Technology is everywhere in our lives — naturally it’s infiltrated our eardrums. But a lot of podcasts about it are either deeply technical or a little too uncritical of the industry and its moves. Still, learning about what we use, how it’s made, and why we use it helps us make better decisions, and this history behind a gadget can often affect how we approach technology.
These podcasts give you a window into the stuff that helps you live a better, more connected life.
Why’d You Push That Button?
Often, the things we supposedly control try to control us instead. Think about how quickly your phone taught you to look at it every time it buzzes. That notification might be important! It never is! But it might be! Why’d You Push That Button?, hosted by Verge writers Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany, explores the psychological manipulations apps, gadgets and other stuff exploit, intentionally or not, to keep you looking, clicking, and liking.
Best Episode: “Why Do You Stalk People On Venmo?”, which explores the financial app’s completely unnecessary “social feed” and why it’s so absurdly compelling.
Too often we have an American perspective on tech. Future Tense, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, offers a slightly different perspective, with a more neutral take on tech news and its broader implications.
Best Episode: “Persistent Activism”, about how the future of protest may not be online, but only by seeing the same message pop up on your social media feed constantly.
Note To Self
You wouldn’t expect the tools we use every day to open the door to some serious moral and legal questions, and, yet, they inevitably do. WNYC’s Manoush Zomorodi asks, often hilariously, some tough questions about the tech we use every day. Zomorodi ranges from in-depth pieces about the role of Amazon to the polite lies we tell each other.
This Is Only A Test
The team from Tested talks the new gadgets they’ve played with, the pop culture, and the various events and experiments they’ve been dealt.
Best Episode: “Christmas Light Wars”, which features a hilarious discussion of the famous Dickens Fair, a snowy, picture perfect reenactment of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in sunny Southern California.
The Future Of Everything
The Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Strong looks at what the money-men think of all this newfangled tech. This podcast explores everything from predicting and recovering from weather disasters to how the tech industry has completely changed how we buy and sell stocks, with algorithms doing the investing. It’s sometimes a bit wonky, being as it is a podcast aimed at financial types, but it’s also often useful to get insight into how the people paying for all these apps view them.
Best Episode: “The Very Risky Business Of Underwriting Innovation”, which explains the deeply complicated legal and financial matters behind our taste for automated everything. Remember when the trolley problem was a meme? There’s a guy who has to figure out the real world applications of that.
If you know the site TechDirt at all, you know it doesn’t traffic in BS, and neither does its podcast. It tackles substantial, meaty issues about tech policy, law, ethics and other serious issues, this is your podcast.
Best Episode: “When Godwin’s Law Met The Streisand Effect”, where Mike Godwin, the “Godwin” in Godwin’s Law (“As a conversation on the internet continues, the probability of somebody being compared to Hitler approaches 1”) and Mike Masnick, who coined the term “The Streisand Effect” where attempting to suppress something online only draws more attention to it, sit down for a spirited discussion about what it’s like to create a meme.
It’s a fact that the internet is weird and can have powerful effects on our lives. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman explore urban legends, weird hacking attacks, and other random moments where the tech we use goes awry in ways funny, malicious, or both.
Best Episode: “The Prophet”, where a simple legal move, a woman trying to determine the identity of a man who attacked her in Mexico City, winds up being a shockingly deep rabbit hole.
One of the kings of podcasting, Roman Mars’ long-running podcast, which started as a public radio show about architecture and design, has become a rich history of the story of technology — both the tech itself and the things that shape it, plus the spaces and places it operates in. Technology just doesn’t come into being, and over nearly three hundred episodes, we learn about its rich history and the mistakes the industry would rather pretend never happened.
Best Episode: “Person In Lotus Position”, where a journalist investigating how emoji are created finds himself campaigning to get his own emoji on your phone.
If you want to get in-depth about technology, the HBR Ideacast digs deep into everything from Chinese investment in African factories (which in turn make the things we buy) to how to deal with your boss’ dumb ideas. Yes, even the very rich and highly intelligent have to deal with dumb bosses. They’re just like us!
Best Episode: “How The US Navy Is Responding To Climate Change”, probably one of the best overviews of how actual government employees dealing with climate change operate, and what they think of the politics.
Only have a few minutes? This podcast will fill you in on a cool idea in less than two minutes. It packs a lot of information into ninety seconds.
