18 September 2016
I’m almost 2 months into my stint here in the US, which means I’ve spent a lot of time on subways over the past few weeks, and I’ve been listening to a lot of podcast episodes. I love reading lists generally, so here’s a list of my favourite podcast episodes.
At the beginning of September I asked on Twitter for some podcast recommendations, which helped guide me along the way. Episodes within podcasts can differ greatly though, which is why I wanted to make a list of specific episodes as well as generally good places to start.
But many of the podcasts that were recommended to me are hosted by men, and invite lots of men to be guests. Because of this, earlier in the year, after listening to too many episodes that featured men’s voices and zero women, I made a rule for myself:
My new rule: if a podcast has 3 or more people without at least 1 woman, I'm not listening. Sad how many tech podcasts this rules out 😞— Zara Rahman (@zararah) August 5, 2016
It’s always a shame to have to stop listening to a podcast episode halfway through, but… that’s what I’m doing. It’s especially a shame when the rest of the time, their episodes are pretty great - but my tolerance for listening to upwards of four men talking about any topic without a single woman is pretty low right now. To give well-deserved credit to those who invite more diversity on to their podcasts and talk about interesting tech/data topics here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of my favourite episodes from the past few weeks. It’s very US-heavy, and I’m finding that the ‘professional’ podcast scene seems to be much bigger here than in other countries I’m familiar with. Recommendations for others are always welcome!
Note to Self - I especially like the episodes “Digging into Facebook’s File on You” which features ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, and the episode “Facing Our Weirdest Selves”, with two artists and designers whose work I’ve followed for a long time: Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. Even though I follow them both on Twitter and I’ve been a fan of Dear Data almost since it started, this was the first time I’d heard either of them talk themselves about their work, which I enjoyed. I like the style of the podcast, too - a nicely human take on some complex tech issues, by Manoush Zomorodi.
99% Invisible - the episode Project Cybersyn was in many ways a lighter and easier to digest telling of Eden Medina’s book, Cybernetic Revolutionaries, which I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed. In this episode, host Roman Mars talks with Eden Medina about the surreal story of Chile’s socialist government’s foray into cybernetic systems and politics. If you haven’t got time to read the book (which can be dense at times, and is quite expensive to buy), the podcast episode gives a great overview, and it’s a fantastic tale. Another old favourite episode is From the Sea, Freedom which talks about Sealand, a micronation just six miles off the coast of England.
a16z - this comes across as more of a casual take on some complex tech/business topics - it’s often invited guests having a conversation about their area of expertise, rather than a much more scripted experience like many of the other podcasts on this list. I like the style though, though I have to say, they’re sometimes pretty man-heavy in the guests they invite (and I remember turning off a couple of episodes as a result!). I keep giving them another chance though because the topics they cover are great, and sometimes it’s really interesting to hear people just talk about their work without it feeling overly edited. My favourites so far are this episode on memes, messaging and internet in China with Christina Xu and Connie Chan as invited guests talking with host Sonal Chokshi. and “The Meaning of Emoji” which was a great and deep dive into how emoji are created and the role they play in communication in different parts of the world.
Digital Human - very hard to pick my favourites for this one, as I’ve been listening to this for ages. I love the style and the approach of these episodes, weaving stories and topics together - and for the brief period that I did my own podcast, this was a big inspiration. Among my favourites are the episodes Magic, Altruism, and Changeling. Not all of the episodes necessarily cover ‘new’ topics but I appreciate their way of synthesising and combining with interviews and analysis.
Flash Forward - probably my all-time favourite podcast. It’s also one of those things that contributes to my growing conviction that science fiction is an incredibly important tool for anyone working in tech and data to be able to open up their minds to new possibilities, and really imagine what could be, what should be (and what definitely shouldn’t be…). Particular favourites (though I really do recommend all of them) include Expiration Date (about finding out the day of your death); Swipe Right for Democracy (about direct democracies), and Omnibot (about universal translation systems.)
Mystery Show - again, another all-time favourite. There’s only 6 episodes and I’m torn between wanting to listen to all of them at once, or wanting to spread them out over a long period of time… I love all of them that I’ve listened to so far, and I am full of appreciation and awre for the amount of time and work that must go into creating every single episode. Sadly its future is a bit uncertain at the moment but I’m crossing all of my fingers and toes that Starlee figures something out.
Code Switch - this isn’t a technology podcast, but I love the theme of looking at how race, ethnicity and culture play out in the world of journalism. I loved (and learned a lot from) the episode “What does ‘Objectivity’ mean to Journalists of Color?”, which, given the crazy election cycle going on over here, seemed particularly pertinent to educate myself on. I’m also looking forward to listening to “The Code Switch Guide To Handling Casual Racism”.
das ARD radiofeature - as I’m away from Germany, I’m a little bit scared of forgetting my hard-gearned German! So though podcasts aren’t anywhere near as prevalent there as they are in the US, I’ve been listening to a few German ones every now and then. I started listening without knowing what to expect, but the ones I picked to start with proved to be great - Hightech für die Außengrenze about technology used on EU borders, and the role tech has been playing in the refugee crisis, and Abschied vom Faktor Mensch about the ethical implications and consequences of self-driving cars, within the German context.
RadioLab - the episode “The Girl Who Doesn’t Exist “ was very well-timed for my arrival here, as I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of documentation that was needed to set up here. The episode looks at the real story of a girl whose parents brought her up completely off the grid, meaning that when she tried to integrate into US society, she has been finding it incredibly difficult because she’s missing the documents that make her into a “real” person…
Invisibilia - a lot of great episodes here too, but one that made me think a lot was “The Personality Myth”, on whether our personalities stay stable over the course of our lifetimes and with people who have committed serious crimes, how this affects their rehabilitation and re-integration into society.
Freakonomics - “Is the Internet Being Ruined?” has Zeynep Tufekci and Yochai Benkler as guests, and I’m big fans of both. There was nothing massively new in this episode for me, but a good refresher of some of the major points in the history of the Internet, and the main discussions about its structure and use today.
Science Friday - A Conversation With Margaret Atwood (SciFri Book Club) - oh my goodness, I love it when writers I hugely admire, end up being hilarious in person too. If you’re an Atwood fan, you’ll love this.