This summer my friend Rachel Kremen got in touch to say that she's been hired to teach an introductory science journalism class at Rutgers University. She asked if I'd be willing to record a short video for her students talking about Soonish, how I make the show, and what it's like to be a podcaster. I said I'd be happy to do that.
It's been a privilege and an education to work with the composer/producer team of Joel Roston and Andrew Willis of Titlecard Music and Sound on this year's Soonish episodes. And now I'm thrilled to announce that Titlecard's original score from Episode 2.10, Making Music with Machines, is available for purchase at Bandcamp as a standalone album.
The second segment or "movement" in Soonish Episode 2.10, Making Music with Machines, is all about a basic form of musical counterpoint called the canon. And our guide to the canon is Rudi Seitz, who is such a devotee of the form that he has released an entire album of 45 original canons perform on the harpsichord. It's called, naturally, Canons. It's available on Bandcamp and it's wonderful to listen to.
The MIT Press Bookstore hosted a standing-room-only crowd for a special June 5 event featuring three of the authors who contributed to the 2018 edition of Twelve Tomorrows: Elizabeth Bear, Lisa Huang, and Ken Liu. (They're also featured in Soonish 2.08: Sci-Fi That Takes Science Seriously.)
Twelve Tomorrows is an anthology of original hard science fiction stories commissioned by MIT Technology Review, edited by me, and published by the MIT Press. This full video from the event includes readings from the book by Huang ("The Woman Who Destroyed Us"), Liu ("Byzantine Empathy"), and Bear ("Okay, Glory"). It also includes a panel discussion about the contrasts between hard science fiction and other forms of science fiction, and Q&A with the audience.
Many thanks to my guests and to the staff of the MIT Press Bookstore, including John Jenkins and Jeremy Solomons. Thanks also to videographer Joseph Fridman.
TWO SPECIAL OFFERS FOR SOONISH LISTENERS: This June and July only, if you sign up to support Soonish on Patreon at the $5 per episode level or above, I’ll send you a free, autographed copy of Twelve Tomorrows. To claim your bonus reward please go to patreon.com/soonish.
But you don’t have to be a Soonish patron to get a great deal on the book! Through July 31, you can get a 30% discount on Twelve Tomorrows when ordering directly from the MIT Press. Call 1-800-405-1619 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org and use the code SOONISH30.
With help from assistant editor Mark Pontin, I recruited famous and up-and-coming voices in science fiction to write "hard SF" stories that offer deep, provocative, funny, frightening perspectives on how present-day technologies could evolve. The book includes 10 original short stories and a 20-page, full-color graphic novella.
I'm thrilled (and a little intimidated) to be part of the lineup of storytellers bringing you tales of science, medicine, and technology as part of the Story Collider performance during the Cambridge Science Festival. The event will be at 8:00 pm on April 15 at the Oberon Theater in Harvard Square, Cambridge.
Info about the show is here. You'll hear stories from pediatrician-in-training and youth development expert Dr. Elorm Avakame, clinical psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Monica O'Neal, filmmaker and NOVA science editor Caitlin Saks, celebrity chef Dan Souza, and me.
Tickets for Story Collider events almost always sell out, so get yours now!
I'll be performing a story about the space shuttle that I developed last year for a storytelling masterclass led by Aaron Wolfe at the PRX Podcast Garage. I'd love to see lots of Soonish fans in the audience!
In other news: Now you can listen to Soonish on Spotify, if that's your thing!
Soonish Episode 2.05: The Future Is Clear
February 17, 2018
Full show notes here.
[Sound of Corning NY steam whistle]
That… is the sound of the past. And the future. It’s the old steam whistle that still goes off four times a day in the town of Corning in upstate New York, home to Corning Incorporated.
Decades ago the company invented famous brands of glass that you probably have in your own kitchen, like Pyrex and Corningware. And then it reinvented itself as a maker of glass for displays and automobiles and fiber optic cable. And it went on to create the Gorilla Glass that makes the screen of your smartphone virtually unscratchable and really hard to break.
