If there's one thing I can say as an information junkie, the more I know, the crazier I feel. For that reason, I truly understand why so many people choose to "tune out" and remain willfully ignorant: it's just easier to sleep at night. But while you're insulating yourself from all the injustice, political madness, war, crime and devastation of the world, you're also missing out on the good stuff: opportunities to experience the disparate and amazing aspects of our shared humanity.
We seem to have entered into a period of time in which the erosion of empathy and compassion has left many seemingly unable and unwilling to even try to understand the lives, actions and worth of people different from themselves. We fear the things we don't understand, yet we have little interest in lessening our fear by increasing our understanding. This trend scares the shit out of me.
So that's why I faithfully listen to the following eight podcasts. They're amazing sources of information, exceptionally entertaining and well-produced. Listen to them for yourself.
When I tell people my favorite podcasts is about design and architecture, I can usually see their eyes glazing over before I even finish the word "architecture." But that's their loss because damn it if every single episode isn't fantastic. This podcast will make you start really noticing and appreciating things in your everyday life you normally take for granted. And since noticing and appreciating things in your everyday life you normally take for granted is probably the key to becoming a better person, this podcast might even change your life.
Life of the Law
A disturbingly large number of U.S. citizens seem content to glean most/all of their criminal justice knowledge from Law & Order reruns. Look: I know that Mariska Hargitay would never lie to you, but she simply doesn't have all the answers. Considering the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, you owe it to yourself to be more curious about our country's legal system. Every episode of Life of the Law is insightful, fascinating and frequently infuriating.
Remember how every history class you ever had was taught by some guy who basically phoned it in the whole year because he was only a high school teacher so he could coach sports? How, instead of actually teaching you anything of substance or importance about the Great Depression, he'd pop in a VHS copy of The Grapes of Wrath and you'd try your best to stay awake as the two boys that sat next to you made Beavis and Butthead style quips like, "Heh, heh. Die Okies, die!" whilst carving swastikas into their desks? Well, Backstory exists to turn the old adage "history is boring" totally upside down. This podcast provides historical perspective to current events and effortlessly shows how an understanding of the past is vital to the understanding of the present.
On the Media
I've noticed that the more somebody I know relies on television/cable news to get their information, the less they seem to really know about any given topic. Why is that? Well, On the Media scrutinizes the way media handles given topics in a way that sheds as much light on the ins and outs or journalism as it does the topic at hand. Plus, I have a huge charisma crush on Brooke Gladstone. And yes, my girlfriend knows.
Andrea Seabrook was a congressional correspondant for NPR before leaving to start her own show/podcast. She knows her stuff and does not get marred down in the "Republicans said/Democrats said" bullshit style political "reporting" that passes for news far too often in the world of mainstream news. In other words, she cares about substance. This kind of reporting is too rare to ignore. Start listening.
Snap Judgement is the perfect dose of "seeing the world through somebody else's eyes." Each episode features amazing stories from various people from all walks of life. Host Glynn Washington frequently shares stories from his own life as well, and his unabashed enthusiasm is infectious. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always worth hearing.
Best of the Left
Best of the Left is exactly what the title suggests: A curated collection of the best segments of various left-leaning media sources. If I were to listen to every single one of these original shows in its entirety that would be all I ever had time to do. Plus, I would be dizzy with rage and sadness.
Radiolab describes itself as "a show about curiosity." Though vague, this is also totally accurate. Once I "discovered" Radiolab, I spent virtually any spare moment I had feverishly working my way through the archives. Each episode felt more incredible than the last. The production on this show is phenomenal, and you're doing yourself a great disservice if you don't dive in as soon as possible.