On Thinkery, the podcast I do with Brian Hogg (that’s what he tells me his name is, anyway), we’ve been trying out having the occasional guest on the show to join the conversation. They’re not interviews per se, more of a chance to add a third voice to the usual two-way chat that the show normally is.
To kick it off, we were really, really lucky to get two excellent guests who are frankly out of our league, and yet somehow decided to lower themselves to join us for an evening.
First is the pioneer of skeptical podcasting, Robynn McCarthy, better known as Swoopy, erstwhile of Skepticality. It was like she had been doing shows with us for years already, and it was a lot of fun. Listen here.
The second was the one and only Andy Ihnatko, an honest-to-god Montaigne of tech and pop culture, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, and on shows like MacBreak Weekly and The Ihnatko Almanac. Brian and I were, I think, audibly a little too excited at the get-go, but it turned out to be a really substantive, funny, and at times even poignant conversation. Dig it here.
The next couple shows will be back to me and Brian (and they’ve already been recorded so I know they’re good), and then more guests are coming.
I assume you’ve been keeping up with Thinkery, my new-ish podcast with Brian Hogg. In fact, I’m so confident that you have that I don’t even really need to do the thing I’m going to do, which is link to the most recent three episodes, which are…
Episode 5: Just Abduct Elon Musk
- Brian contemplates doing more Mosspuppet and also feels terrible about how his crowdfunding campaign went!
- Christians should have no problem with abortion!
- Darth Vader’s ‘redemption’ is morally simplistic!
- Is there a god or afterlife in Star Wars?
- Neither Paul nor Brian can read fiction anymore!
- Will Voyager outlast us all?
Episode 6: Competitive Pedantry
…with 100% new content and 60% new jokes! And Brian is literally sitting in a closet for optimal sound quality!
Plus, we talk about these specific topics:
- More listeners — and attention — makes us deeply uncomfortable, but we want them!
- Creativity is mechanical, and the muse is mythical!
- How Brian and Paul met!
- Richard Dawkins is the stripper you take home with you!
- Why people disappoint you!
- The Berenstain Bears are fracturing reality!
- Was Brian wrong when he made fun of alien blood?
- Mind control fungus!
and Episode 7: It’s Free Once You’ve Paid For It
It’s a new episode, and it’s bigger and shorter than ever!
What do Paul and Brian talk about this time? Lots of things, like:
- Kids, and taking care of them!
- Paul wants to save his precious, delicate phone!
- Is the universe real? Who cares!
- Amazon Prime, and the lunacy of saying you get ‘free 2-day shipping!’
- How can an established company still be a startup?
- And more, possibly!
Go get some, subscribe in iTunes or from your favorite podcatcher.
Oh, the teeth-gnashing I have indulged in over not being able to come up with The Perfect Podcast Project™ for myself! Then, out of the blue, a very silly person who I have long respected emerges and ropes me into his own podcast jiggery-pokery.
That man is Brian Hogg, of whom I’ve been a great fan since discovering the painfully hilarious Walt Mosspuppet. One day, Brian’s all, hey, let’s do a podcast together, talking about stuff. And I was like, okay!
And thus, more or less, was born Thinkery, where Brian and I think out loud to each other, and put those thoughts into your ear holes. We do religion, culture, politics, and almost never talk about what one of us is eating at any given time. Almost!
We’ve got two episodes up now, a website, a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, and a long Google doc (which I’m not showing you) full of topics we may or may not cover. Two more episodes have been recorded, and I’m in the process of editing them. We’re still figuring things out, from format, topic balance, to which of us does what back-end work. But I’m feeling very good about it, if for no other reason than I’m not doing all the work, as was the case with the iMortal Show and the Obcast.
Episode 1: “Nearer My Bugs to Thee”
Episode 2: “Sociopaths Get Things Done”
I’m thinking about podcasting once again, after abandoning two previous attempts. First was the Obcast, a longform interview show with me and a guest, and the iMortal Show, a panel discussion show with a roster of rotating guests.
