Review has rounded up a host of great shows to keep you company this September, starting with some of the best technology podcasts out there.
f, like me, you think digital security boils down to being wise to text scams and not reciting your PIN aloud when you’re keying it into the ATM, you’ll be grateful for the hour spent listening to Doxxing 101: Our Personal Information is Available Online and It’s Putting Women at Risk, an episode from the excellent technology show There Are No Girls on the Internet (iHeart podcasts, widely available).
Shauna Dillavou, a ‘personal identifying information expert’ and creator of Brightlines, a service that finds and scrubs information from the internet, asks host Bridget Todd: “How do we keep lining these rich white dudes’ pockets with technology that’s causing so many of us actual harm?” Todd and her guests don’t let the technology companies away with it, asking why consumers let people who “don’t let their own children use these tools but love it when ours do” turn our lives into a marketplace for negative and potentially harmful experiences. Also worth checking out is recent episode Andrew Tate is a Scammer which explains the ‘manosphere’ and asks why it took social media platforms so long to ban this misogynistic scamfluencer.
Whether it’s cheap earphones or a big-ticket new computer, no matter what bit of kit I’m looking for, my starting point is always The Big Tech Show (Irish Independent, widely available), in which Adrian Weckler, the Irish and Sunday Independent technology editor analyses the big issues, interviews the most interesting people and reviews the best gadgets on the market. Episodes are timely — such as recent one on the best college tech for 2022. He regularly dives into the mechanics of individual products as well as exploring broader issues such as data protection, greenwashing and the socioeconomic impact of multinational technology firms basing themselves in Ireland. For new listeners, good starting points from the back catalogue are the episodes What You Need to Know About Buying an Electric Car and The Nothing Phone: What It is and Why It Could be the Next Big Thing.
What are the implications of trusting artificial intelligence with our most sensitive decisions? The oral history project I Was There When, a subset of Jennifer Strong’s In Machines We Trust podcast (MIT Technology Review, widely available), tells the stories of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and computing by the people who created or witnessed them. Its simple first-person accounts make the perfect human interest counterpoint to In Machines We Trust’s bigger narratives, which explore the far-reaching impact of automation on our daily lives. Try the Season 1 finale about the explosion of AI and facial recognition technologies in retail spaces and what that means for the future of shopping. The episode How Pricing Algorithms Learn to Collude is an eye-opener about the world of ecommerce and dynamic pricing. CSO figures for 2021 show that almost 80pc of Ireland’s internet users shopped online, so it makes sense to get wiser about our online browsing.
The term ‘wellness’ has come to have a strangely elastic quality, stretching from healthy eating and self-help to restrictive diets and even as an on-ramp to conspiracy theories. Trying to figure out what’s what in one corner of this overcrowded and complicated world are comedian Jolenta Greenberg and culture critic Kristen Meinzer of By the Book (Stitcher, widely available), which they describe as “half reality show, half self-help podcast, and one wild social experiment”. In each episode, they live according to a different self-help book to figure out which ones — if any — might actually be life-changing.
Episodes are prefaced by the amusing warning “contains barnyard language and some adult content”. As their audio diaries prove, they stay true to the letter yet adapt the spirit of whatever rules they are following. In the ninth season, they are working only from suggestions from listeners, and the results are as bizarre as you’d expect.
Try the episode on Casper ter Kuile’s book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices, which recommends consciously creating rituals to address the connection gap left by the decline of traditional religion. How to Be a Bad Bitch by model and dancer Amber Rose, we learn, comes with strict high-maintenance rules about personal grooming. These come in handy, as Kirsten hadn’t been able to wash her hair for a month on the advice of the previous book.
Describing itself as “the most liberating approach to weight loss and optimal health” (don’t they all), F-Factor is a fashionable diet plan based on eating high-fibre foods with lean protein at every meal. Complete with own-brand fibre-rich bars and powders, its massive success fattened the bank account of founder Tanya Zuckerbrot for years. But when a fashion and beauty influencer called Emily Gellis heard rumours about F-Factors devotees suffering side effects and decided to investigate, it triggered a very public online feud that got legal, personal and very nasty. Narrated with chatty, catty charm by Casey Wilson over six episodes, Fed Up (Wondery, widely available) is a series about wealth, wellness and social media power.
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After ABC anchorman Dan Harris had a panic attack on live national television, he decided to try meditation. In his book and podcast Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris (widely available), he talks to eminent meditation teachers, top scientists and the obligatory celebrity about how they approach wellness and happiness. While I initially thought it might it be too jauntily “hey there, gang” for me, Harris’s straightforward, practical approach and his willingness to ask tough questions are immensely likeable. Good starting places are How To Live With The Worst Things That Ever Happened To You with guest Stephanie Foo; and What is Sadness Good For? in which author Susan Cain talks about the “inherent joy and sadness of the human situation” and why she considers bittersweetness to be the hidden human superpower.
Just when you think truth can’t be stranger than fiction, a glut of fascinating life stories proves otherwise. In 2009, author John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows coined new words to explain complex, often melancholic emotions. One that caught the public imagination was ‘sonder’: “the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background”.
