The Serial podcast proves we’re not addicted to instant gratification

It’s slow. It’s detailed. It's totally addictive

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The Independent Online

I had never even heard of Sarah Koenig until very recently, but now I count down the hours until I can next hear her voice.

An offshoot from the radio show This American Life, in recent weeks her podcast, Serial, has taken off around the world. It has become the fastest podcast to reach 5m downloads and streams in iTunes’ history.

In it, Koenig investigates the case of Hae Min Lee, a teenager from Baltimore, US, who was murdered in 1999. Throughout its 12 episodes, Serial focuses on Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend and the man convicted of her murder. It includes many conversations with him from the prison he’s been serving his sentence in for the past 15 years.

We’re all inured to the horror and excitement of murder mysteries: they’re everywhere. So why does Serial have so many of us so gripped that we’re binge-listening our way through it and purposefully wearing our hair down so we can sneak in a headphone at work? (Definitely not me, by the way.)

The difference with Serial is that it’s slow. It’s detailed. It takes you through hypotheticals and witness accounts that aren’t completely crucial to the re-investigation. In a way, it reflects Koenig’s journey – her questions, dead ends and the thoughts she has along the way. Her struggles with both sides of the case are perfectly timed – she voices her doubts at the same time we do. 

Serial has transformed long-form journalism by adding a whole lot more excitement. Koenig's self-aware narration, conversational but to-the-point, moves the episodes along at a comfortable pace. Sure, you’ve had to walk the long way home to listen to it, but you still want more.

You trust Koenig. You know she’s done the hard work of looking into the case, and you know that what seems to be a tangent now is actually important for later on in the story’s development. Serial’s shifting nature makes it all the more impressive that it has become so popular, because it requires your full and absolute attention; it's success proves we’re not as addicted to instant gratification as we thought we were.

Because contrary to the belief that the internet has dulled our attention spans, listening to hours of Serial’s slow pace, concentrating, remembering and staying focused, brings a pleasure that no listicle ever could.

In a world of constant distractions it feels good to switch off and pay attention to something. Beating the internet’s hold over us, its lure of bright and shiny information, is an achievement. Thanks, Serial.