even though I’ve never listened to it, and have no plans to do so, I encourage you to get in on the trend right away.

I’ll explain that in a minute, but first: What’s my problem? For starters, “It’s really addictive” is, for me, a huge minus. This is the reason I stopped playing video games a long time ago — not because I’m against games, but because when it comes to diverting entertainment, I am very easily sucked into catastrophic time-sucking doom-loops. (The last time I played a game was 12 years ago, for a story I was writing, and eventually I had to uninstall it from my computer to keep from playing during work hours long after I’d filed the piece.)

And I suppose at some point a kind of knee-jerk contrarianism kicked in: I am suspicious of entertainment that comes to feel compulsory. I like to support the underdog, not the champion. Plus, I find a lot of the analysis of what it all means for podcasting to be dubious at best. (And maybe I even see podcasting as a bit of an underdog medium — something supported by a dedicated cult of listeners, not the fickle masses.)

Of course that’s not a very compelling argument, and sometimes I’m the one who pays the price for thinking this way — missing out until I belatedly jump on the bandwagon of Breaking Bad or whatever I’ve resisted. Instead of a minor binge to catch up when the thing is taking off, I’m saddled with a massive one to get up to speed at the last moment.

But I’d argue that it’s not totally crazy, and “Serial” is a good example to make the case. If we consider “Serial” not so much a show to be consumed but a sort of cultural reference point with which one is wise to be familiar, then I don’t really have to listen to it all.

By now I have absorbed enough from the chatter — including the backlash, the satires, and the controversy, as well as the endless and breathless endorsements — to “get” references to the show, and what’s so great about it, and/or what’s so problematic about it.

It is, in other words, a great example of what I like to think of as “contact high” cultural fluency — all I need to inhale, as it were, are the billowing clouds of smoke that everyone around me is giddily blowing. This, in fact, is one of my general strategies for coping with “information overload” — as I’ve observed here in the past.

Spoilers? For me, they’re merely information — bring ’em on! The more chatter the better, in fact. That’s why I want you to get listening, and join in the “conversation” online, so I can pick up the basics, and even the details, as just another element of the ambient news flow I couldn’t avoid if I wanted to. It’s not the same thing as actually hearing the show (which may be enjoyable), but it’s close enough to be conversant in the basics.

Who knows, maybe I’ll try the show whenever its second season launches, so I can follow along on some new multipart story without having to put in hours of catch-up homework. But, for now, I know enough: We (by which I mean the rest of you) are 10 episodes into a “likely” 12-episode mystery about a tragic murder and the man accused of committing it.

Actually, that brings up a point I should probably clarify: I do not mean to diminish the significance and gravity of the real-life story. And, all kidding aside, I am quite curious to hear — from everyone who is actually listening, so I’m depending on you to join the ranks if you haven’t already — how it all turns out.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.