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A slightly different take on your “eye engagement” point is that podcasts allow us to utilize time that would otherwise be spent listening to music, talking to others, thinking, or just zoning out. Combined with Apples air pods (a horribly great piece of technology), I find myself using lots of time for podcasts that I wouldn’t otherwise (like when I’m doing the dishes). I find all of this enjoyable overall but I do worry that the decreased time that I spend in thought or present with others could be a net negative in the end.

I've wondered about this too. It's rare now, but sometimes I just want to drive to work in silence and it's always surprising to me how nice it can be. I'd be curious to see a study about the affects of time spent "zoned out". I wonder if it may turn out to be an important opportunity for our brains to subconsciously process things or work on ideas. I'd imagine our ancestors spent a significant portion of their lives in that state, whereas today we spend almost no time that way.

I spent years driving to remote sites in the desert for field work and have spent countless hours listening to audio books, podcasts and music. Often times on the return journey home I found myself thinking in silence or listening to my thoughts and the road in silence. Maybe it was sort of an active meditation but it seemed to happen naturally and felt great.

With all the screens around us, people or content, if you will, we often don't have long periods of time with the option to tune it all out. You allude to our ancestors and I think being still of mind is an important part of our being. Many people are anxious these days in that environment. My favorite part about doing extended river trips (1-3+ weeks) is tuning completely out for large stretches of time.

I’ve started to intentionally not listen to anything at times when I otherwise would

I have found that if I'm not careful, yeah, I'll fill in all my driving or chores or walking the dog time with podcasts. This absolutely destroys my creativity, because instead of thinking about e.g. short story ideas while walking the dog, I'm listening to old episodes of some podcast, letting my mind just sort of tick over with basic engagement.

Try meditation, it's the best way I've found to be truly present in the current moment. Without focusing on any external stimuli or content, you're left with the sensations of being, as well as the thoughts/feelings of your mind. You then establish this "baseline" signal upon which all the other noise of modern life is added.

Are there any studies on how good retention is when consuming books as a background task while you're doing something else? Sample size = 1, but I briefly tried listening to audio books while driving, cooking, etc. but stopped when I realized I got all the way through a few books without even vaguely remembering what they were about.

Yeah IDK if I'm just way worse at focusing on spoken words while doing other things than most people or what, but I can't get into podcasts or audio books at all. If I do other things while listening I miss so much that I have no idea what's going on, and even the supposedly very good ones are so dull that if I'm going to spend focused time consuming them I'd rather read, or watch something, or listen closely to some good music, or almost anything else.

I guess maybe if I got back into running they'd be good for that. Can't think of when else I could possibly use them.

I've found it extremely dependent on fine differences in the primary thing I'm doing. e.g. I have no problem following if I'm going on an uneventful or familiar drive, but will automatically tune it out if I don't know where I'm going.

This is why I find more casual listening like a podcast good. Listening to a book you can really hamper understanding of the later parts of it with low retention of easier parts. A lot of podcasts don’t really require your full attention at all times to understand later parts.

i've been listening to audiobooks since 2013 and i remember 99% of everything i listened. YMMV, but at least for me, it was a thing i had to "learn" -- as in, listen and pay attention while doing a boring task.

The same thing happened to me. I recently acquired a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and even though it seems like a pair of wired earbuds or headphones would be about the same, it's not at all.

I listen to podcasts while doing all sorts of things now.

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