The best podcasts of 2017 so far: Listen, learn and laugh

Written by techgoth

In 2009, I downloaded my first podcast. It was The Bugle, I think. Or maybe Freakonomics. I don’t remember now, but it was truly transformational: my hour long walks to my then employers went from being unremittingly tedious to being genuinely insightful: and it was all free – although some were so good that I later chose to make donations.

Eight years on, and I still listen to podcasts every day. The content and voices may have changed, but the delivery is the same. 2016 may have been the year that podcasts became mainstream thanks to This American Life’s long-form offshoot Serial, but in 2017 you are genuinely spoilt for choice.

Here are some of my favourite podcasts at the moment. 

The best podcasts of 2017:

Best podcasts: Reply All

What is it?

A show about internet culture and how it’s changing.

Why should I listen?

Because internet culture is fascinating, and although it sounds quite niche, the concept really encompasses all facets of life. To give you a taste of how diverse it can be, memorable episodes have included one of the presenters letting another hack his phone, how a Facebook group mocking office life got taken over by the wrong people, and how there’s a Reddit community that tries to cultivate voices in the head.

How long and how often?

30-60 minutes, weekly.

If I were to listen to one episode…

This one – tracking down the teenager in a photo that became a meme, and getting to the bottom of how and why it was made – has more twists and turns than you’d think possible, and should give you an idea of why it’s so good.

Best podcasts: Hardcore History

What is it?

An incredibly in depth deep-dive into some fascinating pockets of history, from the reign of Genghis Khan to the history of World War I.

Why should I listen?

If you care about history at all, it’s absolutely fascinating. The host, Dan Carlin, doesn’t call himself a professional historian, but a voracious reader of books documenting interesting periods of time. You can definitely tell: each massive episode is packed with facts, quotes and analysis.

How long and how often?

Very and not very. Carlin’s podcasts take a phenomenal amount of research as shown by his quotes and references. Each episode is upwards of five hours long, and a series can be up to six episodes in length. It’s seriously in depth.

As such, new episodes appear every few months. It’s a nice surprise when it pops up in your feed, rather than something to actively schedule.

If I were to listen to one episode…

Given most of the episodes are part of a series, you’re best off starting on one of the shorts: The Destroyer of Worlds is a great place to start: a six-hour podcast outlining how Russia and America rationally got themselves into the irrational position of owning enough nukes to destroy the world several times over. You can’t help but feel that maybe the timing of the release wasn’t a coincidence.

Best podcasts: The Butterfly Effect

What is it?

Author and journalist Jon Ronson (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed; The Men Who Stare at Goats; The Psychopath Test) charts the impact of free online porn on the performers, the internet and culture as a whole.

Why should I listen?

It’s a fascinating dive into the laws of unintended consequences and the impact of a whole industry torn apart and rebuilt. It will make you think about the internet very differently – especially the mixed bag of consequences of expecting everything for free. The podcast may be about porn, but it’s takeaway messages could apply to any number of industries being disrupted by the internet.

Ironically, the podcast – which took over a year to be made – is available free of charge, exclusively on Audible until November. The fact that Amazon, with its business model that crushes competitors ruthlessly, funded one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve heard this year, and then gave it away free is something that should give you pause for thought long after the final credits roll.

How long and how often?

Just the once. The whole series was released in Audible in one go. A second season is planned, but there’s no release date in mind yet.

It’s available now exclusively on Audible, but will be released wherever you find your podcasts from November.

If I were to listen to one episode…

It makes sense to listen to it sequentially, but the episode covering custom porn shoots is particularly eye-opening.

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