I'm able to put out a new episode of Soonish every three to six weeks. For folks who love to think about the future, that's a long time to wait!
To help tide you over, I've made a list of other podcasts and radio shows about science, technology, innovation, and the future that you might like.
I aim to keep adding to this list. If you have a favorite future-oriented show that's not shown here, let me know!
Exponent, from Ben Thompson (of Stratechery) and James Allworth
Flash Forward, from Rose Eveleth
For Future Reference, from the Institute for the Future
FutureProofing, from BBC Radio 4
Future Tense, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Future Thinkers, from Mike Gilliland and Euvie Ivanova
Ideo Futures, from the design and consulting firm Ideo
If Then, from Slate
Innovation Hub, from WGBH
Note to Self, from WNYC Studios
The Pulse, from WHYY
Radiolab, from WNYC
Review the Future, from Ted Kupper and Jon Perry
Science Vs., from Gimlet Media
Transistor, from PRX
Soonish went public one year ago today, at a big party at the PRX Podcast Garage.
It was only 12 months ago, but it feels like it was a different era. Barack Obama was president! No one had heard the term "alternative facts"! You could browse Twitter without fear of nuclear conflagration!
But as we barrel into an unknown future, buffeted every day by news that gets stranger and stranger, I've managed to stay sane in part by just doing the work and making the show. We need to think clearly about the future, now more than ever. Having the freedom to focus on where technology is going, one episode at a time, has been a huge joy and privilege. I'm so thankful to everyone who has listened to the show over the past 12 months and to everyone who has pitched in to make it possible, especially my Future Force supporters on Patreon.
To celebrate the milestone, I've made a little list of all the episodes to date, organized not by title or date but by mood. Click below to hear or re-hear an episode that matches up with how you're feeling.
* * *
Have fun, and buckle your seat belt—I have a feeling it's going to be a wild 2018.
We're thrilled to announce that Soonish is now part of the library of high-quality podcasts at NPR One. It's NPR's mobile listening app, featuring a customized blend of radio programs and podcasts from NPR, member stations, and independent partners.
Find Soonish inside the app by clicking the Search (magnifying glass) icon in the upper right of the screen and typing in "Soonish." From there you can listen to any episode.
We also recommending hitting the + (plus sign) button, which gives you the option to follow Soonish within the app, so that you'll never miss an episode.
And please tell us you love Soonish by hitting the Interesting button on your screen!
Before we all turn off the computers, put away the smartphones, and settle in for a long week of holiday relaxation, I wanted to reach out to all Soonish mail list subscribers, Patreon supporters, Facebook followers, and blog readers and thank you for helping to make this an amazing first year for the podcast.
I launched the show on January 13, 2017, at the beginning of a year that has brimmed with political tumult and natural and human-made disasters. But with your help and encouragement, I've been able to stay focused on making the show, which reached a series of big milestones.
—I produced 10 episodes in the show’s first season and five (so far) in the second season. With each episode, the show’s audience has grown bigger. I’m in a great position to reach lots of new listeners in 2018.
—I’ve been able to test and refine the basic ideas driving the show, zeroing in on a motto that, I think, expresses its essence: “The future is shaped by technology, but technology is shaped by us.”
—I was lucky enough to find a few other independent audio makers who believe in the power of ideas and high-quality storytelling. Together we formed the new podcast collective Hub & Spoke. Through cross-promotion and mutual support, we’re building up the audience for all of the great shows in the network—including Soonish, The Lonely Palette, Ministry of Ideas, and the newest addition, Hi-Phi Nation.
—I’ve learned a huge amount along the way from all of my new friends and colleagues at Hub & Spoke; the Sonic Soirée, Boston’s monthly potluck of the edible and audible; and of course the PRX Podcast Garage. The Garage is far more than a recording studio—it’s a community. I couldn’t be more grateful for all the great talks, workshops, and professional support they’ve offered this year.
