People keep asking me why I don’t start a podcast.
They ask this, of course, because everyone and their cat has a podcast.
Producing a podcast today is like keeping a blog ten years ago, before Twitter and Instagram made us all social to the point where we’re all constantly screaming into the void.
I get the appeal of the medium. Podcasts are a return to the good old days: Those halcyon blogging days when you could pour out your heart and soul online, safe in the knowledge that the only people reading were your friends, family and that one weird guy in Oklahoma who emailed you every time you post.
The days when you could post something stupid, or unfunny, and it would simply be ignored. When there was no (ok, little) of the public mob shaming that inevitably follows every bad joke, dumb opinion, or misjudged emoji on social media.
Just like with blogging ten years ago, today the tools for podcasting keep getting cheaper, and the methods of distribution more efficient. Next comes the goldrush, starting with the announcement last week that Spotify had spent nearly $340m buying podcast companies.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered joining the fun. For one thing, I love the sound of my own voice. For another, I spent almost three years in Vegas hosting our near-nightly radio show, and I miss the community that grew up around those hour-long broadcasts.
But there’s one significant difference between starting a blog and launching a podcast: Unlike a blog, a podcast has to be about something.
Even NSFWLIVE – which, on any given week, might see us discuss corrupt Vegas cops, the sex life of jellyfish, and the Koch Brothers – was ostensibly about the week’s news. And even when an episode was about nothing, it was still about NSFWCORP Magazine. And Taylor Swift. Always Taylor Swift.
And that’s where things get tricky. While everyone seems to agree that I should have a podcast, they can’t seem to agree on the subject matter.
Those who do express a preference fall mainly into two camps: People who want me to start a podcast about Addiction / Not Being An Asshole, and those who couldn’t care less about addiction and want to hear me swear about Silicon Valley.
A show about Addiction / Not Being An Asshole could be interesting, I think. I’ve listened to a few of the popular ones on the iTunes Store but they all seem tremendously bleak. Meanwhile, the upbeat/funny ones seem to have stopped producing new episodes.
There’s definitely a gap in the market. And, judging from the emails I get in response to these newsletters, there’s an audience too, with no shortage of cautionary tales to tell.
The appeal of this blog is that I get to think about addiction and recovery once a week for a couple of hours while I write and edit each update. Then I go back to my actual life. One of my (many) issues with AA is how it forces you to live permanently in recovery mode; constantly between meetings because you are An Addict first and everything else second. A blog is one thing, but a blog and a podcast and I’m only a short hop away from being (picture a conference speaker bio:) a Writer and Broadcaster, Who Specializes In The Subject of Alcoholism.
I don’t think so.
So, what about the Silicon Valley thing? Well. There’s a reason I quit tech journalism a couple of years ago: The news cycle is ghastly enough right now without it being my job. I spent years shouting about the awfulness of Uber and Facebook and Peter Fucking Thiel, and for most of that time nobody believed me, or Sarah, or anyone else at Pando.
Then suddenly everybody believed us, but acted like they’d known all along. It’s like the classic “deny, deny, deny… this is old news” playbook used to dismiss political scandal.
Three or so years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book about Silicon Valley and Addition. The working title was “The Intervention” and my premise was that the tech industry was acting like a dangerous, but functioning, alcoholic: Lying to everyone, cheating, stealing — generally stuck in a cycle of bad behavior, but with nobody close enough to help them quit (surrounded by enablers, in fact.)
To support my premise, I included in the proposal some true stories about things I had witnessed in more than a decade covering tech bad behavior. I wrote about Facebook and Peter Thiel; about the suicides inside the Vegas Downtown Project; about Uber threatening Sarah; about tech’s ties to the CIA and DOD… and maybe a half dozen other scandals which now seem like old news but which back then had barely been reported (except by us on Pando.)
My agent shopped the book to a dozen editors at all the major publishing houses. The opening line of first rejection, sent apparently after consultation with the firm’s legal department, set the tone for all the others: This stuff, if true, is dynamite. But unfortunately the feeling here is that the legal exposure would be simply too great…
At least tell me I’m a shitty writer, or that the premise of my book was boring. Anything other than sure, I know you say you’ve written for the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, Pando and all these other publications, but we still think you’re full of shit. Tech is great! (Unless it isn’t, in which case Facebook will sue us, and Amazon will refuse to stock the book.)
Now fast forward four years and every publisher is clamoring for their own version of How Big Tech Is Destroying The World And We Had Absolutely No Idea.
So, yes, that’s pretty infuriating. Just as it’s frustrating to witness the godawful state of tech commentary circa 2019; how effective Peter Thiel and Charles Harder have been in silencing all but the driest of Silicon Valley coverage. And, God yes, it could be fun to tell jokes about Keith Rabois, Peter Thiel, and Bitcoin for an hour a week. (There should be entire podcast networks dedicated to mocking Rabois.)
But at what psychic cost?
One too great for me, I think, when the opportunity cost is to go to Soul Cycle, or bake a cake with Eli, or read a book, or spend the day working with the amazing team at Chairman Mom.
So there you go. Podcasts have to be about something, and the only things I know enough about, I’ve said all I have to say.
That, and baking, are why I don’t start a podcast.