Want to Give Voice to Gen Z? Try a Podcast
It’s a Wednesday morning. I’m due for a rooftop brunch with my friends, to which I have been commissioned to bring bagels and smoked salmon. I step into the shower, putting on a podcast as I lusciously wash and condition my hair. No, I’m not the protagonist in some empowering Netflix show – but ever since I started listening to podcasts, I often feel like one.
The story of how I got into podcasts is quite in-character for me. I listened to my first-ever Citations Needed because of a judge at a debate tournament. I had just won when he told me, “If I’d had that podcast at your age, I would’ve won every single debate.” Riding high off my victory, there was no way I could decline such a promise.
It wasn’t until a year later, however, when my AP World History teacher assigned us an episode of The Daily for homework, that my love for podcasts really started to grow. Having now integrated an episode into my daily routine, I believe there’s a strong case to be made for more people of my age doing the same.
After listening to one episode for homework – on Indian PM Narendra Modi – I marveled at how quickly I had become informed on such a complex issue. Podcasts open a doorway to information for me. And for someone invested in political and social issues, that became the magnetic factor.
I believe there is nothing more empowering than knowing, especially given how fast the world moves today. Information is anyone’s best weapon to stand up to a polarized political climate and increasingly hostile discussions on current events (Twitter, anyone?). To me, feeling in command requires knowing what was going on. Podcasts proved the quickest – and least emotionally exhausting way to gain that awareness.
In our digital world, where information is available almost as a commodity through social media, television, the internet, and more conventional media, what makes podcasts stand out? And more specifically, what makes podcasts stand out to a generation as visually-driven as Gen Z?
A break from the screen
Technology’s role in our daily lives is undeniable. I communicate with faraway friends on my cell phone. I kick back by watching some Netflix on my TV. And I do my work efficiently on my laptop. It can be hard to step back. Understandably, we want to remain connected to whatever is going on in the outside world. But as prevalent as screens are in our routine, we need some time away from them.
Podcasts are a great solution. Whether they address current events or mundane things, share news or exist purely for entertainment, they give us a rest from having our eyes glued to a screen. As I become increasingly conscious of the time I spend immersed in technology and make an effort to reduce it, podcasts aid the transition. They satisfy my information-media obsession and my desire to spend time away from the screen.
Better background noise
This bleeds into another great thing about podcasts: they’re a great background for the most menial of tasks. For example, I now listen to an episode of The Daily during my nightly showers. As I wash, put lotion on, and get dressed, I have Michael Barbaro and New York Times correspondents keeping me engaged. Because taking a shower is a mindless task, my brain space during that time can be devoted to something else.
I also play a podcast whenever I assemble a puzzle, since the mechanical act of scanning the pieces still allows me to focus on the information I’m receiving.
I see several benefits to this. First, podcasts can turn ordinarily boring tasks (such as showering, packing, or doing the dishes) into more than empty automation. They also turn these activities into opportunities to acquire information. You accomplish what needs to be done and become a more informed person at the same time. This is particularly appealing for people my age, because we are obsessed with productivity.
It’s no secret that teenagers today constantly receive the message that time spent doing nothing is time wasted. We constantly feel pressure to fill our time with things that will “build us up.” We aren’t told to relax or wind down – a main reason why teenagers today are increasingly stressed, anxious, and depressed.
My mom has pointed it out to me on several occasions. I don’t give myself time to sit back and read for pleasure, put a puzzle together, make bracelets, bake cookies… For a lot of people my age, this kind of stress stems from the idea that we have to be doing something at all times. Podcasts can help.
Listening to a podcast gives you the feeling of doing something productive – in getting informed – even when you’re not being outwardly so. This way, teens can take the opportunity to relax while simultaneously still contributing to the goal of productivity.
Easier to digest
Another reason young people should listen to podcasts is because, often, they’re a lot more digestible than the average news channel. Let’s face it: spaces like CNN, the BBC, Televisa, and Fox News can feel more like propaganda or vehicles for conflict instead of the hubs of objectivity they’re supposed to be. Gen Z-ers, in general, are sick of this. I have yet to meet a person my age who avidly tunes into CNN each night, or who considers mainstream TV news to be their favorite channel of information.
Our generation has grown tired of listening to public figures fight or make vacuous statements instead of doing their job. Just look at how popular people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders are, whereas politicians like Theresa May and Nancy Pelosi have lost their vogue among youth!
News channels have become an embodiment of the hostile polarization typical of most conversations today. Podcasts, ironically (since most of them are conversations), provide an antidote to the aggressive, subjective climate of so-called contemporary “dialogue.” Because podcasts must keep the audience engaged. They are more likely to be quick, to the point, and well-informed.
They’re also tailored to be listened to, and Gen Z-ers know it. The conversational feel of podcasts is a far cry from the delivery of most TV programs. They give listeners a seat at the table – a connection aided by the age and approach of the hosts. Moreover, podcasts often bring in subject matter experts, aiding the objectivity of the episode and diverging further still from mainstream media’s fixation on keeping the same figures simply because they are recognized.
It’s clear that podcasts have many benefits. They elevate the menial to the productive. They give Gen Z the information we seek. And they are a welcome break from both technology and hostility. All of those factors contribute to how helpful podcasts are in starting conversations.
The only way to combat the aggressive I’ve mentioned several times is by having informed, inclusive conversations. Podcasts have paved a path for me and my friends to do that. I now find myself having long-winded conversations with my friend DJ (also a Hack Squadder!) about poor-shaming in millennial-focused media narratives (thanks, Citations Needed). Or chatting with my friend Pato about the alarming rise of European nationalism (thanks, The Daily).
Hailing back to that Wednesday, the question becomes: Who doesn’t like feeling like a boss character in their own life? For me, podcasts make it possible. Podcasts offer quick, easy, and fun ways to grow informed and more and more people my age are realizing this. If informing and giving voice to Gen Z is your aim, perhaps a podcast is your medium?
Soon, I’ll also be joining the pool – writing, directing, and hosting an arts and literature podcast for my school’s literary magazine. I want not only to make someone else feel like the bagel-eating, brunch-throwing, successful person I saw myself turning into, but to spread knowledge and spark dialogue among the young people who will soon become responsible for solving the issues we’re getting informed about.