Een ouderwetse microfoon.
(Foto: Matt Botsford / Unsplash)

Recently graduated master’s student Pooja Ramakrishnan looks back at her favourite podcast episodes from 2019.

As the year yawns to a close, a sense of festivity, good cheer and hope permeates across all my social media timelines. The algorithms offer me merrier content, all the photographs are in Christmas colours, and the general mood is akin to the end of a working Friday. However, my favourite part about this month is the reckless abandon with which everyone indulges in good-natured nostalgia. Whether it is your Facebook year-in-review video or your Spotify compilation of ‘Best of 2019’, you are served with annual summaries of all kinds - in photographs, music and of course global headlines. Hence, taking inspiration from the yearly zeitgeists drawn up by tech giants, I decided to do one for my own podcast discoveries. This also happens to be my 20th column for TU Delta and so it is quite fitting to celebrate it with a selection of some of my favourites out there. Additionally, for those of you reluctant to commit to a whole series of podcast episodes, this bite-sized selection may help you ease into this wondrous and varied world of audio entertainment. Here you go, in no particular order ...

#1 India’s Battle to Control Forest Fires by The Undark Podcast
Earlier this year, the Amazon fires caught widespread attention across the world and while those headlines have now faded from most people’s memories, this episode sheds new light on an under-reported piece of news concerning Indian forest fires. Although hiking is a popular tourist attraction in the country, not many are aware of the dangers of forest fires. Tune in to learn how solving this issue involves understanding the complex web of law, policy, and counter-intuitive science that have contributed to the current wildfire prevalent conditions.

#2 All Rings Considered by 99% Invisible
Do you remember the Nokia ringtone of yore? Before we entered the era of always putting our smartphones on silent, the monophonic beeps dominated the ring tone choice back in the day. However, they are a rarity in today’s soundscapes, having evolved from bleeps and boops to homophonic tunes and finally even real songs. This episode tracks the phenomenon of ringtone identity and how technology helped make it better and ironically also made that sub-culture itself disappear. It’s a brilliant retelling with an especially remarkable comparison of all versions of the Nokia tune from over the years which essentially feels like traversing several decades in a single sound bite.

 #3 The Lady Vanishes by Revisionist History
A painting called ‘Roll Call’ remains to this day a one hit wonder. It was done by a wonderful artist whose talents had so much promise but after her singular masterpiece, she all but disappeared from the art world. Why? Where did she go? These questions and more are answered in this episode which also illustrates how glass ceilings and minority representation just for the sake of it is often more harmful than no representation at all.

#4 How to Do Nothing by Call Your Girlfriend
In this smartphone era, the biggest money-making industry is the attention economy. Companies strive to capture our short-lived attention spans and what we focus on shapes our opinions, feeds and so much more. While we are advised on being mindful about what we ‘pay’ attention to, Jenny Odell takes an altogether different route in this episode. Talking about reclaiming our ability to ‘do nothing’, she offers an excellent treatise on how to disconnect and the perspective it gives us. Don’t miss this!

#5 Verisimilitude by The Allusionist
Do fictional languages possess structure and grammar rules or are they garbled noises that the actors make? Apparently, the former is the right answer! This episode is a linguistic expedition that explores how fictional languages are created and the huge amount of work that goes into making them sound realistic and perhaps even learnable (e.g. Dothraki in Game of Thrones). Listen in to hear conlanger David Peterson (who had worked on making the artificial languages in HBO’s Game of Thrones that ended earlier this year) discuss the effort involved in creating new and functional languages from scratch.

And that is the tea. Happy listening, folks!

Pooja Ramakrishnan is recently graduated in Environmental Engineering.

  1. India’s Battle to Control Forest Fires by The Undark Podcast
  2. All Rings Considered by 99% Invisible
  3. The Lady Vanishes by Revisionist History
  4. How to Do Nothing by Call Your Girlfriend
  5. Verisimilitude by The Allusionist