Of Radios, Podcasts, and Being Alone

In class we talked about a quote by Lewis Mumford in 1934 about the “perfume of unreality” and how people were becoming too dull to think. This was during the time that radios and movies were gaining popularity. 

Mumford states that people are “afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.” They even carried a radio with them on a picnic so they could hear people talking. 

This fear of being alone, thinking, has carried over into today’s world even more so. People are glued to their phone and panic if they can’t find it. More importantly, they have lost the ability to sit alone, not on their phone, just thinking and reflecting. 

Today, people have a different kind of radio they use to trick themselves into thinking they are not alone. Instead of a radio, we now have podcasts. 

If you are a podcast user, you are part of the 32% of people in the United States that now listens to podcasts (Activate). From 2013 to 2018, the number of podcast listeners has doubled, and it is mostly Millennials that listen, but people of other ages do too (Edison Research). 

Are podcasts not a way of pretending that people are surrounding you? The podcast host’s voice is human, after all. So when you’re listening to a podcast, you convince yourself that you are not alone. 

Podcasts are just one aspect of the attention economy that has surged in popularity the last few years. There are many other ways to fill your spare time with someone else’s, whether it be in the form of a podcast or some other form of media. 

There is even a term for being afraid of being alone, with only yourself as company—it’s called autophobia, or monophobia. 

Mumford was correct when he said that the radio and other technological advances were causing people to forget how to think and truly be alone for a few minutes each day. He might as well replace “radio” with “podcast” or “talk show” or even “audiobook” and his statement would carry as much truth today. 

So let’s take some time to be alone, think, and not be held captive by the attention economy that so easily grabs our attention and time on our phones. We can dilute the “perfume of unreality” that surrounds us and restore reality by taking the time to sit by ourselves. 

Activate. (October 22, 2019). Number of monthly podcast listeners in the United States from 2014 to 2023 (in millions) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved February 08, 2020, from www-statista-com.erl.lib.byu.edu/statistics/786826/podcast-listeners-in-the-us/.

Edison Research. (March 12, 2019). Share of U.S. population that have listened to an audio podcast in the last month from 2008 to 2019 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved February 09, 2020, from www-statista-com.erl.lib.byu.edu/statistics/270365/audio-podcast-consumption-in-the-us/.

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