clive thompson

PODCAST EPISODE #31: “Best Of”, The Way We Act

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The number of podcasts is mounting up.

More than two years since I penned my first post for the Telling The Story blog, I have also had the pleasure of producing 30 podcasts. Each one has enabled me to interview a journalist or storyteller from across the media landscape.

I looked back at the list a few weeks ago, and I saw a few recurring themes.

One: I have gravitated towards guests who explain why we act the way we do — not as storytellers, but as recipients of storytelling. These guests are not necessarily journalists in a traditional sense, but they have used an expanding number platforms to explore the subject.

Such brings us to Episode #31 of the Telling The Story podcast: a “Best Of” edition on how we behave.

You’ll hear snippets from previous episodes with the following guests:

Ryan Shmeizer, a venture capitalist by day, on why we love list-based articles: “Lists are so tempting because they present the illusion of a satisfactory quick fix … but I do think, sometimes, hard-core, factual information that is hard to digest is often well served in list form.”

Dr. Paul J. Zak, professor at Claremont Graduate University, on the science of storytelling: “If you don’t get my attention in about 20 seconds, you’re gonna have a much harder time. … Print, you actually have a longer period of time, because people’s expectations are that it’s going to take a while to get through a page of text. But I think this says that the first paragraph, or even the title, signals that something’s gonna happen here.”

Clive Thompson, freelancer for Wired, the New York Times, and others, on the rapid evolution of language in the early years of social media: “Because we’ve had this shift where so much more conversation is happening in the written form, I think it’s almost like an evolutionary pressure to push language forward.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #29: Clive Thompson, writer, Smarter Than You Think

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Reading Clive Thompson is a markedly different experience than hearing Clive Thompson.

On paper (or more likely, online), his work is measured and precise. The freelance journalist has written about technology and language for Wired, New York Times magazine, the Washington Post, and a handful of other publications. He is the author of Smarter Than You Think, a terrific book about how technology has affected the way we think, remember, and operate — for the better.

I have already written about Thompson twice this year for a pair of noteworthy stories that pair appreciation for history with enthusiasm for the future. In each article, he appears in full command of the language he studies so much, and his energy hits home largely because it is harnessed and presented in such a thoughtful way.

In an audio interview setting, that energy comes unbound.

Thompson joins me on Episode #29 of the Telling The Story podcast, and he comes ready to play. Discussing the evolution of language, his career as a writer, and his advice for aspiring journalists, Thompson blazes through sentences with nary a breath in-between. He carries a passion that extends everywhere, from extolling the virtues of AOL Instant Messenger to testifying his love for guitar pedals.

In other words, if you hold on tight to this interview, you will enjoy the ride. And you will gain some great insight from one of the more decorated and enjoyable writers working today.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Playing catch-up from March

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Devil’s Rope (3/17/15, 99% Invisible): I took a few weeks off in March to go on vacation and retool the web site.

But I continued to watch, read, and listen to great journalism and storytelling.

I decided to use this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” to play catch-up and spotlight several pieces that stood out to me last month. This podcast, from the terrific Roman Mars, follows the 99% Invisible formula to beautiful effect, outlining a historical problem (cattle and buffalo wandering too freely during the 19th century, as Americans moved to the Great Plains) and teasing the eventual solution (the invention of barbed wire). That solution, of course, opens the door to a whole host of angles and anecdotes that fill the rest of the episode.

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I really don’t care that much about barbed wire. But I can’t turn this off!” Mars and his team are such potent storytellers, and I always enjoy listening to 99% Invisible from that standpoint alone.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring popcorn, Xerox, & night hockey

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Why popcorn also jumps (2/17/15, New York Times): I have not done any research to see what other videos exist online of popcorn popping.

I will only say: I have never seen one this breathtaking.

The video is a supplement to an article from New York Times science writer James Gorman, who also narrates and appears in it. He reports on how French scientists have discovered why popcorn kernels don’t just pop; they also jump, ever so briefly, vaulting in the air as they spring to life.

The article is perfectly interesting, if short, but the video brings it home. Credit the Times team for investing in whatever equipment was needed to get these pristine shots. The popcorn here looks like it is pirouetting in the air.

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