The three most important podcast episodes you will listen to this year 🎧

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I've been trying to take myself on long walks several times a week without my dog. Said dog, Nandi, stops every metre or two to give a good sniff of the ‘pee-mail’ left by other canines. It’s impossible for me to find a steady walking rhythm with him, so we take separate walks. And I need a sustained pace, if not a jog. I’m trying to walk off some extra winter pounds.

Occasionally, I delegate his walks so I get mine fuss-free. I’ve got much hope for our rhythms to eventually synchronise with age. Crossed fingers. 🤞🏼

There’s a second benefit I get from Nandi-free outings: I can focus my attention on an audiobook or podcast. And there have been some extraordinary shows released, some in the last few days. I’ve indulged not just for myself but also on your behalf. Today I feel so strongly about a couple of episodes I decided to forget about the rest of my planned Digest to concentrate on what I boldly call the most important podcast episodes you will listen to this year. I’ve added one of mine for good measure and think it stands its ground next to the others.

So without further ado, I give you my essential listens. Please report back, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

Unlocking Us, Brené Brown in conversation with Esther Perel on new AI - artificial intimacy 

Boy. This may be the most important podcast or conversation I’ve heard in a long time, and I am pretty high-brow about my audio selection. When a brilliant sociologist whose research on shame, vulnerability and connection questions our current challenges around mental health, social media, AI and more, you can expect to have an interesting time. But when that sociologist brings these topics to the brilliant Esther Perel, ‘recognised as one of today’s most insightful and original voices on modern relationships’, the result is a cascade of insights. 

I’ve already listened to this episode twice, so I could take notes to share. I’ve also peered into the transcript (available on the episode page here). 

This conversation had an extra human dimension as it was recorded in front of a live audience at SXSW. 

Let it be said that Brené Brown is a wonderful storyteller. She had me right at the top of the episode when she recounted her experience of office hours at the hair salon (my hairdresser will vouch for the fact I always show up with a laptop or iPad in hand). There, her story veers into the unexpected: a conversation with a pilot, who explains ‘control flight into terrain’ and tells her she may have a ‘human-scale’ problem. 

All my antennas turned on at that point. The themes are all essential, and they build up one on the other:

The notion of 'beyond human scale' 

The rise of artificial intimacy 

Ambiguous loss

Bids for connection

Does this meal exist if we don’t photograph it? 

The commodification (and commercialisation) of our personal experience 

The phone is the new body

The free market of stories 

Collective effervescence

The importance of managing paradoxes (which Perel had already discussed in a previous interview with Brown)

I feel as strongly about this as I did the first time (or the first 10 times) I watched Simon Sinek’s original TEDx talk, which was the precursor to his book, Start With Why. I will certainly listen to this interview over and over again as I digest what and how these women explain the state of our communities, relationships and relationships with technology. 

Voila. Listen to the episode here or find it on your preferred podcast app. 

Simon Sinek (the one and only) talks about The Anxious Generation with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt

Do you have a kid? Or care about someone else’s kids? Niece, nephew, friend, or other? I’m going to guess that if you do, you’ve heard one of your parent friends tell you about how much their child is struggling with depression and anxiety. 

I’ve yet to become a parent, but I’m heartbroken by the multiple stories that I’ve heard detailing the existential crisis hitting the youngest generations. So for me, it’s much more than following the news trends and headlines, however compelling they have been on this very topic. There’s a wave of mental illness hitting Gen Z, as reported for example by the Guardian. The reason this made the news so widely is because the figures reported weren’t the result of a simple poll but that of a thorough longitudinal research program. 

They are the most anxious generation ever. Light topic, huh?

Sinek interviews social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, a professor at NYU Stern, who recently released his new book, The Anxious Generation. Far from staying on the sidelines, reporting on the dramatic rise in depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide, Haidt has analysed the issues. From his findings, he brings actionable solutions available to all. It’s reassuring to hear that there is a ‘how to’ to fix the current mental health crisis affecting kids, and it is within reach.

Find out more by listening to the interview here, and discover his work on AnxiousGeneration.com.

An oldie but goodie: How to design a life, Tim Ferriss interviews Debbie Millman

For some of you, this may be the most important podcast episode you ever listen to. I don’t say that lightly.’ 

It’s not me saying this no. That’s what Tim Ferriss himself wrote as an opener for this interview on his website, Tim.Blog. 

And he isn’t wrong. It has been one of the most important episodes I’ve ever listened to. There was a not-funny synchronicity about when this podcast ‘found’ me. 

I’ve written about it here before on a couple of occasions. That interview sums up why I love podcasts, especially long-form conversations. So we can benefit from the stories, wisdom and insights of generous humans like Ferriss and the wonderful Debbie Millman. 

Listen to it here or find it on the platform of your choice.

One of my own, for good measure: Caitlin Krause on digital wellbeing, building worlds and designing wonder

I had the pleasure of meeting Caitlin Krause almost a year ago after hearing a talk by the aforementioned Esther Perel. We ended up chatting with a small group of women and used prompts from Perel’s playing cards, Where Shall We Begin. Walls come down fast when you go right for the vulnerable bits. We have stayed in touch ever since, and I’m sure there will be a part two of this interview, that’s how much we had to talk about, Caitlin and I.

Caitlin’s expertise makes for quite the list: she’s a specialist in immersive technologies (think metaverse, VR, XR), an educator, and a facilitator skilled in mindfulness and storytelling. Caitlin teaches courses about technology and wellbeing at Stanford University and she is the author of the books Mindful by Design and Designing Wonder. As you can imagine, ours was a captivating discussion.

On the personal side, Caitlin tells me about what’s influenced her, from an early fascination with the sea and a desire to be an astronaut to the guidance of her grandfather and parents and her experiences living in Russia. She also discusses the founding of MindWise, her consultancy. 

We also cover her experiences creating immersive XR environments and working with spatial technology, the integration of wellness and wellbeing into XR design, all while extolling the importance of creating a safe space for people to explore XR and much more. Key takeaways include Caitlin’s insights on the intersection of wellbeing and technology.

Whether you have an existing interest in immersive technologies or are unfamiliar with them, I promise you that this episode will inform and ignite your imagination. If you have been wary about some of these new technologies, you may also feel reassured. 

Happy listening!