I was a little late to the podcast game. In fact, I didn’t listen to Serial until about 18 months after everyone else had gone nuts for it. And so I became really excited when my co-worker Alyse Kalish asked our team to compile a list of podcast recs. And I have Marcia Howard, a production manager here at The Muse, to thank for singing the praises of Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self.
Howard labeled it “a smart and insightful look at how we use technology and its effect on modern life,” and so it was a delight to get in touch with the podcast host herself and learn about her career journey.
Can You Take Me Through Your Career Beginnings to Where You Are Now?
I started out as a TV/radio producer in the BBC’s Washington news bureau back in the late ’90s, back when we weren’t all walking around with video cameras in our pockets.
The typical news crew was a producer, correspondent, cameraperson, and sound person. You’ll never see that these days. After five years traveling across the U.S (including covering two presidential elections), I was transferred to the Berlin bureau.
Fast forward through lots of breaking news stories and a lucky moment at the top of an erupting Mount Etna, I ended up as a freelance TV reporter in New York. But it wasn’t until 2012, after having two kids and doing media consulting for nonprofits, that I got back into radio.
What Made You Decide to Start Note to Self?
Originally the show was a short on-air segment called New Tech City that reported on the burgeoning NYC tech scene. But pretty quickly we realized that audiences could get their tech news lots of places.
But there were very few places doing deep dives into how social media, data, and smartphones were changing human behavior. Podcasting, which was just taking off, turned out to be the exact right medium for intimate conversations and investigations into the personal side of the digital age.
How Has it Changed in the Past Four and Half Years? And Did You Ever Foresee it Growing as Much as it Has and Gaining Such Popularity?
Well, I certainly hoped it would gain this level of popularity!
We launched our first interactive project called “Bored and Brilliant” in 2015. I couldn’t believe it when tens of thousands of people signed up and then actually did a week of behavioral experiments to see if they could use their phone differently. Their stories and results are now the basis of a book (also called Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self) that comes out in September.
How Do You Stay Motivated and Creative in This Line of Work?
I don’t have my big ideas when I’m sitting at my desk. I need to be reading a lot (on paper) and then going on long walks. That’s when my best thoughts strike.
I also know that to write an episode, I need at least five hours of uninterrupted time. So I joined a silent co-working space that I try to get to at least once a week.
Do You Listen to Podcasts? Current Favorites?
These days I’m less committed to particular podcasts and more interested in topics. So, for example, in preparation for our recent project called The Privacy Paradox, I listened to as many interviews as I could about big data, from HBR Ideacast to Radiolab to The Cybersecurity Podcast. And yes, I listened to S-Town. It was indeed great.
What Can You Tell Me About Achieving Work-Life Balance? Is it Possible? How Do You Manage it?
After having neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on the podcast to talk about how we can use technology to better organize our brains, I became an obsessive calendar and to-do list updater.
I know where I need to be and what I need to be doing at (almost) all times. Including relaxing, exercising, reading, and hanging with my kids. That doesn’t always mean I do it, but as Oprah would say, I set the intention.
Oh, and every Sunday I look at the week ahead and try to make sure I have the right mix of extrovert and introvert activities. I need my quiet time. Otherwise I get grouchy. And that’s not nice for anyone.
Current Career Goals? Large and Small?
My goal is to help people understand how technology is profoundly changing the human experience so they can make good choices. Tech should be a tool not a taskmaster and you don’t have to be on a social media site if it’s making you miserable.
Do You Have Any Advice for People Who Want to Make a Transition But Feel Lost or Stuck?
Whenever someone with no journalism or audio experience asks, “How do I get into podcasting?” I tell them to go interview their mom using the voice memo app on their phone.
But that advice applies to anyone wondering what to do next. Just go make something. Don’t worry if it’s good or bad, just get your hands dirty and your mind engaged.
If you’ve been unhappy in your line of work but reluctant to pursue something else because you can’t imagine abandoning the thing you’re really good at, well, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your situation.
Has there been a career in the back of your mind that you’re unsure about pursuing? Pursue it!
I’m not saying you should quit your job ASAP, but rather give yourself the chance to explore it. Take a course (here are 10 free options hand-picked for people deciding on a career path), set up an informational interview with someone you admire in the field (instructions for going about that here), or just dive into it and make it a side project. Worst-case scenario you cross it off on your list of possible careers.
Best-case? You find a job you’re excited about!