I enjoyed both shows very much, but I think in each case I became overwhelmed by work surrounding each episode. Beyond the editing and posting which would be necessary for any format, both Obcast and iMortal demanded the recruiting and coordinating of guests, and the preparatory work of educating myself on the given topic (even if that topic is the guest) well enough in advance. Added to my full-time, intellectually and creatively exhausting job, and being a dad and husband, the unpleasant and stressful aspects of getting each show off the ground outweighed the fun parts. And in each case, I just let the show peter out.
But I know I still want to podcast in some form or other. I just need to find the right format. One idea I’ve toyed with is to make it more narcissistic, more of a solo monologue of my thoughts rather than a discussion. Frankly, that appeals to me less, and I don’t think anyone else would care too much for that either. But if I did go in that direction, it could be as formal as me reading some of essays and posts, or perhaps having a “co-host” who I extemporize at, someone to play the Dan Benjamin to my John Siracusa. But I am no John Siracusa.
Who is, really?
I suspect that whatever format I choose, I likely need to have permanent co-hosts or panelists so that I can remove the stress of wrangling folks for each episode. I have a set cast, and we all do the show at the same time every week (or fortnight or whatever).
And as for topics, the primary subject matter of iMortal the blog is the intersection of tech and human life, but finding a tech angle for every conversation is, frankly, not always fun. I think I’d need to remove tha restriction and broaden possible topics.
So then all the other questions, the usual questions, follow: What’s the format? How long will each episode be? What topics will we cover? How often will we record? Will it be mostly extemporaneous or will there be a great deal of preparation beforehand? Should the episodes be timeless or respond more to current events? I just don’t know yet.
But I’m thinking about it again.
Technology is all about change, and rapid change at that. But even with the pace of technological development being dizzyingly fast, there are still larger paradigms, grander assumptions and codes of conventional wisdom, that are more or less static. In 2014, though, a lot of those paradigms shifted, and many of our preconceptions and understandings were altered, enlightened, or totally overturned. Here’s a short list of some of those paradigm shifts in tech in 2014.
Microsoft the Scrappy Upstart
In another age, Microsoft was the Borg, the unstoppable and loathed behemoth that destroyed all in its path. Then, sometime in the middle-to-late twenty-aughts, it became the ridiculous giant, releasing silly products, failing to even approach the hipness caché of its once-defeated rival Apple, and headed by a boorish clown prince. Zunes? Windows Vista? The Kin smartphone? Windows 8? “Scroogled”? Each risible in its own way.
And then Microsoft got a new boss, and Satya Nadella’s ascent immediately changed the public perception of the company, especially among the tech punditocracy. The products still weren’t fantastic (Windows 8.1, Surface Pro 3), but the company began to emphasize its role as a service provider, ubiquitous not in terms of desktop machines, but in terms of the various services through which all manner of machines and OSes did their work. Think OneNote, Office 360 on iPad and Android, Azure, and OneDrive. The tide had turned, and now as Google and Apple (and Facebook and Amazon) battled for supremacy, Microsoft would simply work with anyone.
To get a strong sense of the change in attitude toward Microsoft, listen to prime-Apple-blogger John Gruber’s interview of Microsoft beat reporter Ed Bott on The Talk Show early this year, recorded at a Microsoft conference, at which Gruber was featured as a marquee user of Microsoft services. Gruber and Bott were full of hope and admiration for the old Borg, which would have been unthinkable even five years ago. It is a new day indeed.
“I Was into Big Phones Before it Was Cool”
When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note in 2011, it was ridiculed for being absurdly huge, as though anyone who bought one should be embarrassed about it. Today, the original Galaxy Note would be considered “medium sized” compared to today’s flagship phones, almost all of which have displays over 5 inches. Meanwhile, even larger phablets are objects of high desire and status, such as the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus. “Mini” phones (the 4.7-inch HTC One Mini, for example) are those with displays bigger than the biggest displays offered by Apple as recently as 2013, which topped out at 4 inches.
No longer silly, phablets are now considered high-productivity machines, the mark of a busy, engaged technophile, and are perceived to be eating well into the tablet market. (They’re still too big for me, but even I could be turned.) Big phones are now just phones.