Best Episode: “From Hawaii To Australia”, about how scientists can map coral reefs without ever diving under the water.
This podcast from McAfee looks at hacking in pop culture, and then gets some professionals in to pull it off. Worryingly, Hollywood is a lot closer to reality than we like to think, and in some cases the indulgences of Hollywood screenwriters are far less scary than what a bunch of professionals can really pull off.
Best Episode: “Pet-Nology” starts off as a goofy episode that quickly becomes gravely serious when a security professional discovers that a seemingly silly pet toy is really a serious security threat.
Slate’s take on tech has a decidedly political dimension. They look at tech news through a lens of how it affects politics and society. As we’ve increasingly learned, technology is inherently political no matter how much it wishes it weren’t, and Slate offers perspective on this often unwilling symbiosis.
Best Episode: “The Tech That Draws Your District” dives deep into how our Congressional districts are drawn, and how algorithms can help or make things a heck of a lot worse.
“Big data” is basically a meaningless buzzword at this point, but this podcast, which looks at data science and analytics in a detailed but digestible way, breaks out what’s in the news, what the news potentially got wrong, and what’s really intriguing about the big finds in data science. If you want to know what many companies are actually doing with all the data they collect, this is your podcast.
Best Episode: “Google Flu Trends”, which offers up the inside story about how Google decided it was going to beat the CDC at flu predictions, and why it almost immediately ate pavement.
Wondery’s podcast delves deep into the history of technology and science in America, beginning with a deep dive into the discovery of the structure of DNA. What you learned in high school about Watson and Crick isn’t the full story and in fact, the case against them becomes more damning as the podcast goes on.
Best Episode: “The Stuff of Life”, which explains Rosalind Franklin’s skills and why she was left off the list as one of the pioneers of DNA discovery for too long.
TED Radio Hour
Yes, it can sometimes be easy to make fun of TED Talks, but they are useful tools for understanding the world around us, especially as technology insists on rapidly changing it. Sorted into short runs around a loose theme such as child-rearing, it’s the perfect length for a long commute and helps you to learn something as you travel.
Best Episode: “How Can Trusting Strangers Fuel An Economy?”, a talk from Oxford lecturer Rachel Botsman that will change the way you view the gig economy and the rising trend of getting everything delivered.
IRL: Online Life Is Real Life
Published by Mozilla’s Veronica Belmont, behind the browser Firefox, this podcast talks about the politics and the hidden issues of real life online. It’s particularly good at taking complex technical topics and making them directly relatable (even if you think an HTML tag is something you find on clothes) and it finds some truly weird internet phenomena that are often underreported.
Best Episode: “Bot or Not”, which explores the pervasive robots that crawl the internet constantly for both benign and hostile reasons, and how they suck normal people into bizarre situations.
Twenty Thousand Hertz
A podcast about sound seems a bit meta, but when considering how much we hear in a given day, it feels important that we learn more. Dallas Taylor explores the world of sound from all sorts of perspectives and often comes up with nuggets about how sound can manipulate us, inspire us, or freak us out.
Best Episode: “Noise Pollution” explores the sonic garbage we’re buried in and how it might be affecting us.
Technology is only worth the improvement it builds into our lives, and The Upgrade is all about squeezing the most out of yourself, your gear, and the software on both. No matter what the topic (which can range from self-improvement to being funny), there’s a way to get better at it, and Lifehacker’s team is exceptionally good at finding it.
Best Episode: “How To Pursue A Side Hustle”, which breaks out how to build a career on the side as you’re building a career.
The tech industry likes to present itself as a utopia. It isn’t, and Bloomberg’s Brad Stone spends a few minutes each week looking at the industry’s unlikely squabbles, rivalries, and the very human side of an industry that pretends it’s everything but.
Best Episode: “The Surprising Power Broker Backing E-Commerce Startups” looks at the behind-the-scenes deals that get e-commerce companies off the ground (often at the expense of their founders).
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic looks at the big questions facing the business of technology, and just as importantly, the morality behind the tech industry. Too often tech companies do things for their own sake, and even with the best of intentions, it can backfire. The question this podcast explores is simple: How do we limit the damage?
Best Episode: “Why Can’t Facebook Tell The Truth?” explores the structural problems inherent in a company like Facebook and how its perpetual mistruths may lie at the heart of the company.