Enchanting By Numbers (2015 version)

We take another look at algorithms. Tim Hwang explains how Uber’s algorithms generate phantom cars and marketplace mirages. And we revisit our conversation with Christian Sandvig who, last year asked Facebook users to explain how they imagine the Edgerank algorithm works (this is the algorithm that powers Facebook’s news feed). Sandvig discovered that most of his subjects had no idea there even was an algorithm at work. Plus  James Essinger and Suw Charman-Anderson, tell us about Ada Lovelace, the woman who wrote the first computer program (or as James puts it – Algorithm)  in 1843.

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Recent, Relevant, Random (r)


We don’t have metrics to measure what happens when we read something that changes our life. So this episode is an attempt to deal with that.  We begin with writer Rob Walker who tells us about his “New Old Thing,”  a regular feature he produces for Yahoo Tech. Rob is one of the most thoughtful writers I know and if anyone can wean us from our addiction to the now it will be him. I also get to talk to one of my heros this week: Edwin Frank who is the editor in chief of the NYRB classics imprint. About 10 years ago I read a collection of Platonov stories, a book that definitely changed my life, and I became a life-long devotee of the series. I have always wanted to ask Edwin about his editorial sensibilities and what exactly binds all the books with the well designed multi-coloured spines together. Phyllis Rose is the author of The Shelf.  She “randomly” chose a shelf at the library near her house and read every book on it – then she wrote about the experience. It is a deep funny philosophical treatise on the act of reading itself.



Artifacts (redux)

Photographer Robert Burley takes pictures of the end of analog for his book The Disappearance Of Darkness. Christine Frohnert and Christiane Paul explain why it is difficult to care for digital artworks and Social Media theorist Nathan Jurgenson wants us to understand what is truly revolutionary about ephemeral photographs and platforms like Snapchat. Sponsors: Hellofresh.com (offer code: theory )and Souverain.com


1984 (the year not the book) EXPANDED VERSION

New version with 25% more audio diary! In 1984 your host was twelve years old and like George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, he kept a diary, for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips – all sound from 1984 (the year, not the book). Find out what totalitarianism really sounds like. Also make sure you get the 1984 playlist. Sponsors: Zady.com + souverain.com


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Guided By Voices (r)

Philosopher Daniel Heller-Roazen tells us the story of Pythagoras and the fifth hammer and how Kant and Kepler both tried (and failed) to record the universal harmonies Pythagoras once heard. Your host sets out to make some money doing experimental medical testing, and gets the chance to record the voice in his head. Played some of this recently in Copenhagen, went over well – so we will re-air this one for you all as well.  Special thanks to sponsors: Casper and Souverain Wines

Instaserfs (III of III)

“This is part of the sharing economy, I am sharing myself”

Our instaserfs series comes to a crushing conclusion, Hear Instapoder Andrew attempt to manserve…  Plus we meet two former Uber drivers! Also this Thursday July 9th 3pm EST a live online ToE post-listening party. Visit spoken.am for details. Your host will be there, along with Andrew and some of the guests featured in the show, plus Mary Gray a researcher who studies labor and the sharing economy. Special thanks to our new sponsor Zady.com


Instaserfs (II of III)

Instaserfs II: “Chipolte Strikes back” or “Seriously, in the sharing economy no one can hear you work”  Either tagline works for our second installment in our future of work series. Andrew (our ToE instapoder) continues with his task of working for as many San Francisco sharing economy companies as he can stand this month. Plus Susie Cagle (cartoonist, journalist, and freelancer) explains why the tech community prefers not to talk about the worker.

sharing economy

Also: In two weeks, after part three of Instaserfs drops, we’re hosting an online discussion party for ToE fans. You can join me, Andrew, and a special guest as we dig deeper into the sharing economy and talk about some of the questions the series raises. For more info on that, go to spoken.am and be sure to sign up, invites are limited.


Instaserfs (I of III)

In the sharing economy no one  can hear you work. This is because companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates and others only employ “partners” or independent contractors. So your host decided to partner with Andrew Callaway, a 25 year old San Francisco native, to find out what its like to work in the sharing economy. As the official ToE instapoder Andrew will drive, shop, clean, deliver, and serve for a whole month, and he’s going to record his entire experience.  Plus in this episode technology journalist Sarah Lacey tells us the truth about Uber.

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Special thanks to our new sponsor Zady.com