Podcasts: the new pub chats?

We've stopped going to the pub, and started listening to podcasts - here's why

In the last century, going to the pub was a normal, everyday occurrence. Not for fine dining, watching Arsenal beat Spurs, doing a quiz or ordering a flat white. Not even for chugging alcohol, necessarily, because in the most rewarding of pub-based experiences, alcohol plays but an incidental part. After all, you can challenge your liver more cheaply at home.

No, the pearl in the heart of the pub experience has always been conversation. Life-affirming, sometimes life-changing conversation. The trouble is, we’ve lost almost a quarter of British pubs since 2000; nearly 1,000 of them shut in 2018. We either don’t have a local anymore, or we’re too busy to visit it, or we’re anxiously watching our unit consumption (and bank balance). Today, the only people I can think of who discuss things daily in a pub exist in Weatherfield and Albert Square. Where do we go for conversations now?

We download them. According to Ofcom, around 7.1 million people in the UK now listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. That’s double as many as five years ago. There’s a one-in-eight chance you are one of them and are, in fact, only reading this while you wait for The Joe Rogan Experience to download.

Causal link? Obviously not. But think about all the reasons you love podcasts. Aren’t many of them the exact same reasons you used to love going to the pub?

Consider this:

  • Podcasts give shape to those amorphous hours between finishing work and getting home – like the pub used to before we all started working 10 hour-days and let Jamie Oliver convince us cooking was fun
  • Podcasts are free – you just need a smartphone. Pub entry is free too – you just need to buy a drink once you’re in (and, as any student who’s ever nursed a lime and soda all night will attest, this can be loose change)
  • Podcasts and pubs are there for you when there’s nothing on TV
  • A great stint in the pub involves a bunch of smart, funny friends or colleagues indulging in gossip, witty repartee and impassioned rants about a mutual obsession. Ditto a great podcast - you can’t join in, but you feel no desire to
  • Podcasts can also be like eavesdropping on an intimate conversation – the sort of heart-to-hearts or fierce rows often going on at the next table in the pub, in fact
  • Podcasts offer an informal system of adult education – you can learn all about anything from offshore wind farms to Derren Brown’s party secrets from them. The only other place you’ll get such an under-the-counter learning experience is in the pub, chatting to that bloke in the leather fedora at the bar

Pub conversation isn’t dead, it’s happening in your headphones.