New Tech City: Where Users Feel Bad For Listening?

Photo credit by WNYC.
Photo credit by WNYC.

New Tech City is a podcast about technology’s effect on society for people who do not know anything about technology. Without jargon, smothering statistics and excessive technology puns, Host Manoush Zomorodi, of WNYC National Public Radio, breaks down technological phenomenons, including video streaming, tweeting, texting and networking, that are changing users for better and for worse.

I was introduced to this podcast almost haphazardly through a Facebook friend, which is ironic but bear with me, because of an existential revitalizing moment this friend thought she needed to share with all of her closest 934 Facebook friends. The challenge, which was second part of New Tech City’s “Bored and Brilliant” project, was to go through a day without taking any photos. I was intrigued to say the least, and participated in the remaining challenges: deleting an highly-used app, documenting one small observation, taking a digital vacation, and so forth. But as I started to the listen to the podcast after the project was completed, I couldn’t help but feeling like I should not be listening at all.

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Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed listening to the podcast. Weekly, Zomorodi would have guests like “High Maintenance” Star Ben Sinclair and Malia Mason, a cognitive psychologist and associate professor at Columbia University, on her show to power through in 20-something minutes of clear and concise reporting on the week’s topic. Often, her show would be segmented with a recurring outline: a topic briefing, introduction to the guest speakers (followed by a small amount of fun banter), topic discussion with an audio clip or two thrown carefully into the script for some context, and ending with “rapid-fire,” as Zomorodi calls it, questions and answers.

The “Bored and Brilliant” project, New Tech City’s largest project to date since the podcast’s origin in September 2012, was created to collect data on the overwhelming use of smartphones in our daily lives. The premise is users can experience brilliant moments while experiencing boredom rather than trying to entertain themselves with their smartphones, forcing them to create their own stimulus.

I liked the idea, even if it came from the Facebook selfie-queen herself. I even made adjustments to my own digital habits, including storing my phone away from my bedside so I would not be tempted to scroll through Imgur or Instagram late at night and turn off pop-up notifications on the main Facebook and Twitter apps on my iPhone. So why spend more time listening to a podcast that takes away from my so-called moments of brilliance?

Well, it’s engaging to listen to. I can listen to one or two episodes going to or leaving work. Like many other podcasts out there, it is relatively commercial free, with a few sponsor interruptions. Zomorodi is a charismatic host inside and outside of the recording room. She even gets her family involved sometimes like her four-year-old daughter, Soraya, in mini-sodes or trivial content.

The focus of the “Bored and Brilliant,” and most of New Tech City’s overall content, is to find the human element in the digital world that dominates our society. Zomorodi just helps listeners find the best of both worlds.

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