Podcasts have been around for ages, but so far, I’ve only zoned out on music while on commutes. My new job has a pretty lengthy commute though, and there have been some subconscious promptings to try listening to podcasts instead. I haven’t figured out the best universal podcast app, but I recently found out that Spotify on Android has a podcast feature with a limited but adequate selection of podcasts. No NPR on it, but plenty of other decent casts. Podcasts have been a pretty great experience so far; the good ones force me to actively listen and engage my mind, while I can still look around instead of being oblivious to my surroundings if my eyes are glued to my phone. I also prefer the audio-only podcast format to longform talk videos on YouTube, because videos demand your full attention while podcasts allow me to multitask on something else. It’s with this new love for podcasts that I thought I’ll start a new series on my blog featuring my favourite recent podcast.
Today’s feature is about the podcast Outside/In. Outside/In is a podcast ‘about the natural world and how we use it’. The overall theme is already attractive to anyone with an environmental bent, but the podcast goes beyond going green and more about the human-natural world relationship.
I’ve heard four episodes from them so far; the first one was about the consumption of invasive lionfish as a form of environmental consumerism (Episode 20); the second about navigating the world and the seas in the pre-GPS era (Episode 19); the third was a debate about Pokémon GO and whether it gets people to interact with the outdoors in the appropriate way (Episode 13.5), and the most recent listen was about how the a black chemist rose above the structural racism of his time to synthesize a steroid from soybeans that is the foundation of many modern chemicals (Episode 18). All three topics were fairly complex investigations that could have been overly simplistic, but what I like about Outside/In so far is their nuanced view and explorations of their topics, which betrayed a robust research process underneath the preparation of each episode. They also invite and/or interview professional guests, which adds some credence and authority to the knowledge that is being shared.
Keeping podcasts aurally interesting to prevent listeners from switching away from the lengthy format is important, especially when it is more instantly gratifying to play a short 3-minute song. Outside/In keeps it immersive by interspersing sound effects at appropriate moments; for example, in the episode about navigation, which elaborated on how the ancient Polynesians could feel the waves to figure out where they were, they used the sound of crashing waves and seagulls to psychologically bring you to the sea.
What I really enjoy is how the podcast seamlessly flows from one thread to the next. In Episode 18, Taylor Quimby first shares about bioprospecting, i.e. harvesting bioactive molecules from nature. A seemingly unrelated segue into the life of a black chemist develops until he drops the bombshell that his success in life despite his racial struggles in the Jim Crow south helped to advance the industrial and medical research. After he convinces us of the importance of the soybean, he leads into another bombshell revelation: our destruction of nature by climate change and deforestation is potentially impeding our discovery of powerful bioactive molecules like the one in the soybean that could also lead to countless industrial applications and save many lives. It was a pretty weighty episode that also revealed the deft direction of the team behind Outside/In in creating a interesting narrative that is easy to follow.
Most popular podcasts are focused on either tech, news, politics, or comedy. Educational podcasts can also sometimes get a little pedantic. But if you’re a fan of sociological and environmental topics, Outside/In is a breath of fresh air.
Frequency: Once every 1-2 weeks.
Length of an episode: Usually 20-30 minutes.