Apparently I’m a terrible cryptologist. That’s what I learned from the intriguing new podcast Codebreaker, hitting the web on Wednesday, November 11.
[UPDATE November 11 8:45am ET: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the show’s launch date was postponed one week, to November 11.]
The new show, a co-production of Marketplace Tech and Tech Insider, not only offers a fascinating philosophical dive into technology, it also has a clever gimmick that’s part of the show’s premise. After listening to Episode 1, I can definitely say this new tech podcast is going to get some heavy rotation in my earbuds.
Here’s how it works: The 31-minute podcast contains a code or clue that is spoken during the episode. That code, when entered correctly on the podcast’s website, apparently unlocks the entire season so you can “binge listen.” (I say “apparently” because after listening to the entire show, I didn’t hear anything that seemed like obvious code. I actually played the episode a second time when I sat down to write this review – still nothing. I’m sure this is pure user error on my part.)
For Season 1, host Ben Brock Johnson of Marketplace Tech takes a simple question – “Is it bad?” – and applies it to different technologies. (Full disclosure: I was a repeat guest on Marketplace Tech in 2013 and 2014.)
Episode 1 revolves around email. There’s a brief history of email and some insane statistics about spam (90-99 percent of all email is spam) before the show gets to the heart of the first episode: a love story.
The story revolves around an American woman, Adele Geraghty, who responded in 2001 to a misprinted email address: firstname.lastname@example.org, which should have been email@example.com. Author54 turned out to be a man in Sheffield, England, and the seven-minute story of the relationship that developed between the two is beautifully told from Geraghty’s perspective.
“This was basically falling in love with someone from the inside out,” she says. “There were no distractions. It was just him and me, and who we were, inside.”
The two middle-aged people hit it off over AOL chat and were married five years later.
There’s a magical, ethereal quality to the story and it should be the ultimate fantasy of just how great email can be. But then, of course, there is the downside.
“This Is Cancer”
Act 2 of Episode 1 consists of a vignette about how Johnson and his friend Matt Clark broke up their band (“Conversion Party”) via email about five years ago – and then the two talk about it. (Don’t worry, they’re still good friends!)
Johnson reads the first message in the chain:
I’m sick of how we’ve been treating each other lately. I literally couldn’t sleep last night. We were once good friends and now we are like married friends about to divorce. This is cancer. -Clark
The two men then talk about how foolish they feel many years removed from that time, slightly battered by each other’s rhetoric, but ultimately not significantly worsened by wear and tear.
“In a way, I’m most ashamed of the time we’ve spent on these conversations,” Johnson admits. “I remember spending two hours working on these really long emails. I don’t know if they mattered or if they helped.”
Other brief elements peppered the show, followed by a closing story about the ludicrous way a half-joke sent across the Stanford University Graduate School of Business (GSB) program-wide email list to reduce messages ended up doing the opposite had an effect. (Apparently, the GSB has a “sheriff” for email.)
I’m as guilty as anyone of checking my inbox too much, and I’ve found it Code breaker a helpful, entertaining reminder of why I do—and why I try to cut back, too.
New episodes of Code breaker drop every Wednesday, unless you’re smarter than me and can crack the code.