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Rituals, a series of repeated and sequenced actions with a collective or personal meaning, have been part of our social and cultural history back to the earliest days of our human evolution. In fact, sociologists have described rituals as some of the most meaningful experiences we can have as humans.
But what do our modern rituals look like? Most of us are partaking in rituals each and every day, from the way you drink your morning coffee, to how you make your bed and travel into work. And of course, the content you listen to while engaging in these daily moments are all rituals in action. Podcasts frame the background of these daily activities, with the ability to drive meaning across our everyday lives. But while modern rituals have taken new forms, the meaning they imbue on our lives has remained consistent. Rituals are fundamental to what makes us human, and have a wide ranging impact on wellbeing.
Rituals of any kind provide a consistency that our brain absolutely loves. They act as a buffer against uncertainty and anxiety, and create a sense of connection to oneself and others in a shared experience. Interestingly we don’t have to be physically together to share in this connection. In digital communities, including listeners to the same podcast, we experience the benefits of this connection. The enjoyment and benefit of listening to a show is facilitated in part by forging connections with hosts and as well as other listeners during the experience.
Most of us listen to podcasts when we’re partaking in another task, often one that doesn't require a huge amount of dedicated focus. Examples include morning commutes, tending to the garden, physical exercise, cleaning the house or other forms of self care. Among the sea of media options available today, podcasts have now become new media rituals, and this presents an opportunity for podcasts to enrich consumer’s everyday lives.
However, podcasts are not the only modern day digital, phone-based ritual. Social media or even news-based scrolling could also be seen as rituals, but the difference is that podcasts help support a slow release of longer lasting neurochemicals. The release from short form content is usually a sharper ‘come down’ due to the self-involved nature of social media.
Social media and other short form content uses visual stimuli which disturbs sleep with their blue light, while podcasts allow our eyes to rest. Studies at Harvard have shown that on social media we speak of ourselves 80% of the time. In longer form audio storytelling, the hits from dopamine, the neurochemical responsible for reward, pleasure and motivation are usually the result of a story outside ourselves, which evokes a sense of empathy. This also stimulates the release of oxytocin - the neurochemical responsible for connection and bonding, not often found in short form social viewing.
Rituals are the foundation of our every day lives and help drive purpose and meaning. Podcasts are a new entertainment ritual that can be accessed across a wide range of environmental settings. They offer brands a chance to create content that not only travels with listeners, but allows them to be a productive addition in various physical and mind expanding ways. As we look for ways to add meaning and boost wellbeing, new podcast rituals are growing as a way to contribute to listeners’ health and foster connection.
To learn more about the research we've conducted with Kinda Studios, listen to the latest episodes of Fresh Ears: https://freshears.lnk.to/podcastsarebettereo