HyperAnalyze: Over Thinking My Two Favorite Podcasts


Much of my work involves tediously animating stick figures -- a time consuming, but mentally barren task. To keep my sanity during this process I listen to podcasts, a lot. Downcast, my podcasting app of choice, shows more than fifty subscriptions, all of which form an endless river of audio that has a prominent place in my life.

I've been thinking about the shows I listen to and why after an announcement from Marco Arment, the host of Build and Analyze.

Marco revealed on Twitter that Build and Analyze would end in a few episodes -- and I was incredibly disappointed. I felt compelled to send him a tweet saying that his podcast, along with Hypercritical by John Siracusa were my two favorites.

Three hours later, Siracusa announced the end of his show, as well.

I spent the evening disappointed. Mopey, even. Which, on reflection, felt ridiculous.

I've seen podcasts come and go, even podcasts that previously held the title of favorite, without much reaction on my part. Why was I sad this time? Thinking it over, each podcast had discussed half of the answer to my question in their previous shows.

Many podcasts, like RadioLab and 99% Invisible are, at their heart, well-produced radio shows. Old formats in a new medium.

But Build and Analyze and Hypercritical were different and Marco said it himself in a recent episode: they're natural podcasts. They're what the medium is best at, people just talking without the overhead or overproducedness of radio.

Both in both shows the respective hosts talk with Dan Benjamin about the things that interest them. (Dan hosts a number of podcasts at 5by5.) In Hypercritical Siracusa has a Steve-Jobs-like ability to explain the problems with things in an incredibly informative way. In Build and Analyze Marco is a thoughtful person, talking about what makes products good, family and business. And coffee.

While the podcasts are ostensibly about their topics, they're really an ongoing conversation.

Regular listening creates a (false) feeling of being part of a social group where people know each other: Mondays it's coffee with Marco and Dan, and then Fridays it's lunch with Siracusa and Dan. Sometimes Marco and Dan talk about Siracusa and sometimes Siracusa and Dan talk about Marco. I'm there too, a silent participant, doodling on my laptop, sipping my coffee, listening without anything to add -- content in the same way old friends can be.

Repeat natural podcasts like these every week for months and the end result is my monkey mind feels like it knows Siracusa, Marco and Dan though my human mind knows better.

As a person who's work has brought him some low-level of Internet fame, I understand it's weird -- and sometimes slightly creepy -- to be on the receiving end of that. But, nonetheless here I am, stuck with that same, irrational feeling of being sort-of friends with two people I don't actually know.

Two people who just died.

Not literally, of course.

Siracusa described the other half of why I'm sad now in a podcast about when Steve Jobs had retired from Apple. Siracusa attempted to write an article about Steve Jobs but what he produced was an obituary, even though the man was still alive at the time. Why?

Apple Keynotes were the only way people knew Steve Jobs. While Jobs had a personal life, it wasn't available to the public. So when Steve Jobs retired, it felt like he died because the part of his life that we got access to was over.

And so it is with these podcasts for me: the part of Marco's and Siracusa's life that I got access to, their weekly conversations on interesting topics is retired.

They're still alive and on twitter, both still write on the web and both may guest on Dan's new podcast, but their regular shows were a metronome in my unstructured work life: Marco started the week and Siracusa ended it.

My human mind is thankful for all the hours of insight, humor and learning that they've given me over this past year, but my monkey mind will still be sad for a while about the loss of friends it never really had.