Productive Distraction: Some Smart Podcasts for Thesis Writers

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

Thesis writing is hard on the brain.

I don’t know about other writiers, but once mental fatigue sets in, I tend to get confused by my own argument, feel apathetic about the tower of books in front of me, and am very easily distracted. We all know that filtering and avoiding distractions are among the keys to remaining productive in the information age, but I’ve discovered a counterintuitive concept that is equally key for intense, thesis-like research: productive distraction, intentional distraction that wipes away my negative thoughts and re-energizes me for more thesis work. If I spend 20 minutes distracting myself by flipping through headlines in Google Reader, then I return to my thesis with more clutter in my mind.

The key, for me, is to engage with more intellectual material, deeply, but on any topic unrelated (or at least peripheral) to my research. By focusing my cranked up mind on something different, I’m able to reset my attention and, when I return to my thesis, I feel like I’m rediscovering it for the first time. Most of my breakthroughs happen through this circulation between focus and productive distraction.

I’ve found that podcasts are the perfect medium for me because, weather permitting, they can be accompanied by a leisurely walk through my neighborhood. So, without further ado, here are a few of the “smart” podcasts I’ve been listening to this semester, as productive distractions:

Digital Campus (new window)

From George Mason’s Center for History and New Media, who also brought us Zotero, the biweekly Digital Campus podcast has a bit of a split personality, alternating between a sort of tech-talk for academics (focusing on the latest trends in technology and new media and how they affect students, teaching and research) and, on the other hand, much narrower disciplinary discussion of the use of new media for historical research and museum curation. If you want a 15 minute sample of Digital Campus at its best, check out Episode 37 (new window), skip to the 20:15 marker, and enjoy a fantastic discussion of the recent Smithsonian 2.0 conference. (new window)

First Monday Podcast (new window)

First Monday is one of my favorite academic journals, but I just began listening to their monthly podcast a few months ago. They’ve landed a few big names that CCT students will recognize – Lessig, Bogost, Vaidhyanathan – and the interviewers ask tough, well-informed questions. They really let loose when they interviewed Lawrence Lessig in November, remixing the interview and tearing him apart. I disagreed with many of their points – or at least I felt that they were missing the forest for the trees – but I still highly recommend that episode.

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me

Wait Wait is technically old media – it airs on Sunday Saturday mornings on NPR – but, more often than not, I listen to it in “new media” podcast form. I won’t bother to explain what Wait Wait is about – it’s funny and it’s smart, and that’s really all you need to know.

That’s it for my showcase, but here are a few other podcasts I’ve been into lately:

Anybody have suggestions?