Lives Less Ordinary (BBC Sounds, widely available) hosted by Emily Webb, Mobeen Azhar and Jo Fidgen, is sonder writ loud. From the man who stole from 25 banks before the FBI caught up with him to the Olympic champion who ended up needing to pawn the gold medals that meant everything to her, this series lives up to its promise of, “twists and the turns and those jaw-dropping ‘wow’ moments”.
A Bit of a Stretch (widely available) is the story of documentary film-maker Chris Atkins, who got a five-year sentence for tax fraud in 2016. He served two and a half, and on his release published a journal of his time in HMP Wandsworth. He was convicted in June 2016, the day after the EU referendum result (“I can’t help feeling that my incarceration and Brexit are somehow mystically interlinked”). The verdict took him completely by surprise; he had arranged to meet friends that evening, but found himself in a prison van instead. In this nine-part podcast, he tells 20 real-life stories. Each episode centres on a different theme, such as Arrival, Family and Change, with stories of suicides, overcrowding, drugs, confrontations with dangerous or mentally ill prisoners and unexpected solidarity and friendship. Most interviewees have been released from prison, but some were still inside when he interviewed them. Their stories are frightening, heartbreaking and hilarious, revealing a system on its knees — and that was before the pandemic took a hammer to it.
Do you ever have that dream where you’re trying to run away but can’t move? You’re straining and panicked, yet completely stuck? A recent episode of This Is Actually Happening (Wondery, widely available) called What If You Woke Up and Couldn’t Move? asks what happens when that’s not a dream. This wonderful podcast is a series of extraordinary true stories of life-changing events told by the people who lived them.
A simple premise, and a powerful one. From a man who finds out a celebrity crush isn’t who she seems to a woman stranded in a Mexican desert fighting to survive, all human life is here, waiting to be heard. The eloquent and honest narrator of What If You Woke up… is a former dancer and marathon runner who was temporarily quadriplegic (and remained paraplegic) after what was meant to be uncomplicated spinal surgery. He describes how incomprehensible the loss of his “fully embodied life” was. “There wasn’t a horizon. I was so stuck in the now, of nothing.” Breathtaking.
The average woman — whoever she is — supposedly wears just 40pc of what’s in her wardrobe. And while we’re regularly being told how good it is to clear out our closets, where does all this so-called clutter go? Wardrobe Crisis (widely available) focuses on sustainability, ethical fashion and how our decisions about what we wear can make a difference in the world. Each week host Clare Press, Vogue’s first sustainability editor, interviews international guests about the big issues faced by the fashion industry.
Recent topics include the politics of ‘thrifting’, Fair Trade and the importance of circularity. Good starting points are episode 15, Model Rachel Rutt on Making Mending Cool, which focuses on landfill fashion, and episode 153 Hauls! Algorithms! Crazy Cheap! What Does Shein’s Ultra Fast Model Mean for Sustainability?, which explores the impact of the online disruptor brands that throw out thousands of styles a week to see what sticks.
Based on the simple premise that “with over seven billion people in the world, we all have one thing in common: every day we all get dressed”, Dressed: the History of Fashion (iHeart podcasts, widely available) explores the who and why of what we wear. Creator and hosts Cassidy Zachary and April Calahan are as fascinated by the cultural and social history as the designers and styles, and the additional reading in the show notes creates enjoyable online rabbit holes.
Prince fans will enjoy the two-parter On His Royal Badness: The Life and Legacy of Prince’s Fashion, exploring the Purple One’s most iconic looks and the makers behind them. This show strikes a balance between in-depth information for knowledgeable listeners and introductory stories for the curious (such as Alizarin to Zoster: An A-Z of Fun, Strange and Obscure Fashion Terminology). Another great two-parter is Claire McCardell: The Girl Who Defied Dior, about the young designer whose fresh modern take on sportwear turned the American fashion industry on its head in the 1930s. With 379 episodes under its very stylish belt, there’s plenty here to enjoy.
“I have long thought that today’s greatest fashion luxury is found in things touched by human hands,” says fashion authority Suzy Menkes. Fashion is a business that can seem to be entirely about surface and appearance, so who better than the former Vogue editor to lift the curtain on life behind the scenes. Launched during the first lockdown of 2020, Creative Conversations with Suzy Menkes (widely available) is now in its fifth series of in-depth interviews with the industry’s most influential designers, thinkers and executives.
Season 3, episode 4 is a conversation with Galwegian milliner to royalty and the stars Philip Treacy (“While we have heads, we will have hats!”) about his career and the profound effect he’s had on famous fashion houses including Chanel, Valentino and Versace. The secret of his success is not his fame, well deserved as it is, she believes; “it is his extraordinary talent.” “Who are they all, your clients?” Menkes asks him. “Are they just crazy Brits?”
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/podcasts-12-of-the-best-shows-to-listen-to-in-september-41954452.html Podcasts: 12 of the best shows to listen to in September