Whoever You Are, Reply All is the Podcast You Need Right Now

What happens if you actually talk to the scammers on the unknown number calls you get? Can you “lose” bitcoin? Could microdosing acid make you a better person? Who’s behind all those Instagram ads for expensive watches? Why is someone from Russia charging your Uber account? And what in the world does the sentence “’Constable-frozen milkshake ducked for being horny on main’ is the 2017 version of ‘Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo’” mean? On the Gimlet Media podcast Reply All, you can find the answers to all of these questions.

Hosted by journalists PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, Reply All is described as “a show about the internet,” but it’s so much more than that. The podcast covers the ways society offline bleeds into society online, and how beneath something as simple as e-mail or electronic signature waivers is often a complicated backstory and a convoluted, deeply human mess. The episode “Is Facebook Spying On You?” leads you down the rabbit hole of targeted advertising and whether Facebook can use your microphone to listen to your conversations (spoiler alert: it probably can), “Long Distance,” one of the most well-known episodes, starts with host Alex Goldman answering a phone call and ends with host Alex Goldman in New Delhi, India, getting threatened by a call center mob boss.

Reply All hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt. Image from enduringbeta.com  

Two segments on the show that feature prominently are “Yes, Yes, No” and “Super Tech Support.” The former involves Goldman, Vogt, and their boss, Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg, getting together to discuss a Twitter meme Blumberg doesn’t understand – the two “yes” votes being Goldman and Vogt, and the “no” being Blumberg. Everything from GamerGate to PizzaGate to Alex Jones to the Philadelphia 76ers shows up in the “Yes, Yes, No” catalog – in one episode amended to “Sports, Sports, Sports,” after it becomes clear that Goldman and Vogt do not know anything about the Philadelphia 76ers while Blumberg does. “Super Tech Support,” features Goldman, a former IT professional, helping listeners with strange technological problems that range from lost bitcoin to having a picture of your apartment show up in a stranger’s Tinder profile. “Super Tech Support” often reveals the surprising blind spots in the technology we consider to be objective. 

Something is so warm and genuine about Reply All that no other podcast captures to me. Goldman and Vogt joshing each other and making each other laugh never fails to make me laugh on a long subway ride. “Long Distance” and “The Skip Tracer,” which cover call centers and online bounty hunters respectively, are two of my favorite radio stories. “Hello?” follows Goldman and Vogt taking every phone call that comes in to the studio for 48 hours, and the surprising kindness and vulnerability of the listeners who call in.  “Follow the Money,” an episode about the public breakdown of a relationship over Venmo, is honestly heartbreaking. “Black Hole, New Jersey,” takes Vogt and producer Phia Bennin to a shipping company in New Jersey that appears to be stealing eBay items and shipping them to Russia, has the surreal suburban angst of a Philip Roth novel. These are just a few of the episodes you could start with, throughout its four run Reply All has produced 120 episodes, all the perfect length for a daily commute.

"Yes, Yes, No" in action. Image from Twitter.

There is no shortage of excellent Gimlet shows, and if you’re looking to branch out your podcast tastes from NPR and This American Life, Gimlet’s content is creative and very human in an incredibly unique way. (I could do a whole different piece on the genius of another Gimlet show, Jonathan Goldstein’s Heavyweight, but Reply All was my first Gimlet love.) Nick Quah of Vulture describes Reply All as “a podcast that tells gorgeous, painfully human stories that happen to have bits of technology sprinkled in,” and Ira Glass of This American Life as a show with“great stories no one else has covered, narrative stories with interesting plots and compelling characters.” But what I love most about Reply All is that it makes you feel as if you’re there with PJ, Alex, Sruthi, Tim, Phia, and Damiano, laughing along and listening to them tell stories, because that’s what is both beautiful and somewhat terrifying about the internet: That you can be connected to someone without ever seeing their face, and that you can feel close to someone’s presence without even having met them.

Reply All is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play, replyall.limo, or wherever you get your podcasts.