At some point in 2014, it was decided that everyone in tech must have a podcast. If you worked for a tech site, you had a podcast (like me!). If you worked at a tech company, you had a podcast. If you’d just lost your tech job, your new tech job was to have a podcast. And on those podcasts, they woud have as guests and co-hosts who also had podcasts, because, of course, everyone had a podcast. On those podcasts, they would talk to their fellow podcasts hosts about podcasts, making podcasts, the future of podcasts, the monetization of podcasts, and podcast apps.
I predict that sometime in the middle of 2015, there will be a Podcast Singularity which will swallow up all tech podcasts into an infinitely dense pundit which will consider how this will affect the podcast industry, and will be sponsored by Squarespace.
Amazon’s Weird Hardware
Amazon was on a roll. The Kindle had proven itself to be an excellent piece of hardware years ago, and solidified this position with the magnificent Paperwhite in 2012. In 2013, its Fire tablets had become genuinely high-quality devices that were well-suited to most of the things anyone would want a tablet for, with strong builds, good performance, and beautiful screens. It seemed like Amazon was a serious hardware company now.
Then it released the Fire Phone, and everyone got a queasy feeling in their stomachs. A half-baked, gimmicky device that was incredibly overpriced, it landed with a thud, and Amazon continues to slash its price to clear out its inventory. (People really like the Kindle Voyage, I should note, and the Fire TV has been much better received as a set-top box, though my own experience with the Fire TV Stick was very poor.)
And then they awkwardly previewed the Amazon Echo, the weird cylinder that caters to the dumb informational needs of a creepy family, and the head-scratching turned to scalp-scraping. Amazon’s status as a serious hardware maker was no longer a given.
The Revolution Will Not Be Tablet-Optimized
The iPad was going to be the PC for everyone. Most people would not even bother with a computer with a monitor and a keyboard, they’d just get a tablet, and that’d be it. PCs would be for professionals in specific situations that required a lot of power and peripherals. For the rest of humanity, it would be tablets all the way down.
Of course, now we know that in 2014, tablet growth has slowed, and few people use their tablets as their primary computing device. Instead, they’re causual devices for reading, browsing, and watching video. Despite the niche cases heralded in Apple’s “Verse” ads, on the whole, tablets have become the kick-back magazines of the gadget world.
That’s fine! I’ve written before that iPads/tablets are “zen devices of choice,” the computer you use when you don’t have to be using a computer, unlike smartphones and PCs which are “required” for work and day-to-day business.
The shift this year is the realization that tablets are (probably) not going to take over the PC landscape, especially as phones get bigger, and laptops get cheaper and sleeker. Could there be any better argument against an iPad-as-PC-replacement than Apple’s own 11″ MacBook Air? Even Microsoft, which once positioned its Surface machines as iPad replacements now markets them as MacBook competitors. Why? Because tablets just don’t matter that much, they’re more for fun, and the Surface is for serious business.
Forcing the tablet to be a PC has proven so far to be awkward and hacky, and PCs themselves are better than ever. The iPad revolution may never be. Which, again, is fine, but in 2014, we realized it.
(And relatedly, e-readers aren’t dead!)
The Souring of Twitter
Twitter hasn’t always made the best decisions, and sometimes even its staunchest defenders have had to wonder what the company really wants to make of its crucial service. But to my mind, in 2014 the overall feeling toward Twitter has tipped from reluctant embrace to general disapproval. It’s gotten worse on privacy, it’s been MIA or unhelpful in handling abuse and harassment, and it’s began to seriously monkey with what makes Twitter Twitter. And more and more, I read pieces about once-avid Twitterers saying just how miserable the torrent of negativity makes people feel. Once the underdog to Facebook that all those in the know called home, it now looks like a hapless, heartless, clueless company that has no idea how good of a thing it has.
