I wasn’t always into podcasts. I started listening to them near the start of 2020 to get my daily news of what was happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, I used my smartphone like most other people. I would mindlessly scroll through social media and I wasn’t very considerate of how I was constantly being tracked and profiled.

Nowadays, I listen to podcasts that are more appropriate to my lifestyle. As a privacy advocate, one of the podcasts I subscribe to is Michael Bazzell’s The Privacy, Security, and OSINT Show. At some point, I got to really evaluate the tools I use in my life and how I consume them both from a privacy standpoint and a mental health standpoint.

How I started to consume podcasts in a privacy-conscious way

I used to subscribe to all my favourite podcasts through the FOSS Android app AntennaPod which you can get from F-Droid. I would generally download all the episodes in advance using my home internet so I could listen to them offline but the ability to stream over Wi-Fi or mobile data is certainly there.

Despite now having a new way to consume podcasts, which I’ll detail in the next section, I still highly recommend to anyone looking to get into listening podcasts to use the AntennaPod app.

How I now consume podcasts

At some point in early 2022, I decided I wanted to reduce my dependence on my smartphone. I looked into getting something like one of the various Sandisk Clip Go models but I was not willing to actually commit to getting one. I gave up on the idea until many months later when I mentioned to a friend that I’d been thinking about getting a standalone MP3 player. She told me that she had a walkman that she no longer used that I could have. Now, a “walkman” to me was one of those things from the early 2000s. I didn’t realise that the “Walkman” brand is still a thing so I was quite skeptical. I decided to try to fit it into my lifestyle anyway and have been overall happy with it.

In most cases, getting a copy of the audio files is done by visiting an RSS feed and saving the file. I’ve used AntennaPod to tell me where it sources its files which makes things easier. In other cases, I download podcasts using yt-dlp. To give an example, I recently downloaded one episode of a podcast I listen to using ./yt-dlp.exe https://podcast-name.buzzsprout.com/1234567/1234567-episode-1-episode-name-here. I then have to manually transfer the file over onto the MicroSD card that. I cannot simply plug the device into my Linux laptop as the file system is not compatible from what I’ve experienced. I have been able to transfer the file onto the device but it always resulted in a corrupt file.

Now, being an “MP3 player” with no dedicated functionality, I have to get a little creative to manage my podcasts. The device supports “bookmark lists” which are effectively similar to playlists. I manage these lists by queuing the episodes manually. Unlike with AntennaPod which marks episodes as played, I “mark” an episode by removing it manually from the bookmark list. Even with this bookmark technique, I need to be careful to not play something else as that will cause me to lose the timestamp of the current podcast episode. Sometimes I’m just lazy and I don’t even bother creating a playlist and I just try to remember where I’m at as best as I can.

Has this been all worth it?

It really depends on what the individual wants to get out of it. If you’re someone who just wants to consume podcasts in a convenient way, definitely no. If you’d like to get a slight privacy boost or explore whether using a standalone device can benefit your mental health, it’s something I think is worth trying. It’s definitely a massive inconvenience to work with but part of me thinks it’s nice to be able to detach from that one device that has managed to integrate its way into almost every aspect of our lives.