The 5 Best Podcasts Every Tech/Startup/Internet Lover Needs to Listen to
Have you heard? We’re in a golden age right now. Not in general—apparently there are a lot of golden ages. Even pirates have had their time to shine (from 1650-1730, who knew?). Now it’s the time of podcasts. Though podcasts have existed since 2001, their popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years. In October 2013, 39 million people listened to podcasts. However, with NPR’s breakout podcast hit Serial and its impact on the medium, this number has surely increased. 40 million people downloaded Serial as of December 23, 2014.
In the midst of this so-called podcast renaissance, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Not to worry–I’ve put together a list of five podcasts that anyone interested in technology, startups, and/or the internet needs to check out. If you listen to all five, you’ll basically be a tech-startup-Internet-psychology-mystery guru, not to mention a great conversationalist—a sort of Podcast-Renaissance man (or woman), if you will.
This tech news podcast is hosted by Jay Yarow, executive editor of Business Insider, and Farhad Manjoo, tech columnist for the New York Times. While The Jay & Farhad Show is less polished than the next four on the list, it’s also more conversational. Yarow, Manjoo, and their guests discuss current events in the tech, startup, and internet world with thoughtful tech expertise. I also highly recommend checking out Manjoo’s Twitter, @fmanjoo. Not only does he provide clever insights on what’s what in the tech world, but he’s also a clever, fresh voice that I look forward to seeing on my Twitter feed.
The episodes typically range from 20-40 minutes long, and each episode features several topics currently trending in the news. For example, recent shows focused on Uber, Snapchat, Apple Music, and Instagram. It’s easy to know superficial details about tech news, but listening to this podcast will ensure that you are one of the most informed tech news gurus at the office.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE: “Reddit in Revolt and Twitter’s CEO Search.” This episode, with guest and New York Times writer Mike Isaac, has a fun, lively discussion about the latest Reddit controversy. Even with a feverish Farhad, it’s a great episode to get informed about what’s been happening online.
StartUp is co-hosted by Alex Blumberg, a former producer on This American Life and co-host of Planet Money, and Lisa Chow. The first season is essentially a podcast that follows Blumberg’s journey to start a podcast production company, Gimlet Media. (Very meta, I know.) After existing for little over a year, Gimlet has three popular shows (StartUp, Reply All, and Mystery Show), and more in the works.
The first season’s fourteen episodes are in-depth, honest descriptions about what it’s like to be a startup founder and what it’s like to work at a startup. The episodes each feature particular issues, like choosing a company name or a stressful workplace environment. Blumberg offers an uncommonly candid look into his experiences and provides invaluable advice about startups and business.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE: “How Not to Pitch a Billionaire.” In addition to all of the typical first episode set-up, Blumberg includes clips from his nervous, uncertain pitch to successful tech investor Chris Sacca. It’s fascinating to not only see the successful transformation of Blumberg’s company but also to see Blumberg’s own progression to a self-assured startup founder. This episode lays the foundation of the openness and honesty that the rest of the show embodies.
Reply All is produced by Gimlet Media, Alex Blumberg’s podcast company and is co-hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It describes itself, rather generally, as a “show about the internet.” The episodes range from covering the recent Reddit controversy to a Hasidic Jewish community’s attempt to carve out a small, limited section of the internet for themselves.
Vogt and Goldman are a joy to listen to; they go back and forth between light banter and clear, compelling storytelling. Though each week features a different narrative, they are all told in a compact conversational manner that makes the episodes easy to breeze through.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE: “We Know What You Did.” This episode tells the story of Ethan Zuckerman, the creator of the pop-up ad. Vogt and Goldman begin the episode in a vague, ominous tone; then they explain Zuckerman’s path to unintentional internet evil-doing via a stellar interview with Zuckerman himself.
Invisibilia is one of the newest NPR podcasts; it’s hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, veterans of This American Life and Radiolab, respectively.
The show’s subject matter is a bit more metaphysical than the others: it “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior” like psychology, philosophy, and science.
The co-hosts’ lengthy podcasting experience is clear. They are witty, bubbly, and careful narrators, all at once. The show is an excellent addition to the podcast repertoire of Radiolab fans, or anyone interested in how and why things are the way they are.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE: “Our Computers, Ourselves.” In this episode, Miller and Spiegel interview Thad Starner, a man who has been wearing various kinds of computers strapped to his body since 1993. Starner’s story serves as the core of their discussion about what it means to weave computers into our everyday lives and ultimately into our sense of self.
Okay, full disclosure: Mystery Show is not that closely related to technology. But one particular episode totally vaguely relates to search engines, trust me. It’s another Gimlet-hosted podcast, hosted by the ever-charming Starlee Kine. In each episode, Kine solves obscure mysteries that you can’t get to the bottom of just by Googling the answer.
So far, Kine has tackled mysteries ranging from tracking down a suspicious vanity plate to figuring out how a video store could disappear overnight. Each episode is bright, delightful, and full of surprises. Kine often gets sidetracked from sleuthing by having funny, thoughtful conversations with the people who help her along the way. Mystery Show feels different than any podcast I’ve ever encountered, and I’m recommending it partially so I can have more people to talk about it with.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE: “Source Code.” In this episode, a man became obsessed with finding out Jake Gyllenhaal’s true height after viewing the movie Source Code. The man enters “How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?” into Google, but discovers that this fact is in fiery contention on many celebrity height websites. Kine calls the internet “every amateur mystery sleuth’s jealous, undermining best friend.” The episode demonstrates the limits of what answers you can find online—and that maybe, sometimes, you need to go straight to the source for your information. If you really want to know how tall Gyllenhaal is (and why wouldn’t you?), give it a listen.
Listen to these shows on your morning commute, while washing dishes, or even while brushing your teeth. Trust me—I listen to podcasts during all of these activities. Not only is my kitchen cleaner than ever, but I also refuse to brush my teeth in silence ever again. I never realized how boring dental hygiene was before podcasts. Now I know the truth.
Do you have any other podcast recommendations? How tall do you think Jake Gyllenhaal is? Comment in the section below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at us @perfect_search!
Kayla Hammersmith is a huge fan of Nancy Drew computer games and swears that she can do a very specific impression of Pal, the dog from Arthur. You might often find her snacking on goat cheese as she dreams of one day becoming a cellist savant.