Audio and Podcasts
In early 2017 in the USA, the leading mobile phone carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) were finally driven, in response to a competitive move by the smallest US carrier (T-Mobile, owned by a consumer-focused European giant, Deutsche Telekom), seeking to expand market share, finally offering the first affordable unlimited streaming data plans. As we’ve discussed elsewhere in the Guide, the pattern of the most useful innovation coming first from the smallest players in a market, with the biggest players being counterinnovative (seeking to slow and patent and sit on innovation as long as possible), is a classic economic dynamic we call the Innovation 80/20 Rule. Fortunately, once a really useful new innovation emerges from one of the smaller players in the long tail, and that firm starts gaining market share because of it, the big players in the fat head have to respond by rolling out the innovation their own engineers and innovators have long wanted to do but have been prevented from doing by executive priorities.
There’s nothing evil about this counterinnovative corporate behavior, they are just doing what they think is smartest for their firm, until market conditions show signs of change. As long as economic concentration exists (a fat head or oligopoly at the top), big company incentives will typically be aligned to try to control and slow down innovation, maximizing current shareholder return. There are big company exceptions to this rule (company culture can easily be more powerful than this market pattern), and society needs big companies to do big R&D and create scale, but those who care about innovation should always fund and patronize a good fraction of small firms and their early stage R&D and innovation, as a few of them will one day become large as a result, and that small-firm support, when they do good things, keeps the large firms accountable to the customer.
The good news is that average Americans can now start a habit of streaming audio from a raft of web-based platforms during our commutes and while exercising. We can now stream just the audio we want through our phones, with the ability to skip forward through ads and content that we don’t find interesting. If you value your time, and want more interesting and useful audio, I really recommend getting audio apps for your phones, and streaming them in your car and wearing your phone while exercising. The interfaces for these platforms still suck, you can’t easily remove or downvote content you don’t like, but streaming audio (like video) is now finally affordable for most of us. These platforms are primitive, but they already suck a lot less than radio, which is yesterday’s platform.
Try Amazon’s Audible for audiobooks, and for podcasts, iTunes if you are on iOS, and Stitcher or one of its competitors if you are on Android. Google Play has a nice interface for building music playlists, but a terrible interface for podcasts. I presently use Google Play playlists for my work and exercise music, and Stitcher for my podcasts (2017). If you have a newer car, or buy a car radio with Bluetooth integration, your podcasts will start from your phone, taking you back to your last listening position, every time you enter your car, finally making your streaming audio a “lean back” experience.
Search “future” on iTunes (Mac) and Stitcher (Android) and you will find over fifty podcast shows on the future of banking, manufacturing, farming, sustainability, hiring, advertising, you name it. Many of these are highly variable in quality. But the good podcasts, when you can find them, are far more interesting than having to suffer through yet another low-value story on NPR, which is the best thing on radio today (that’s not saying a lot).
Good foresighters and futurists should keep in mind that there are far more interesting and profitable and powerful things happening all around us than the latest stories we find on NPR today. What is reported on NPR today, while usually being the best option on the dial, is still mostly fluff and distraction, and political side shows, with short bits of truly useful news and analysis. NPR still reports a ton of useless fluff like what Trump does, but most serious future thinkers have no need for more than a few minutes a week of updates on his latest antics. Anyone with a longer term perspective should appreciate that his presidency, and the institution of the modern presidency in general, will have only a minor impact on the accelerating entrepreneurship and increasingly digitally intelligent futures we are all busily creating. The leading global stories have shifted, and we need a lot less coverage of the Beltway, and a lot more on science, entrepreneurship, innovation, tech, local politics, and activism. We need to be able to customize our sources to fit our politics, which should be neither right or left, but up, seeking to understand and accelerate progress, however we personally define it.
The faster we all migrate to a better listening platform, like streaming audio through your phone, the sooner our leading radio news and analysis providers like NPR will have to up their game. At present streaming platforms are largely “lean forward”, meaning you will have to take time every so often to select what you want to listen to. But eventually they’ll be mostly “lean back”, allowing you to automatically pull the kind of content you want from the web. Once versions of streaming audio platforms emerge with intuitive voice control and much better customization, via smart agents and personal sims, people will start using streaming audio systems en masse, perhaps by the mid-2020s. NPR will of course become a much more interesting and customizable experience in that world. From now on, if you support NPR, as our family does, I would try not to listen to them, or donate, except through their online streaming app. Make them improve. As a radio leader, NPR should be leading the move to streaming, and their platform should be the most customizable. They may rise to their responsiblity, or it may take a more customer-oriented online firm to do that. We shall see.
So please keep in mind that your mind deserves better audio than radio, and now you can get better audio affordably, if you just put a little effort into collecting it. Move past radio to create your own streaming playlists, customized to your own interests, and you’ll learn a lot more useful things about the amazing world around you.
Let me recommend just a few good podcasts to start:
Future Meets Law, Brian Cave. Excellent coverage of LegalTech, startups, innovation, and the future of law, conflict resolution, and risk management.
Future Thinkers, Obsessed with All Things Future: Singularity, Tech, Spirituality, and Philosophy
Hosts Mike Gilliland (@mikegilliland) and Euvie Ivanova (@euvieivanova) are two insightful, accelaware futurists living in asia (Vietnam and Bangkok respectively). They have a refereshingly humanistic take on the singularity, human empowerment and spirituality in a world of accelerating change.
Predicting Our Future, Host is Andrew Weinreich, graduate of Fordham U. Law, Serial Entrepreneur and Startup Coach. Excellent production values and research and interviews go into this show at present. Andrew started his podcast with an excellent three-part series on the future of online voting, and what we may need to do to eventually reform our painfully low voter turnout, which is almost always below 60% even for Presidential elections, and create a more democratic future.
Renewable Future. Host is Stora Enso, a €10B revenues pulp and paper manufacturer and renewable packaging provider headquartered in Finland, operating on four continents. Megatrends in consumer demand, sustainability, packaging. Light but informative. 15 min shows.
Review the Future, Technology’s (Accelerating) Impact on Culture. Hosts Ted Kupper (@tedkupper) and Jon Perry (@perryjon) are two more smart and accelaware young futurists, based in Los Angeles, CA USA. I enjoy their insights on the way our lives and work are being impacted by accelerating computing, communication, automation and nanotechnologies. Though their assumptions about the future of biotech and longevity are far too overoptimistic, most everything else they talk about is very well done.
Technotopia, John Biggs. Good diverse set of interviews with technologists, marketers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and a fun variety of social innovators. Techcrunch platform.
The Edge: The Power to Change Your Life Now, and The Tony Robbins Show, Tony Robbins.
A great quick intro to Robbin’s approach to taking control of our inner feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, improving our health and energy, and using a vastly better inner world to practice better foresight and action in the outer world. If you don’t already think you’re in a peak emotional and mental state, and even if you do, I recommend this 2 CD overview of his world view and toolsets. If you find this as valuable as I think you will, make the commitment to read his entire classic 512 page book, Awaken The Giant (Within), 1991/2013. Very likely that will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
The Future of Everything. Host is the Wall Street Journal. “How science and technology are revolutionizing business, industry, culture, and society. Excellent production values.” Excellent content and top production values. 20 min shows.
The Tim Ferriss Show, Tim Ferriss. Great show by a relentless self-experimenter and personal productivity optimizer. He seeks to “deconstruct world-class performers” to understand their secrets. Educational and inspirational.