Reply All describes itself as “a show about the internet,” but this tagline undersells the show’s breadth and unique approach. More than just a rundown of stories about how Reddit or Wikipedia work, Reply All is actually a show about how we engage with the internet, from Facebook activism campaigns to internet-famous dogs to crowdsourcing bizarre medical maladies. Think of it like a tech-based Radiolab.
Each week, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman go on fascinating adventures, where the topic at hand usually ends up becoming an exploration of something much bigger. An episode about Yik-Yak, for example, becomes a story about racism on college campuses. A story about an Australian teenager’s viral Facebook group morphs into an examination of youthful ideals and the banality of adulthood.
For the naturally curious, Reply All is also a gateway into fascinating nooks and crannies of web culture. One episode, “I’ve Killed People And I Have Hostages,” explores the practice of “swatting,” a gaming community prank involving fake 911 calls resulting in raids on a rival gamer’s house, so that viewers can watch the raid play out over their victim’s live video feed.
Another, “The Cathedral,” introduces the world of empathy gaming through the story of Ryan and Amy Green. The couple developed a video game, That Dragon, Cancer, as a way to process their grief after the death of their son Joel, who died at age five, after a four-year battle with cancer. It’s a beautiful story, though be warned, it’s emotionally intense and might make for better at-home listening, preferably with a huggable loved one (or super-tolerant pet) nearby.
To shake off seasonal depression, I’d recommend checking out the delightful episode “Today’s the Day,” where Goldman and Vogt, after failing to reach a source for an interview, decide to ditch the office and go on an all-day late-summer adventure around New York. They take a carriage ride through Central Park, visit a Coney Island freak show, go on a possibly-illegal boat ride and explore an abandoned industrial dock. The episode makes going on spur-of-the-moment adventures seem easy and fun, and may just inspire an impromptu getaway of your own. Plus, Vogt has an infectious laugh that defies cold-weather grumpiness.
Goldman, Vogt and their talented producers manage the impressive feat of covering a given tech topic with enough detail to let you fully engage with the story, but with a relatively short length that leaves you hungry for more. Most episodes of Reply All run 25-30 minutes, making them a great accompaniment to shorter tasks at work (or maybe the perfect candidate for binge-listening, I can’t decide which). It’s a surprisingly addictive show, but the kind of addiction that makes you better, not worse, for having it.Tweet This