[Update: Someone wrote this same basic essay using a more direct approach and fewer lengthy paragraphs! To read his take, check it out on Medium.]
Each month, I give eight dollars and forty-seven cents to an online video streaming service so that I can access TV shows and movies purely for entertainment value. $8.47 a month. $101.64 a year. Each month, it takes me somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes working at my current job to pay for this service, which I think is a fairly decent deal. Netflix doesn’t usually cause me stress; I may not use it each day, I doubt it benefits other aspects of my life, but it feels like a fair price for easy entertainment.
Since moving to Vermont, I give Geico $57 a month, which does nothing for me, or it hasn’t for my entire Vermont driving career. That’s only a little over $2k the last three years, but for no return, yet… watch me drive off the road tomorrow because I wrote this.
The point is that payments add up, and not necessarily toward anything important. Rent. Utilities. Insurance. Groceries. Loans. Of all the money I make, little good is done with it for the benefit of society, for the greater good, or for my community. I give to Vermont Public Radio monthly and during their pledge drives, and various local charities when it occurs to me. I give to the World Wildlife Foundation and the Nature Conservancy annually. If I pass a panhandler standing in the cold on my way to get coffee, sometimes I buy him a coffee too – because it’s not a big deal to be nice on a cold day; it’s a $1.50 coffee. The money, overall, that I put back into society for society’s benefit feels slim to me.
This is why I’m a Patreon supporter, and this is also why I give between $26 and $39 each month to a few select independent podcasters and one vlogger. $39, when compared to the monthly cost of Netflix, seems rather high. But when compared to a night downtown around the pool table, seems… sort of average. It’s easy to drink those dollars up, or spend them on a variety of other fleeting or unnecessary pleasures. And here’s why those dollars are so much more valuable when used through Patreon: Because the podcasts and vlogs I support are windows into other people’s worlds* and I believe podcasts in particular are integral to the future of voluntary learning and self-education (*more on this in a bit).
The following podcasts are very important to me.
Some podcasts that I actively listen to, but do not yet support financially:
• RISK! Show – Kevin Allison
• The Savage Lovecast – Dan Savage
• Reply All – Alex Goldmund and PJ Vogt
• The How I Learned Series – Blaise Allyson Kearsley
• The Heart – Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli
• 99 Percent Invisible – Roman Mars
• The Moth Radio Hour – George Dawes Green
• This American Life – Ira Glass
When I say podcasts are windows into others’ worlds, I am mostly talking about story- or interview-based podcasts. Home of the Brave, The Lapse, Rumble Strip Vermont, Risk!, How I Learned, The Heart and The Moth are all truly excellent examples of this. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know the value that I place on shared experience (link to post). In the post, I talk about how an experience shared between two or more people helps create and strengthen the bond between them, ultimately forming a stronger relationship.
In life, however, our relationships are limited. A 2015 Time article says that a socially-healthy person should have between three and five really good friends, with up to 15 people close to them and a social circle of 100-150 people. Between three and five really good friends. A mere average of just four!
Now, I’m not saying that a person can’t have a lifetime of wonderful, valuable experiences with the four people closest to them, but those experiences are obviously limited. We usually have best friends who are pretty much the same as we are right down to the way we’re born and how hot we are. This could be a severe roadblock in life when we suddenly need to relate to, understand, or acknowledge someone who’s different than us: our experiences and strongest relationships may be limited to the same ol’, same ol’ we know and have always known. Our spectrum can be severely stunted, right from the start. And since we’re not necessarily prone to stepping outside the box when it comes to experiences (admit it — humans like to be comfortable), it seems to me that a window to someone else’s world — storytelling or interviews, complete with voice inflection, presented via podcasts — should be seen as a very, very valuable resource and tool to help us navigate life.
So, in a time when consuming information from Fox and CNN News is basically akin to “drinking the Kool-Aid,” these types of podcasts are my chosen media. The more perspectives I can hear on issues, the more individuals’ stories I can listen to, the more I feel I’m able to open my mind and step outside that limited box, and continue to understand the world a little better.
That, my friends, is why I pay more for podcasts than for Netflix. It’s an investment in my own capacity to have empathy and sympathy.