This American Life is a weekly ‘radio show’ produced in the US of A. Inverted commas are appropriate here, as it is a show like no other. The producers describe it as narrative journalism and a documentary for people who don’t like documentaries. That’s vague enough to induce some serious head scratching.
The common thread between episodes is candid insight. Whether it’s about an individual’s life, a different perspective on an issue or something that we all take for granted, each episode is honest throughout and that really resonates.
This American Life’s candid insight works in any context. This is exemplified by my recent listening history. A quick scan uncovered that I’ve been listening to episodes discussing superpowers, a shift in conservative views about climate change, loopholes, unconditional love and Americans living in China.
Here are REASONS3 why This American Life will pique your interest.
1. A new perspective and conversation starter every week.
2. Slow down, be curious and lose the sound bites.
3. Fits straight into your routine.
Price: Streaming on the web and podcast – Free; Smartphone app – $2.99
ONE: A new perspective and conversation starter every week.
This American Life’s popularity can be attributed to word of mouth. Regardless of the episode’s subject, I find myself with a new conversation starter each week. While I didn’t love ‘The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About’ episode, a friend and I spent an hour talking about how some astronauts strap pillows to their heads and that even the messiest of sleepers, thanks to an absence of gravity, do not drool in space.
How did This American Life lead us here? Your sleeping patterns, which is a topic that the reporter’s mother deems too boring for conversation. A former astronaut helps This American Life knock the rule out of orbit.
Notably, owning a car dealership is one of the least profitable businesses to be in. The incentives created by manufacturers drives some bizarre outcomes, including selling cars well below cost when just days later a tidy profit will be made on an identical vehicle.
This American Life works hard to explore the personal and professional motivations of the dealership’s sales staff. They come from all walks of life and it’s the patience of the reporters that eventually leads to those honest truths coming to the surface.
TWO: Slow down, be curious and lose the sound bites.
This American Life is everything that today’s media is not. Each episode is an hour long, which is a far cry from the time-poor’s diet of sound bites, but the deeper understanding of an issue or perspective will more than adequately compensated for your time.
Ira Glass, the show’s host, has a strangely comforting tone, as do all of the reporters on the show. All subject matter experts that are interviewed use easy to understand language and where an ordinary person doesn’t articulate themselves well, Ira jumps in with clarification.
All of this makes for easy listening before bed or first thing in the morning, even if you are yet to have your coffee.
THREE: Fits straight into your routine.
The producers of This American Life have done everything possible to make the show accessible to everyone. In Australia, your weekly fix can be obtained through a myriad of traditional and new delivery methods, including radio (ABC Radio National) and a dedicated 24/7 internet radio station. Alternatively, the entire back catalog of episodes can be accessed through the This American Life website.
However, my recommendation is to access the latest episode through the This American Life smartphone application ($2.99) or podcast (free), which are available through the iTunes and Google play stores. The application also allows you to stream any episode from the back catalog.
I’ve always found Tuesday to be the least tolerable of the working week (the mountain still looks a steep climb and you can no longer cite Mondayitis to excuse your grumblings). Thanks to the aforementioned options, my Tuesdays have become something I look forward to.
Commencing my commute, I press play on the latest This American Life episode. Hitting pause, as I arrive at work, artificially creates a cliffhanger and leaves me hell-bent on racing through the day. The train ride home gives me time to hear the end of the episode; just recompense for a hard day’s work. I should add that, unlike turning the pages of a book on a packed train, this routine requires requires no elbowing of innocent bystanders.
For those who do not have the privilege of regularly inhaling the produce of the general public’s armpits, try escaping the fumes coming from the truck in front, by using your car’s bluetooth connection to listen to This American Life.