The social networks ‘designed to tear us apart’ – podcasts of the week


Picks of the week

Sudhir Breaks the Internet
Sudhir Venkatesh boasts an impressive CV, having worked for the FBI, Facebook and Twitter. He is also a sociologist, meaning that he’s able to look back at his time working with government and big tech, to examine the growth of online misinformation with an expert eye. Don’t expect a fawning look at social media’s huge ethical and practical dilemmas in this new Freakanomics podcast; his first episode, titled “Designed to Tear Us Apart”, considers how division and hate have thrived on the platforms he worked for – and the inertia behind the scenes. Hannah J Davies

Secret Sauce
What’s the special ingredient that makes a company revolutionise the way people do things? Entertaining entrepreneurs John Frye and Sam Donner look for the magic in their new podcast about successful businesses that stand out from the crowd. First up is the story of Airbnb, starting with the question: “Who would let a total stranger come and stay in their house?” The answer lies in the company’s phenomenal growth and what makes a company a “unicorn”, with the show livened up by Frye and Donner’s stories about accidentally blasting out Taylor Swift during a pitch. Hannah Verdier

‘Scarecrows, fires and hardening tongues’ ... BBC Sounds’ The Sink.
‘Scarecrows, fires and hardening tongues’ … BBC Sounds’ The Sink. Photograph: BBC

Chosen by Nicholas Alexander

Do you ever pop on a podcast to fall asleep to? I do. Every night. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be familiar with that feeling of drifting off while listening. Sentences swim around you, stripped of their meaning. Words collect in little incoherent groups at the edge of consciousness, as you tip-toe a tightrope on the outskirts of sleep.

In BBC Sounds’ comedy-horror ‘sleep-aid’ The Sink, writer Natasha Hodgson, producer Andy Goddard, and composer David Cumming, have somehow managed – through alchemy of language and sound – to recreate that exact feeling.

Even while trying to remember certain scenes to write this piece, I find them slipping away like dreams. I think it’s something to do with their lack of internal logic – shapes shift, locations lurch, characters change – but I can’t be sure. What I do remember is that there are birds, scarecrows, fires, swimming pools, other things.

I also remember the dreamlike quality of Hodgson’s prose – “you’re more tired around your face, your eyes are soiled and your tongue’s gone hard”; “your colours have been pushed around, everything’s very, very close to your ears now” – and that Alice Lowe’s reads are an absolute dream.

I highly recommend it, but with one caveat. DON’T listen while trying to get to sleep. This podcast is a lot of things – intricately written, stunningly sound-designed, laugh out loud funny, unusually unsettling – but an aid for restorative sleep, it is not.

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