For a while there I had a nice balance. I could juggle the books and TV and films everyone was talking about without breaking a sweat. But then podcasts landed on the scene and the list of things that I was meant to be keeping on top of suddenly seemed almost comically long. But there wasn’t time to laugh about it, instead there was just the crippling sense of guilt and shame when someone in the office would innocently ask: ‘Do you listen to this podcast called Invisibilia?’ and I would make a mental note to add it to the growing list of things that I’ll get around to. Eventually. When I retire. In 40 odd years.
Other things on the list include all the books that were on the Bailey’s short list. Glow, so I can have an opinion on whether or not there are too many butt shots. I want to actually read the mammoth piece The Atlantic published entitled ‘My President Was Black’, not just skim it as fast as possible so I could stop panicking about not having read it. And there’s only so long I can pretend I’ve watched La La Land.
For me, podcasts were The Tipping Point (crap, I’ve got to add that book to the list too) where I began to feel like there was no conceivable way that I could ever make it through all the popular culture that people were producing.
In the last decade, there has been an explosion of culture and thanks to smart phones, Netflix, podcasts and 3G, it’s all at our fingertips every moment of every day. No one has to tune into the radio at precisely 10 am to listen to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, you can listen to it on your commute home or a year from now. You don’t have to sit down at a specified time to watch Love Island, you can stream it whenever you want. I know all of these things were meant to make it easier for us to keep up with cultural trends – except, somehow it doesn’t.
Because everything is preserved for time immemorial now, rather than simply airing once and disappearing into the ether forever, the list of things to do and read and watch and listen to just grows and grows longer each and every day. There’s constant pressure to stay up to date, to have an opinion about S-Townand Broadchurch and oh yeah, have you watched The Handmaid’s Tale yet? I mean…have you even read the book? Duh…I read it years ago obv etc.
The whole thing makes me want to lie down in a dark room and weep (while listening to My Dad Wrote A Porno, because I’ve got to listen to it at some point and mid existential crisis seems as good a time as any).
It turns out, I’m not alone. When I spoke to Hilda Burke, psychotherapist and couples counsellor about this sense of pressure we feel to keep up with the entire canon of pop culture, she explained, ‘Because everything shared on social media, you can feel really left out. You might not watch Love Island, but you go on Twitter and see that 300,000 people are talking about it and there’s an element of missing out on something that’s socially significant.’
This is exactly it, the idea that you’re missing out on something, that you’re not part of a wider conversation, that you’re falling behind, that is so hard to let go of. It’s no coincidence that the rise of online culture and social exchanges has birthed the acronym FOMO. Like Pringles or stalking your ex on Instagram, once you start, it can be really hard to just…stop, to take a step back and ask yourself if what you’re doing is actually making you happy.
Burke says this feeling of being overwhelmed comes up with her clients a lot: ‘especially clients interested in politics or in gender equality. They can become over-stimulated and it can feel so daunting.’
So, what can we do to try and take off some of this pressure off ourselves to be on top of every article/podcast/TV show/film? Burke suggests we should take the time to ask ourselves: ‘what do I enjoy? What drains me? What sources get me riled up? What relaxes me or stimulates my brain?’
Basically, as adults we need to start employing the same piece of advice our parents dolled out to our teenage selves in primary school: it’s okay not to do something just because everyone else is. We need to learn to take a step back, to accept that it’s okay to miss out on things and that it’s perfectly normal not to enjoy the things that almost everyone on social media seems to. So, please, I beg of you, don’t tell me about any more podcasts.