Can Podcasts Cure Loneliness?
An investigation into whether audio technology can make us feel less alone
It’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I’m cutting up a courgette for that Rachel Khoo recipe I’ve been meaning to try for weeks now. It’s a meal-for-one, as per usual. I’ll be eating it alone, as per usual. Except not really. My good friend Adam Buxton will be with me, droning on about mattresses and his dog Rosie in my ear the entire time. In pursuit of some surrogate company via the medium of podcasts, I know I’m not alone at all.
“Sometimes I listen to them [podcasts] with my full attention but most of the time I just like to have it on as sort of a background noise,” says Mariana Alves Fernandes. Mariana is 19 years old and one of the many people around the globe who has found herself self-medicating against bouts of loneliness with podcasts during the global coronavirus outbreak.
“The first week I felt kinda closer to everyone in the whole wide world — ’cause your eyes are glued to the TV screen, constantly listening to what’s happening in your country and the world, constantly texting your close friends about the news, or how your day has been,” Mariana tells me. “But that’s slowly faded. Now that I feel like I’ve seen everything on Netflix and YouTube, I’m kinda struggling with filling my time. Days feel so long and podcasts make quarantine feel less lonely.”
Podcasts are, as you might be aware, having a bit of a moment. With Stitcher reporting that the number of podcasts uploaded to the platform has grown by 129,000% in the last decade, and Joe Rogan’s $100 million deal with Spotify making him potentially the world’s highest paid broadcaster on the planet, it’s hard to deny the impact that the podcast has had on popular culture in the last few years.
Podcasts are ubiquitous, unavoidable, and nearly everyone has got a favorite. Hell, you’ve probably even got a podcast yourself. But there’s something else that’s become just as prominent in 2020: loneliness. Covid-19 is wreaking unprecedented havoc on the physical and mental well-being of all who cross its path, and forcibly separating us from friends and family. That has meant that feelings of fear, anxiety, and loneliness are at an all-time high. Yet, even before quarantine forced us all inside…