Man Without a Country (1 of 3)

August 8, 2014

What happens when you curse your own country? In this version of the classic Americana tale your host is sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a hot air balloon. In part one we hear the story of what happened when he fought the “three strikes you are out forever” law and lost. Plus Howard Zinn on the myth of American Exceptionalism.

The American writer Edward Everett Hale first published his story The Man Without a Country in the pages of the Atlantic in December 1863. It is the story of an army lieutenant named Philip Nolan, who in his youth cursed America. The judge sentenced him to live out the rest of his life consigned to a US navy ship – never to set foot or eyes on his native land, and this sentence was carried out to the letter. In this version your host curses America and is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on a hot air balloon.

This is the definitive version of a story I have been working on for many years. It includes a historical examination of various versions of the tale that have been produced over the last hundred years as well as audio from a conversation I had with Howard Zinn in 2005, and the one and only Glynn Washington (host of the radio show Snap Judgement) shares his own story of growing up black in a Christian white-supremacist cult.

Recent, Relevant, Random

July 25, 2014

We don’t have metrics to measure what happens when we read something that changes our life. So this episode is an attempt to deal with that. We begin with writer Rob Walker who tells us about his “New Old Thing,” a regular feature he produces for Yahoo Tech. Rob is one of the most thoughtful writers I know and if anyone can wean us from our addiction to the now it will be him. I also get to talk to one of my heros this week: Edwin Frank who is the editor in chief of the NYRB classics imprint. About 10 years ago I read a collection of Platonov stories, a book that definitely changed my life, and I became a life-long devotee of the series. I have always wanted to ask Edwin about his editorial sensibilities and what exactly binds all the books with the well designed colored spines together. Phyllis Rose is the author of The Shelf. She “randomly” chose a shelf at the library near her house and read every book on it – then she wrote about the experience. It is a deep funny philosophical treatise on the act of reading itself. I will be gifting this book to my friends for years.

Guided By Voices

June 30, 2014

Philosopher Daniel Heller-Roazen tells us the story of Pythagoras and the fifth hammer and how Kant and Kepler both tried(and failed)to record the universal harmonies Pythagoras once heard. Your host sets out to make some money doing experimental medical testing, and gets the chance to record the voice in his head.

Stages On Life’s Way

June 13, 2014

A few years ago your host took a pilgrimage to Copenhagen to walk the streets the great Dane Søren Kierkegaard once walked. He wanted to understand the meaning of Kierkegaard’s religious stage so he decided to ask the experts at the Kierkegaard research center. Also Photographer Dina Litovksy tells us about the history and some of the secrets of the modern bachelorette party. And Michael Holmes tells us about life’s final stage – death.

A Better Tomorrow

May 17, 2014

This week we examine the legacy of The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility by Walter Benjamin. Media Theorist and Benjamin scholar (and translator) Thomas Levin explains why this essay resonates today and what Benjamin has to tell us about the utopian power of new media. Also Russell Meyer tells us about the Wu-Tang clan’s plan to release a sole copy of their new album and why he has turned to Kickstarter so he can buy it and release it to the world. And your host shares an imaginary story about Hitler and Goebbels encountering Benjamin’s essay during their final days in the bunker.

The Bootlickers

April 25, 2014

Andrew Rubin opens up his Archives of Authority to tell us the story of how George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 became global phenomenons. Melissa Gira Grant tells us about her new book Playing the Whore and the complicated relationship between sex workers, Feminists, Journalists, and the Police. And your host turns to ToE correspondent Peter Choyce for advice on how to fight his bike ticket in traffic court.

1984 (the year not the book)

April 4, 2014

In 1984 your host was twelve years old and like George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips – all sound from 1984 (the year not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school, the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs and Clara Peller. Find out what totalitarianism really sounds like.


March 24, 2014

This week we freak out about the future of wearable technology! (

Technology consultant Sarah Slocum loves social media and her Google Glass, she wears them everywhere. But when she walked into Molotov’s, a bar on Haight Street in San Francisco, she discovered that not everyone shares her love for wearable tech.

Also, your host makes his annual pilgrimage to SXSWi and ends up designing wearables at a surreal Hack Day. We also hear from Shingy, AOL’s Digital Prophet. He believes wearables will allow us to have it both ways: we can be both digital and human.

**This episode features elements that were recorded binaurally. If you listen with a pair of headphones or a LiveAudio enabled device, you will experience three dimensional sound – it will be like you are there.**

Music from this episode:

“Billy (Starsky Instrumental)” — Tha Silent Partner (

“big” “big (2)” “big (5)” — klimperei, from the album “big & bang” ( You really should buy some records from this genius!

“Food of the Range” — Electric Sound of Joy, from the “Food of the Range EP”

When you’re lonely, life is very long

March 3, 2014

Writer Olivia Laing didn’t plan on moving to New York alone, but after a few lonely months in the city she discovered the truth about loneliness. She says it is a gift. Laing wrote an essay on loneliness for Aeon magazine. She is also the author of The Trip to Echo Spring, which is one of the best books of the year — no contest.

Eric Klinenberg says more and more people are choosing to live alone and that cities like New York must invest in housing stock that single people not only can afford but actually want to live in, the type of housing they have in Scandinavian countries. He is a sociologist at New York University and the author of Going Solo, a book about the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone.

