I’ve been listening to podcasts for almost ten years, and over the course of those ten years I’ve discovered that people can and will record podcasts about absolutely anything. So when I read the question for this week’s blog post, I thought that there had to be a podcast that focused on the internet and stories that arise from various web-based activities – and fortunately I was right.
Reply All is a podcast produced by Gimlet Media that claims to be, simply, “A Show About the Internet”. Each week, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman tackle one or two different stories that are connected to the internet in one way or another and attempt to find out more about the people involved in these stories.
The element of this podcast that I find most appealing is that it allows listeners to learn about the history of the internet and the different, weird ways in which the internet works without making those listeners feel as if they’re listening to a lecture. The hosts instead choose to present relevant information in the form of audio-based narratives.
For example, in an episode entitled “JenniCam”, the hosts speak to Jennifer Ringley, a woman who in the late 1990s created her own website called JenniCam onto which she posted still images from a webcam that was permanently positioned in her bedroom. She was one of the first people to willingly broadcast their lives to the internet, and at the site’s peak popularity JenniCam was receiving over 7 million hits a day. Jennifer even made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman as a result of her overwhelming popularity.
The episode “One Strike” shines a light on the internet’s power to bring people together in both productive and counterproductive ways. Comedian Barry Crimmins, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, visited an AOL forum to find a place where he could communicate with other survivors. However, while on the AOL website he discovered a message board on which child pornographers were talking with one another and exchanging information. He consequently began a years-long battle with the moderators of AOL to try to convince them to take down the message board, posing the question of whether or not web-based free speech should be valued over physical and emotional well-being.
A more light-hearted episode introduces listeners to Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented the pop-up ad and consequently feels responsible for making internet users feel as seemingly comfortable with the idea of being constantly surveilled as they are.
Issues such as these are touched upon in countless academic essays, but learning about these issues by listening to people who were and are directly affected by them is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable and in some ways more effective than reading an essay.