—I've had lots of fun exploring diverse topics for the show. The first season ended with my admittedly quirky episode investigating what Apollo 13 can teach us about the Trump administration. For the second season, I made it to Illinois to see the great American solar eclipse in August, and I scored exciting interviews with book authors Tim O’Reilly and Kelly and Zach Weinersmith.
—I was thrilled to be able to attend the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago, where I met radio and podcasting idols from shows like Radiolab, 99% Invisible, and Outside/In.
—I've performed live versions of Soonish episodes for audiences around Massachusetts, including groups in Boston, Brookline, Cohasset, Sudbury, and Winchester. And I produced a short version of the Soonish pilot episode—the one that asked why 2001: A Space Odyssey got the future so wrong—for WHYY's The Pulse, a terrific broadcast/podcast about science and health.
—Thanks to the generosity of my supporters on Patreon, I’ve raised close to $2,000 in donations in 2017, which helped cover the show’s basic hosting and equipment costs and a couple of reporting trips. Thank you so much!
(If you haven’t donated to the show, that’s totally okay. I make it out of my love for audio and stories about the future, not for the money! But if you do want to give and you just haven’t gotten around to it, there’s still time to help meet my goal of hitting 30 supporters on Patreon by December 31. Right now I’m just five people away! For more info head over to patreon.com/soonish.)
I’ve been paying the rent here in Cambridge mostly through freelance and consulting jobs, including a fun gig editing Twelve Tomorrows, a science fiction anthology coming from MIT Technology Review and the MIT Press in May (more news on that later).
But my big resolution for 2018 is to spend less time on freelance work and more time on the show—both on the production side, so that I can get onto a more regular publication schedule, and on the not-so-fun but utterly necessary marketing and promotions side.
I’m incredibly grateful that so many listeners have discovered the show and helped to spread the word about it. I’m going to be counting on even more of that kind of support, not to mention listener feedback, in the new year. So, please be in touch—you can always reach me at email@example.com. Thanks again, and stick around. There’s some great stuff coming...soonish!
P.S. Oh, by the way, I got a puppy! That's him in the picture below. (Thank you to Graham Ramsay for taking the photo.) His name is Gryphon, he's an Australian Shepherd, and he's just shy of 12 weeks old. But he is not shy in any other way. I'm sure you'll hear him on the podcast at some point.
Do you like science? Do you like movies? Then what could be better than a night at the movies with Science On Screen, the series created by the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, that pairs current, classic, cult, and documentary films with talks by notable figures from the world of science, technology, and medicine.
I'm not sure I count as "notable," but at the Coolidge's invitation I gave a Science On Screen talk last week keyed to the classic 1999 comedy OFFICE SPACE from writer/director Mike Judge. The video of the talk was just posted online. Check it out:
My basic point was that like Peter Gibbons and the other characters in the movie, each of has the ability to take control of the systems and technologies we use to organize our work. I drew the ideas and the audio clips in the talk from Soonish Episode 1.08, Hacking Time. So, if you're interested, go listen to that too!
Huge news! Yesterday I joined up with my fellow podcasters Tamar Avishai of The Lonely Palette and Zachary Davis and Nick Andersen of Ministry of Ideas to unveil Hub & Spoke, a new audio collective designed to help each show grow through mutual support and cross-promotion. Here's the official press release!
Boston, Mass. — October 5, 2017 — To bolster the Boston-area podcasting ecosystem and ensure that great independent shows made here reach a wider audience, local audio producers joined today to launch Hub & Spoke (hubspokeaudio.org), a Boston-centric collective of podcasts produced outside the traditional public media system.
Taking inspiration from existing podcast collectives such as Radiotopia and The Heard, Hub & Spoke provides a community where producers share mutual support and advice. Member producers also work to grow the listening audience for all of the Hub & Spoke shows through “on-air” mentions and other forms of cross-promotion.