In Denmark when someone dies alone, and no-one claims the body, the authorities put an ad in the newspaper calling for Possible Relatives. This is also the title of a photo-book by Danish photographer Tina Enghoff. She took pictures of some of these apartments after the bodies were removed, often the bodies go undiscovered for weeks. My friend Pejk Malinovski, who is also a Dane (and a radio producer) met up with Tina on a recent trip home to Copenhagen.

F is for Fake

February 11, 2014

To Bot or Not? That’s the big question for Data Scientist Gilad Lotan. His research suggests we may be damaging our online reputations if we choose not to play the fake follower game. Jason Q Ng, author of the book Blocked On Weibo, tells us why the Chinese government hates fake bots and why they targeted Black PR companies last summer. And your host imagines a future were humans are forced to shower their new Bot overlords with unwavering attention.

Artifacts (2 of 2)

January 16, 2014

Nathan Jurgenson wants us to understand what is truly revolutionary about ephemeral photographs and platforms like Snapchat, Fred Ritchin says we are going to get our minds blown “After Photography” and Finn Bruntun explains why we need to preserve this transition from Analog to Digital.

Artifacts (1 of 2)

December 31, 2013

Photographer Robert Burley takes pictures of the end of Analog for his book The disappearance of darkness. Christine Frohnert explains how conservators must care for Art with a Plug. Curator Christiane Paul tells us how the Whitney Museum of American Art restored the digital artwork “The world’s first collaborative sentence” by Douglas Davis. And TOE’s Washington D.C. corespondent ‘Chris’ tells us the truth about Edward Snowden and Snapchat.

Not Soon Enough

December 11, 2013

This week your host tries to break through to the other side using the art of John Singer Sargent as a… jumping off point. Also we get an update from our corespondent Peter Choyce. When we last heard from Peter (in “admissions of defeat”) he was heading to rehab, he is now free and living in the woods in North Carolina.


November 25, 2013

When Private Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison she announced her desire to transition from male to female. Yvette Gonzales tells us a first person story about what its like to be transgender in Prison. Gender theorist B. Preciado tells us about what happens when a person takes testosterone without the intention of transitioning from one gender to another. Also, Jim Elledge tells us about his new biography of Outsider Artist Henry Darger, and why he drew little girls with penises.

Waiting In Line

October 23, 2013

About a year ago I travelled across America for the BBC. I visited Airports, Amusement parks, Highways and Community Colleges in order to understand how the priority queue is changing the American experience of waiting in line. ***A version of this piece aired on the BBC World Service, part of their “Real America” series. Click for more info or VISIT

Out Of The Office

October 14, 2013

Programmer David Heinemeier Hansson tells us about his Out Of Office experience, David is a partner at 37signals and a co-author (with Jason Fried) of REMOTE: Office Not Required. We also meet Ignacio Uriarte, he left his cubicle for a career in Office Art. And Ravenna Koenig, TOE’s newest correspondent, explains the difference between Facebook-Work & Work-Work. Click for more info or VISIT

Admissions Of Defeat

October 3, 2013

We check in with a few of our TOE regulars: Peter Choyce has is one of my oldest friends and a listener favorite, but he has a secret we’ve never addressed until now. We also check in with our D.C. correspondent ”Chris” who tells us about the NSA’s desire to install backdoors in Podcasts. Also, I tell you the story about what happens when I wander into @ psychic for a late night reading. PLUS: a few extracts from ‘Brand New World’ Click for more info or visit


June 11, 2013

Anyone seriously interested in hacking today eventually finds their way to Gabriella Coleman. As an anthropologist, Gabriella has been researching Anonymous and Hacking culture for years now but she started out studying Free Software in the Bay Area. This work is the basis of her book Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Gabriella showed up right at the moment the Free Software movement rebranded itself as “Open Source” It turns out that there are too many meanings of the word free in the English language: free beer, free speech. But when the government started using the DMCA to crack down on coding, Hackers bonded together around a very specific definition of the word.
This episode also marks the debut of someone I have been recording for years: my friend “Chris” He is always up to something, sometimes I fear he may be pulling our collective ear-leg but his tales are always fascinating. In this installment he tells us the truth about the Chinese Hackers and the New York Times.
Also, since yours truly is sick and tired of waiting for the next installment in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga (this is the basis for the Game of Thrones TV show) I ask a hacker named $poiler to see if he can hack into Martin’s server and get me the next book. Click for more info

Red, White, Blue & Orange

May 13, 2013

Recently I decided to watch these torture scenes from Zero Dark Thirty with Joshua Phillips, a journalist who spent years researching the effects of torture on detainees and interrogators. He is the author of None of Us Were Like this Before: American Soldiers and Torture. At Joshua’s apartment we recorded a torture commentary track for our imaginary Criterion edition of the film.
We will probably never learn the truth about how we found Osama Bin Laden. But there is one thing I know for certain. We didn’t get the information from Umarov Muhibullah.
Journalist McKenzie Funk ran into Umarov, one of the first men to be released from Guantanamo, while hiking in Tajikistan in 2004.

The Clouds (3 of 3)

May 6, 2013

Our series concludes with some revelations. Metahaven’s Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk use the story of Wikileaks to show us the infrastructure of the cloud and its super-jurisdictional powers. The BBC’s Paul Mason takes us on a wild tour of China in his novel Rare Earth. And a pile of iPhones brings your host a moment of clarity.