If you’re fascinated by the wild world of the internet, I have the podcast for you. Both self-described and critically acclaimed as “a show about the internet”, Reply All is one of the many podcasts produced by Brooklyn based podcast giant Gimlet Media. Gimlet aims to produce content that helps people understand the world and each other, and Reply All is no exception. It’s a perfect blend of insane stories about the internet and investigative journalism that somehow always makes for commentary on the human experience.
Reply All is made up of a team of around half a dozen talented contributors, but listeners are most familiar with co-hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt. These men are huge internet nerds- but don’t let this fool you, as they’ve got CHARISMA. You’ll also often hear from Sruthi Pinnamaneni, a senior reporter for the pod who has some brilliant insights and stories. Each episode of Reply All usually starts with something bizarre that has happened on the internet; one member of the pod presents the story to the others, and proceeds to tell them all about the deep dive of research they undertook to decipher the mystery. And let me tell you; Reply All does NOT fuck around. Their research into these topics are so in depth they often take months to complete a story. No scam runner, internet troll, or international expert is too hard to reach. What results are compelling, gripping stories that leave you in awe (and often in a little bit of fear) of the huge expanse of the internet and modern life.
But that’s not all Reply All can do. Sometimes listeners send in their own problems they may have on the internet, or strange happenings that are related to the electronic world around them. It’s been dubbed “Super Tech Support” and it’s pretty much that- PJ and Alex have a go at solving these impossible dilemmas for listeners, and usually come to pretty satisfying conclusions thanks to their relentless persistence and determination.
Another segment that Reply All regularly produces is called “Yes, Yes, No”. Alex Blumberg, a middle aged co-founder of Gimlet Media and internet slang novice, comes to Alex and PJ with a tweet he doesn’t understand. The team break it down, step by step, and explain the phenomenon. These segments are unfortunately my least favourite- tweets are so tied to the time in which they are written, so unless you catch one of these episodes as soon as they come out, they can be difficult to understand, dated and not particularly interesting. They don’t have the same gripping story telling that other episodes do, and I find myself skipping them over. However if you consider yourself a meme connoisseur, twitter fanatic, or just better with internet humour than I am, these segments may completely delight you, so do give them a go!
Being a show about the internet, you would expect Reply All to be as cold as the devices we listen to it on. BUT, don’t forget that humans that created the internet, and so, it’s always humans behind these insane stories that Reply All uncovers. Alex and PJ have such an endearing, personable way of presenting, that leaves you so impressed with their research (especially when they are so proud of themselves). They’re funny, well timed and easy to follow. The production team at Reply All does a great job seamlessly integrating music, transitition and the small amount of ads into the overall story telling of each episode. It’s a high production podcast, which no surprise brings in a huge audience – around 3.5 million downloads per month (according to their website).
This is a podcast you could start listening to from the beginning, however it’s easily able to be listened to in any order you choose. I started with episode 1 (from way back in 2014), and read episode descriptions as I went, skipping some that weren’t my style. If you want to test a couple of episodes, I recommend these (and coincidentally enough, they are also some of the episodes recommended by the Reply All website);
- Episode 102: Long Distance, Parts 1 and 2. Alex gets called by a telephone scammer and flies to India, looking into the crazy world of international call centres.
- Episode 64: On the Inside, Parts 1 to 4. Sruthi Pinnamaneni interviews a man who writes a blog from prison, imprisoned for a ‘crime he didn’t commit’. Such an in-depth story that it goes over 4 episodes, to encapsulate research done over many months.
- Episode 53: In the Desert. “Super Tech Support” helps a couple who keeping having strangers knocking on their door, in an attempt to find their stolen phones.
Overall, you’ll walk away from Reply All feeling so much smarter in topics that you can’t even begin to explain. Prepare to nerd-out on tech, with a side of human spirit.