Reflections

Posted 27 August, 2019 by Bailey Cordrey

Theatre for one

The audio-streaming infrastructure of the internet has been quickly taken over by a talk radio resurgence. Podcasts, which started as a somewhat niche interest, have quickly grown into a pop medium unto themselves. There’s a huge variety of podcasts available to my fellow auditory learners—as of June 2019, over 750,000 podcasts series are hosted on iTunes, and over the past 12 months about 550 new podcasts series were uploaded to the platform every day. 

Many people, myself included, enjoy the multitask-ability of podcast listening. It’s easier to listen to a podcast while, say, preparing dinner, than it is to read a book. Other listeners enjoy the discovery and curation process: podcast content is curated first by hosts, and second, by us, the audience, who assemble our library of favourite episodes and shows largely without the assistance of recommendation algorithms. Beyond increased content control and multitasking utility, podcasts allow listeners to explore new ideas straight from the mouths of industry experts whose ideas may not have been very accessible otherwise. 

Take a skim through this line-up of podcasts at the intersection of tech and civil society that might suit your fancy: 

Think Digital Futures 

Who makes it? 2SER-FM, a community radio station based in Australia.

When did it start? 2016

What is its purpose? Each episode explores how today’s technology is transforming tomorrow—from our biology, habits, relationships and spaces, to our place in the universe.

Important to know… TDF dives into topics revolving around tech and social justice. Host Jake Morcom asks thoughtful, poignant questions and I really appreciate the wide range of stakeholders considered in each episode. 

First listen: The Digital Divide in Australian Detention Centers.

4Q4:

Who makes it? Digital Impact, an initiative of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

When did it start? 2019

What is its purpose? Digital Impact helps the social sector use digital resources safely, ethically and effectively for maximum impact.

Important to know… 4Q4 poses four questions to civil society advocates related to their area of speciality. They welcome guest and question suggestions on Twitter under the hashtag #4Q4. Episodes are short but dense, and each episode has a tight focus, covering a lot of ground in the 10 minute running time. 

First listen: The Problem with Palantir 

African Tech Roundup

Who makes it? ATR, a Johannesburg-based media and insights organisation.

When did it start? 2015

What is its purpose? The African Tech Roundup podcast delivers digital, tech and innovation highlights from across the African continent with a progressive bent. 

Important to know… Topics are handled in one of two ways: Full-length “Quick (Tech) Chat” episodes, or miniseries that chip away at larger topics in short bursts (eg. Entrepreneurial Innovation and Human Resilience in Fragile States). The show generally favours topics concerning the private sector. Host Andile Masuku is at his best when exploring tangents with guests. 

First listen: Will Facebook’s Digital Currency Libra Be Good For Africa? 

Data & Society’s ‘Databites’

Who makes it? Data & Society, a nonprofit research institute in New York City.

When did it start? 2016

What is its purpose? The episodes of Data & Society’s podcast are recordings of their live speaker series, ‘Databites.’ Each talk covers social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological developments like: algorithms, automation, artificial intelligence, big data, criminal justice, discrimination, education, fairness, privacy, surveillance, the future of work and much more.

Important to know… If you only subscribe to one podcast on this list, let it be this one. The speakers are diverse and dynamic, and each episode has dedicated page with summaries, linked sections, dynamic cover images and other information.

First listen: Dark Patterns in Accessibility Tech

My Data

Who makes it?  MyData, a network of entrepreneurs, activists, academics and more dedicated to empowering individuals and communities with their personal data.

When did it start? 2018

What is its purpose?  MyData’s mission is to empower individuals by improving their right to self-determination regarding their personal data. Their objective is to develop an awareness of how individuals can have more control over the data that describes us, and of the data trails we leave behind us in our everyday life. 

Important to know…  This podcast is made by and for the MyData community, which also hosts a conference, slack channel, meetups, medium journal and several social media pages. You can read their declaration here. Episodes are usually thirty minutes long and exclusively in interview format. 

First listen: S18E08 – Elizabeth Renieris

Tech Policy Grind

Who makes it? Fellows of the Internet Law & Policy Foundry (ILPF), an organization for internet law and policy professionals passionate about disruptive innovation. 

When did it start? 2017

What is its purpose? TPG discusses issues at the intersection of law and technology through interviews with friends and fellows of the Internet Law and Policy Foundry.

Important to know… This podcast is highly recommended among its followers and maintains a near-perfect rating on iTunes. Hosts are ILPF Fellows who bring an interesting, insider perspective but are able to confidently distil technical questions and concepts into plain language. 

First listen: Lessons from Blocking the Big 5 and More With Kashmir Hill

Despite my appreciation for podcasts and the engaging, often-niche ideas they expose me to, I see the pitfalls, too. Not all podcasts consider accessibility in the way they’re made or uploaded. (Here are some basics on making podcasts accessible!) There’s also the question of focus. On more than one occasion, I’ve caught myself listening to a podcast episode while trying to read an unrelated article, not really absorbing either. This kind of over-availability of information has been studied and the general trend seems to be ‘more to focus on, less ability to focus’

Is there a particularly good podcast where we should direct our limited focus? Do you have a topic you think is ripe for podcasting? Feel free to share your thoughts with us at hello@theengineroom.org or @EngnRoom.

Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

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