You Have Died of Ethics in Games Journalism
Tech has always been a boy’s club, but in 2014, a lot of the industry decided it shouldn’t be anymore. As more and more instances of harassment, abuse, sexism, and overt misogyny were exposed – in the wider tech industry and in gaming particularly – the more people stood up to declare the status quo unacceptable. A wider embrace of inclusiveness and encouragement of women in tech emerged, along with, of course, a counter-reaction of hatred and attacks from those who liked things as they were.
2014 forced the tech universe to confront some very, very ugly things about itself. But it will likely prove a net win, as more of us work to fix it than don’t.
(I have this shirt with the above image, and it’s here.)
Google’s Glass Jaw
In 2013, Google Glass was the future, the way all things tech would soon be. In 2014, no one wears them, a consumer version seems to remain a fuzzy concept, and even those who were breathlessly enthusiastic about it have felt their novelty wane. The tech punditocracy is now waking up from its Google Glass hangover, and they’re all a little embarrassed.
Now, of course, we’re all excited about watches. It remains to be seen what we feel like the next morning.
This is just a quick post to let you know that the iMortal Show, which I unveiled a few days ago, has finally been approved by the iTunes gods.
So now you can subscribe to the show through iTunes on your computer and on the iOS Podcasts app, as well as (presumably) any other podcast app.
I was really happy with how the first episode turned out, and I can tell you now that I’m editing it, episode two is going to be awesome too. I think I may also rope in the Apple event “one-off” podcast discussion from a couple of weeks ago as a “special,” and add it to the feed (and probably add the nifty theme song too).
So, tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell people who you’ll never meet: go check out the iMortal Show. It’s less painful than jabbing a pencil in your ear!
The subject matter of the site is ripe for conversational exploration, and I have a number of friends and colleagues who would be great to talk to about the various topics that fall under this site’s (admittedly pourous) umbrella; technology, humanism, media, and culture. I feel that as the site’s author, I can better elaborate on my own thoughts, and explore new ones with guests and panelists.
Less nobly, I am (or was?) a performer by trade. I enjoy the act of expounding upon subjects for which I have a passion. And I feel like a broadcast of some sort would go a long way to help with the iMortal “brand,” open up the site to new audiences, and reveal new avenues as yet unconsidered. Who knows?!
I’m about to take a week off of work with some vacation time I’ve saved up, and I’m not traveling. Among the things I want to do with this time (which includes healthy doses of “nothing”) is seriously explore the possibility of, and perhaps even launch, an iMortal podcast.
But what should it be?
You might know that on my personal site, Near-Earth Object, I did eleven episodes of a show called the Obcast which primarily used a longform interview format; me and a guest for one to two hours. There were also two “special” episodes that were panel discussions with me and two guests conversing about a specific topic. Though I really enjoyed the interview shows, they were stressful to set up and prepare for, and relied heavily upon the availability of guests, and over time I grew to look forward to them less. (Though I always enjoyed the actual interviews themselves, with every guest, from episode “zero” to the last.) After a couple of booked guests had to cancel on me (totally legitmately), I lost some momentum, and simply never recovered it.
At this point, I’m pretty sure an iMortal show would not exclusively be an interview show, but I don’t want to rule solo interviews out entirely. I have a number of potential guests in mind I’d like to speak to on their own, as opposed to sticking them in a group setting.
But largely I did find the panel discussion format far more fun. I worry that this is because it’s more akin to hanging out with friends than anything else, and might not be as enjoyable for the listener, who may prefer a more focused interview. But who is “the listener”? No one right now. So, again, who knows?
This is all to say that I’m still working out what this ought to be. And it doesn’t even begin to address the issues of who I would have on the show (regular co-hosts? rotating panelists?), how often I would do it (I have a full time job and small children), on what platform I’d host it, how I’d pay for said hosting, what specific topics I’d cover, what structure the show should have, and a pleathora of others concerns.
But it’s amazing how sometimes questions just answer themselves once you resolve to do something. I wager that if I plow ahead next week, I may have something before I know it. What will that something be?
Update: One thing I do know, is that it won’t just be a bunch of dudes. If the last thing the Internet needs is another podcast by some nerd guy, the super-last thing it needs is one that only has other nerd guys on it.