Even though I know I shouldn't, I'm usually listening to one talk or another while I work. For a long time, this presented a problem for me because the only reliable sources of new talks I could find was TED Talks. Don't worry, this isn't Yet Another Post about criticizing TED—a TEDx talk that does so is the greatest TED Talk of all time. This is an article born out of the frustration from recommendation algorithms pushing the shallowest, surface-level, hyperbolic discussions of issues to the top, which TED unfortunately exemplifies.
These are 5 of my favorite ways to supply myself with new, meaningful discussions, primarily through authors engaging others with their work directly. For each, I've linked to examples of their content that is particularly relevant to those of us who work with software. Each has far more to offer us, and exploring them is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.
This talk series is hosted by the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., and they attract a dizzying array of authors to talk about their work, usually with Q&A. One problem I struggle with is wanting to read too much—a nice problem to have—and this constant stream of authors summarizing their own work helps me scratch that itch while scouting for new things to read.
(C-SPAN doesn't allow embeds from their site, so here's a link to David Graeber talking about his book Bullshit Jobs on Book TV. It's more representative of the modern programs.)
C-SPAN offers consistent coverage of United States national politics with no ads and a commitment to journalistic integrity that rejects the glitz, glamor, and misinformation embraced by the partisan cable news channels. It's amazing that people bemoan the partisanship problems of Fox News and sources like it while stigmatizing a source that has already solved them because it has solved them. They have several shows that analyze the news fairly—they're often better about not spotlighting cranks. Most of the time, I listen to their more canned content, including book discussions like Politics and Prose's on BookTV or After Words and their series of televised university US history classes creatively titled Lectures in History. Their classroom sessions they spotlight there usually verge on being argumentative video essays, as good and interesting history content should. C-SPAN's archived content goes back decades.
The C-SPAN mobile app offers several of their video series and all three of their TV channels as audio streams on-demand. (C-SPAN 3 is the best. Don't @ me.)
3) Ipse Dixit
Brian L. Frye is a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, and someone I'm legit proud to have as a Twitter mutual. Sometime last fall, he started a sabbatical from his job and decided to work constantly on a podcast about the legal scholarship with which he spends much of his time. Every episode is an incredibly informative interview with a legal scholar about their work and it covers an insane range of issues, often things that affect many Americans every day which most people are unaware of. Because is about scholarship, there's often a free, detailed resource to move on to if you're interested in deep diving into the discussion. He also posts "archive" episodes from vintage recordings, which vary in the same way from informative to weird to hilarious that they even exist.
This 3-month-old podcast has 100+ regular episodes and 30+ archive episodes.
Producing this behemoth hasn't stopped him from continuing to publish new papers and defeat the purpose of a sabbatical in other ways. My favorite paper of his is called "Plagiarism is Not a Crime". (You do not need an account to download an SSRN paper. If it prompts you with registering, look for the "Download Anonymously" button.)
2019 marks the first time in 20 years that works have entered the public domain in the United States, so it's a good time to appreciate a group that revitalizes those works for the people for free. LibriVox audiobooks and audiodramas are produced entirely by volunteers and all of the books belong to all of us via the public domain, which means most (not all) of these books were published before 1924. Some think that old works are less relevant to modern audiences because we have so much new information coming at us from all directions, but that is a needless prejudice. Old books have a lot to teach us, and the Lindy effect tells us that things that have remained relevant longer are more likely to remain relevant in the future.
You can listen to the sections I've read for them here.
If I might stand on my soapbox for a second, the current state of copyright law internationally is unacceptable. It has cordoned off an entire century of works from public access. This deprives the people, for the first time in human history, of any chance of being able to respond to culture created within their own lifetime, whether by spreading stories they loved or adapting them or mashing them up with other things. This is not natural, and must be resisted and reformed. Jennifer Jenkins and my favorite copyright scholar, James Boyle, wrote a graphic novel called Theft: A History of Music that describes how artistic responses to culture built modern culture and how copyright maximalism inhibits that. The book is available as a free download under a Creative-Commons license. (Works on my blog are all CC-0.)
5) Recode Decode and Pivot
If you work in tech and aren't following Kara Swisher's work with Recode Media or her column in The New York Times...who the fuck are you following? Swisher has been a leading commentator on technology news for a long time. In recent years, she's taken a turn toward more directly addressing cultural "techlash" in America as we've been hammered over and over again with new examples of companies peddling utopian visions of the future with their software were not the benefactors they claimed to be. On Recode Decode, she interviews all manner of tech professionals, executives, and authors to tease out where we're going and how we can get there without destroying everything. Pivot is a weekly news discussion show she hosts with Scott Galloway, the NYU professor who wrote The Four to explore how the largest companies went about infiltrating and profiting from our lives.
She's hilarious. Everyone's afraid of her and everyone loves her. Kara Swisher is a Great.