For your viewing enjoyment, here a few of my best shots from Gettysburg, PA, Future City, IL, and Makanda, IL. For the full story behind these images, listen to Soonish Episode 2.01, Shadows of August: The Eclipse Road Trip Edition.
In Episode 1.08, Hacking Time, I argued that we’re not well served by the technology tools that promise to keep us productive and efficient at work. I’ve been searching for a long time, and I’ve never found the idea e-mail manager, the ideal calendar, or the ideal to-do list app. (Or the ideal robot-who-will-just-do-my-job-for-me.)
All I really want is a tool that can help me manage all the information coming at me and meet my commitments in a stress-free way. But it turns out that technology can abet the problem rather than aiding with it. So I’ve hacked together a combination of digital and analog methods as best I can. And I think lot of people still struggle to survive in workplaces where the constant stream of tasks and meetings and memos can be deadening.
The up side to this truth is that it's the fuel for a lot of great office-comedy movies and TV shows—and Mike Judge’s Office Space (1999) is the granddaddy of them all.
At 7:00 pm on November 6, 2017, the historic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts, will present Office Space as part of its longstanding Science On Screen series. I’ll be giving a short talk before the movie about the paradox of productivity: how, sometimes, it feels like the more technology we bring into our lives, the less we actually get done.
It's a California-based news publication and "crowdsourced multimedia journal" about global politics, co-founded by my friend Atul Singh. This summer Fair Observer offered to republish some Soonish episodes and blog posts, and of course I said I'd be delighted.
The Pulse, the weekly WHYY health and science show hosted by Maiken Scott, published a space-themed episode on July 21 called "Leap of Space."
The second segment of the show, '2001' Came and Went, But the Movie's Ideas Still Resonate, might sound familiar to Soonish listeners. It's a condensed version of Episode 1.01, How '2001' Got the Future So Wrong.
Staffers at The Pulse approached me about adapting the episode after they decided to do a space show and heard the Soonish episodes about 2001 and Astropreneurs. I said yes right away, of course. And working with them was a blast.
It was fun to learn this week that Soonish was mentioned alongside other Cambridge- and Somerville-based podcasts and radio productions in a magazine feature about the Sonic Soirée, the monthly potluck and critique session for Boston-area audio makers. The piece is in the July-August issue of ScoutSomerville, the free bi-monthly.
I've been going to Sonic Soirées for a couple of years now, and I was at the May gathering when Scout freelancer Adrianne Mathiowetz showed up to do research for her story.
From 2014 to 2016 I volunteered for the MIT Alumni Association as the founding host of a program called Faculty Forum Online — Alumni Edition. It was a series of live video conversations meant to illustrate the diverse jobs and challenges that MIT alumni are tackling around the world. The forums were multicast on Google Hangouts, and my guests responded to chat questions coming in from audience members watching remotely.
This Monday, May 22, I reprised the moderator role for a special "FFO/AE" conducted with a live audience at Newbury Court, a beautiful retirement community in Concord, MA. The topic was "Robots & Your Job," an area I touched on in Soonish Ep. 1.04, Future Factories, With Workers Built In.
As a special bonus for all the productivity geeks out there, here's the full recording of my interview with Stever Robbins.
I spoke with Stever back on April 25, 2017, and I used a bunch of tape from this interview in Episode 1.08 of Soonish, Hacking Time.
I first met Stever probably eight or nine years ago after seeing him give a talk at a conference, and I've always been a big fan of his podcast, The Get It Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.
In addition to being a podcaster, Stever is an entrepreneur and a career coach, an author, a fellow MIT alumnus, and simply one of the smartest people I know around the big questions about productivity. Like, how to stay motivated in your work or your creative projects; how to stay organized around those projects; and how much technology is enough for staying organized, and how much is too much.