As we said in Vol. 56, we are currently living through (or at least approaching) the Second Golden Age of Radio. The growth of the podcasting industry alone—according to Edison Research, roughly 21% of the American population had listened to at least one podcast in the last month in 2016—has generated a wonderful variety of high-quality shows.
This week, we bring you a few more “Podcasts We Love,” primed for your summer travels, commutes to work, or lazy summer evenings. Enjoy.
From Philip Lorish, Editor
As Culture Briefing readers will recognize, I have a standing interest in the ways new technologies are transforming the nature of work, particularly in the “knowledge economy.” On this topic, few pieces have been as illuminating or memorable as this conversation between Cal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown, and Ezra Klein, founder of Vox Media. Straightaway, Klein is clear about his debt to Newport, particularly Newport’s defense of “deep work” over and against the kind of “hive-mind” chatter that composes an increasing percentage of what we mean by “work” in the knowledge economy. In the conversation that ensues, Newport and Klein evaluate the changing shape of our attention economy in the workplace, and share some of the habits they have developed to train themselves to be not “on top of things” but rather, “underneath things”—that is, to understand them at the most fundamental conceptual level.
I’ve also enjoyed Reid Hoffman’s recent podcast series, Masters of Scale, immensely. Given Hoffman’s stature in Silicon Valley (Hoffman is profiled here in the New Yorker), the quality of his guests is unsurprising. What does surprise, however, is how direct and straightforward his interviews are, even when those guests are pressed to speak about some of the most difficult or vexing moments in their professional lives. I would particularly recommend Hoffman’s interview of Sheryl Sandberg as representative of the service Hoffman is providing for those of us interested in group and organizational dynamics.
From Sam Speers, Managing Editor
Podcasts have made it easy to incorporate the day’s news into my morning routine. Morning news podcasts come in all shapes and sizes, from NPR’s 5-minute, just-the-facts-please Hourly News Summary to the more in-depth discussion from The Daily from Michael Barbaro at the New York Times. My personal favorite has become NPR’s perfectly timed 10–12 minute morning briefing Up First, in which hosts Rachel Martin, David Greene, and Steve Inskeep talk about the day’s biggest stories, complete with a light dose of friendly morning-show banter.
For those interested in the ways judicial precedent continues to shape American life, Radiolab’s six-episode series “More Perfect" from last summer is worth a listen. The episodes on race, capital punishment, and political influence on the Court are particularly engaging. And for that “lean-back” article you so wanted to read but never found the time, The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads podcast will read you some of the week’s most compelling longform journalism. Check out “How Technology Gets Us Hooked,” featured in Vol. 91.
From Madison Fisher, Contributor to Culture Briefing
With topics ranging from police shooting data to Native American tribal culture to the disturbing science of lethal drug cocktails, Radiolab reports on important issues with compelling authenticity. The podcast calls itself “the place where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” This emphasis on interdisciplinary material is precisely what makes Radiolab stand out: it is just as engaging as it is systematic. Like Culture Briefing, Radiolab takes up and distills a wide range of issues and topics, however lofty or abstract they may seem.
One of my favorite episodes, and one that epitomizes this approach, is “Playing God.” In this episode, Radiolab follows Sheri Fink as she considers the complexities of medical triage in four different crisis scenarios: a warzone, a hurricane, a church basement, and an earthquake. Exploring the wreckage of each scene, the podcast evolves into an ethical discussion about how to decide whom to save in a crisis, when time and resources are constrained, not to mention that the victims themselves are in earshot. While some protocols are in place to prevent arbitrary decision-making, the codes can only go so far, and first responders are forced to make weighty decisions about how to preserve and order human life. I was struck by how vividly I could envision the destruction of the post-Katrina hospital: as we follow Fink through each hospital floor, hearing the dripping of flooded rooms and the buzzing of half-submerged medical equipment, the line between firsthand observation and secondhand listening is tactfully blurred.
From the New City Commons Staff
Finally, for those interested in hearing some of the recent work of New City Commons’ Executive Director, Greg Thompson, tune in to Episodes 28–34 of the Q Podcast, where Greg lays out a six-part framework for Christians looking to understand the shape of faithful presence in the midst of the unique challenges of our cultural moment.
We cross a big milestone next week: Volume 100! Keep an eye out for a special commemorative briefing, after which Culture Briefing will take a summer hiatus.