Invisibilia: Listen and you will see

Invisibilia is a program from NPR news that explores things we can’t see such as thoughts feelings and emotions.

In one episode called “How to Become Batman,” hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel explore the effect of expectations, using expecations of the blind as an example.

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Here’s how this program fares in terms of the following:

Incorporation of natural sound: Click. Click. Click. Throughout the episode one can hear clicking sounds from Daniel Kish, a blind man who uses those sounds to echolocate and determine his surroundings. The clicks were artfully used in different ways. Sometimes clicks could be heard behind dialogue. Other times clicks were used almost rhythmically to move dialogue along. The clicks were crisp sharp, almost like two marbles hitting together.

Natural sound was also used to set the scene and prove location. The episode opens “deep in the woods in southern California” and crunching footsteps can be heard as well as birds and insects.

Engaging and clear voice of the host: Lulu Miller lead this story. The host make this clear at the beginning, which I found necessary not only for transparency, but also because Miller and Spiegel have very similar-sounding voices.

Tightness clarity of the script: Invisbilia does this very well. Sentences are often snappy and quick, keeping the dialogue moving.

The structure of the program and script in general are well thought out. It organizes layers and layers of ideas and sources. Explaining one concept fully before moving on to the next, building up to each point until the conclusion. It is a thoughtful way to keep listeners, engaged especially when psychological and other scientific concepts are brought in. This way it is not overwhelming and clunky with scientific jargon.

“We will get there,” Miller said. “But first…” listeners are given the voices of sources needed to help understand psychological and neurological concepts.

That’s where Incorporation of a number of different voices comes in:

Invisibilia includes many different sources. If someone is mentioned, their voices is used. If a difficult concept is explored, an expert can be heard. What stands out about how voices are used is that they the host often begins a sentence and the source will finish it. For instance, Miller said, “And he saw…” And the source continued, “A beggar.” It was a great way to keep my attention as a listener because there was not just one voice droning on. This method helped break the dialogue up and really made me focus on the sources’ words, as the sources were always left with the most poignant point to say. The host would just set them up for it.

Personality that comes through: The personality of the hosts came out throughout the program, but they did not overshadow the point of the episode. Instead it made things more personal or they would remark what I was thinking myself as I listened along. For instance, Miller could be heard reacting to holding the prosthetic eyes of Kish. “That’s so cool,” she whispered. Other times I could hear a quizzical “Huh” or a fascinated “Wow” as she spoke to her sources. The informally made the sources’ answers sound more natural.

It helps to feel that the host is curious about what she is exploring and is excited when interesting conclusions are made. That is why it is endearing to hear Miller and Spiegel stomp up to the rooftop of their office and shout, “You may not need eyes to see!” towards the end of the program.

Transparency: The hosts are transparent in using natural sound to help prove where they are. The are also sure to identify who is speaking. The give reasons why they included a source, showing how they are connected and essential to the overall story. They give a glimpse into their process and are clear from the beginning that they will reach a conclusion by explaining a few concepts first.

Cohesiveness of the story:  Again, the structure of the storytelling kept me engaged throughout the program. I was skeptical of an hour-long story with no visual when I first began listening to Invisibilia, but the format keeps holding on because I want to know more and I want to hear what conclusions the hosts come to with the help of their sources.

The held my attention with keeping soundbites short but impactful. They incorporate music throughout, signaling emotions, transitions and even humor. When Miller described a brain scan lighting up like a disco ball, a quick snippet of “Funky Town” played.

Invisibilia is a well-rounded podcast. It is attention grabbing and attention holding. It is well-structured and considerate of the listener.


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