The Audiobook Habit

How listening to audiobooks shaped my media diet.

Written on December 14, 2014 in Personal, Books.
Adam Fortuna

Hey hey! I'm a developer who lives in Orlando, FL. Right now I work at Code School, listen to a lot of audiobooks, set way too many goals, write at minafi.com and tweet often.

There are so many (good) podcasts out there it’s easy to get swept away by them. About 2 years ago I was subscribing to over 30 of them, many of them news that overlapped with each other. Around this time, I decided to take a break from podcasts and binge listen to all 5 Game of Thrones books. For reference, that’s over 200 hours of content.

After about 2 month of audiobooks, I switched back to podcasts and found I was able to unsubscribe from nearly everything and wonder why I listened to many of them in the first place. After that, what I listened to changed dramatically – focusing on storytelling, education and entertainment rather than news.

Stopping this deluge of information in podcast form was similar to when I stopped reading RSS feeds (thanks Google Reader for going away!). It was information I didn’t know I didn’t need.

Habit Forming

I have a tendency to take things to the extreme. Why do something if you’re not going to go all the way? Marilyn knows that whenever we’re watching a TV show, we’re not going to just watch one episode, we’re going to watch the entire series from episode 1, in order.

This same tendency that can cause a lot of wasted time when listening to podcasts, actually helps out for marathoning audiobooks. From when I wake up in the morning and roll out of bed, if I’m not talking to someone, programming, reading or watching TV, I’m probably listening to an audiobook. People around the office have no doubt seen me walking around with earbuds in. This resulted in 45 books in 2013 and 39 books (so far) in 2014.

Podcasts

I have missed out on some amazing podcasts in that time, and there are a few I’ll still make sure to listen to. Freakanomics, RadioLab and Serial (for example) are all amazing, as well as too many others. Rather than tuning in each week for most of these (ie, all but Serial), I’ll let them pile up then binge listen to 3-6 months of backlog in a few days. For other podcasts, I’ll only pickout the episodes I like where they’re touching on topics of interest, rather than listening to every episode regardless.

Seems obvious enough to do this, but when you’re the habit of watching every episode of a TV show, skipping an episode of a podcast seems like you’re not getting the full picture.

Positive Implications

What did this change have on my life? It wasn’t immediately apparent, but a few things stand out. By tuning out tech gadget podcasts, I noticed my consumerist tendencies declined. By stopping some of the financial podcasts, I worried about investments less which resulted in less shifting money around and ultimately a more successful Bogleheads style strategy. By not tuning in on specific days each week for news, I had a less structured listening schedule where I wasn’t immediately listening to whatever was available, and instead choosing what to listen to.

Listening around the house has helped me stay on track while getting things done. My entire garage was reorganized during a listen of Foundation. Unstuff your Life kickstarted a house cleanup that still proud of. Creativity Inc began an amazing conversation at Code School that resulted in some effective changes to the way we work. Quiet: The Power of Introverts was a interesting look at what gives me energy and helps drive me (and is a book I wish I had been able to read in middle school).

Development

The drive for additional data on what I was reading led to the creation of an Ember.js Application for managing them, as well as a Code School course on what I learned building it. Lately, my obsession has been AngularJS, and I have learned a huge amount re-implementing it in the new framework. The next step is some crazy data visualizations using D3, which I’m exited to have some data available to experiment with. If anyone wants to hack on it with me, the code is public on GitHub at adamfortuna/scribe.

The inspiration for the books app was inspired by a few fellow programmers who have done the same. Derek Sivers tracks what he’s read, and tends to read business and personal improvement books. Pamela Fox, a fellow programmer in the education space, also tracks her books (we share a distaste for Neuromancer). Any other programmers out there do the same?

Recommendations

If you’re looking for recommendations, the easiest thing is to checkout which books I’ve rated as 5-star on Goodreads using the handy books page. 3 Books I recommend to everyone (although completely different in nature) are Ready Player One, Hyperion and The Stormlight Archive Series (the last being the Fantasy equivalent of Game of Thrones – minus the sex).

On a side note, many thanks to Adam Rensel for the continued amazing book recommendations! If anyone else has suggestions, I’m all ears. Lately I’ve been eying the NPR Top 100 Scienve Fiction and Fantasy list as a good reference point, as well as this amazing visualization of which ones to focus on. The books page also shows what I’m reading on the right, by tapping into GoodReads “currently reading” indicator.

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