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Plain English with Derek Thompson

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Plain English with Derek Thompson

Longtime Atlantic tech, culture and political writer Derek Thompson cuts through all the noise surrounding the big questions and headlines that matter to you in his new podcast Plain English. Hear Derek and guests engage the news with clear viewpoints and memorable takeaways. New episodes drop every Tuesday and Friday, and if you've got a topic you want discussed, shoot us an email at plainenglish@spotify.com! You can also find us on tiktok at www.tiktok.com/@plainenglish_

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Recent Episodes of Plain English with Derek Thompson


The Five Superstars Who Invented the Modern NBA

The Five Superstars Who Invented the Modern NBA

The game of basketball has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. In the early 1990s, Michael Jordan said that 3-point shooting was "something I don’t want to excel at," because he thought it might make him a less effective scorer. 20 years later, 3-point shots have taken over basketball. The NBA has even changed dramatically in the last decade. In the 2010s, it briefly seemed as if sharp-shooting guards would drive the center position out of existence. But the last four MVP awards have all gone to centers.

In his new book, ‘Hoop Atlas,’ author Kirk Goldsberry explai...

Episode 35 21 May 2024 49m and 23s


Are Smartphones Really Driving the Rise in Teenage Depression?

Are Smartphones Really Driving the Rise in Teenage Depression?

Today—a closer critical look at the relationship between smartphones and mental health. One of the themes we’ve touched on more than any other on this show is that American teenagers—especially girls—appear to be “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. The numbers are undeniable. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that from 2011 to 2021, the share of teenage girls who say they experience “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” increased by 50 percent.

But there is a fierce debate about why this is happening. The m...

Episode 33 14 May 2024 38m and 5s


Are Flying Cars Finally Here?

Are Flying Cars Finally Here?

For decades, flying cars have been a symbol of collective disappointment—of a technologically splendid future that was promised but never delivered. Whose fault is that?

Gideon Lewis-Kraus, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has spent 18 months researching the history, present, and future of flying car technology, joins the show. We talk about why flying cars don't exist—and why they might be much closer to reality than most people think.

If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com. 

Host: Derek Thompson

Gues...

Episode 32 7 May 2024 59m and 34s


How the Logic of Cults Is Taking Over Modern Life

How the Logic of Cults Is Taking Over Modern Life

Several years ago, I told some friends that I had an idea for a second book. It would be called ‘Everything Is a Cult.’ I’d noticed that in an age of declining religiosity, capitalism was filling the god-shaped hole left by the demise of organized religion with companies and services and products that were amassing a cult-like following in media, entertainment, and marketing. I never ended up writing the book. But last week, Sean Illing of ‘The Gray Area’ podcast with Vox asked me to come on his show to talk about my thinking on cults, identity, and the histor...

Episode 31 3 May 2024 56m and 57s


How Will the Gaza War Finally End?

How Will the Gaza War Finally End?

Today, with Gaza protests spreading across the country and around the world, we dive deep into what’s actually happening on the ground in the war between Israel and Hamas—and how this war might actually end, or lead to a broader conflict.

The status quo in Gaza is horrendous in every conceivable way. Following an attack that killed more than a thousand Israelis on October 7, Israel has retaliated with a bombing campaign more destructive than the most aggressive World War II fire-bombings in Germany. 80 percent of buildings in north Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. Tens of t...

Episode 30 30 April 2024 42m and 21s


A Political Scientist on How Protests Can Change Minds or Backfire

A Political Scientist on How Protests Can Change Minds or Backfire

In the last week, hundreds of protests across college campuses and American cities have taken place in response to the war in Gaza. Campus life has shut down at Columbia University in NYC. The news is strewn with images of police confrontations on campuses, from Texas to California. Hundreds of demonstrators across the country have been taken into police custody. And many people now anticipate that, without a major course correction in the war in Gaza, demonstrators will converge on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in a replay of the infamous 1968 anti-war protests and police riots that defined...

Episode 29 26 April 2024 55m and 8s


What Kind of a Superpower Is India Becoming?

What Kind of a Superpower Is India Becoming?

Today’s episode is all about India.You don’t have to believe that demography is pure destiny to appreciate the fact that the future of India is the future of the world. In 2024, today, India is the largest country by population on the planet, having surpassed China two years ago. In 2050, India is still projected to be the largest country in the world. In 2100, when I am 114 years old and this podcast is hosted by my cryo-frozen vat brain, India's projected to be larger than the next two biggest countries combined: China and Nigeria.

This spring, near...

Episode 28 23 April 2024 1h, 10s


Health Fads and Fictions: VO2 Max, Supplement Mania, Sunlight, and Immortality

Health Fads and Fictions: VO2 Max, Supplement Mania, Sunlight, and Immortality

Today's show is a critical look at some of the most popular health fads of the moment, with return guests Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg, from the Growth Equation and the ‘FAREWELL’ podcast. We’re talking VO2 max, the benefits of sunlight, so-called morning and nighttime “stacks” (complex multivitamin routines for optimizing your energy and sleep), and Silicon Valley dreams of immortality. Plus, a rant from Derek about the supplement mania of independent media.

If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.

Host: Derek Thompson

Guests: Ste...

Episode 27 19 April 2024 1h, 7s


U.S. Economy FAQ: Skyrocketing Insurance Prices, Stuck Inflation, Higher Rates, and Wrong Experts

U.S. Economy FAQ: Skyrocketing Insurance Prices, Stuck Inflation, Higher Rates, and Wrong Experts

Jason Furman, a professor of economics at Harvard, returns to the show to discuss the biggest economic questions of the moment, including:

- Why have home and auto insurance prices skyrocketed?

- Why did inflation stop falling in 2024?

- How did economic experts get their disinflation forecasts so wrong?

- What sticky-high prices are preventing further disinflation?

- Are interest rates going to be higher for years?

If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com. 

Host: Derek Th...

Episode 26 16 April 2024 47m and 27s


If the 2024 Election Is So Important, Why Does It Feel So Boring?

If the 2024 Election Is So Important, Why Does It Feel So Boring?

"This presidential election is not very interesting, but it is important," the political commentator Josh Barro wrote in his newsletter, 'Very Serious.' Americans certainly seem to agree with the first part. Engagement with political news has been in the dumps, and many Americans seem to be tuning out the Biden-Trump II rematch. But the conundrum of this election is that it is both numbingly overfamiliar for many voters and also profoundly important for America and the world. The differences between a Biden and a Trump presidency for America’s domestic and foreign policy are huge. Too often, these di...

Episode 24 12 April 2024 50m and 45s

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