226 episodes

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_

Plain English with Derek Thompson The Ringer

    • News
    • 4.8 • 1.5K Ratings

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_

    What America’s Bold New Economic Experiment Is Missing

    What America’s Bold New Economic Experiment Is Missing

    The news media is very good at focusing on points of disagreement in our politics. Wherever Democrats and Republicans are butting heads, that's where we reliably find news coverage. When right and left disagree about trans rights, or the immigration border bill, or abortion, or January 6, or the indictments over January 6, you can bet that news coverage will be ample. But journalists like me sometimes have a harder time seeing through the lurid partisanship to focus on where both sides agree. It's these places, these subtle areas of agreements, these points of quiet fusion, where policy is actually made, where things actually happen.
    I’m offering you that wind up because I think something extraordinary is happening in American economics today. Something deeper than the headlines about lingering inflation. High grocery prices. Prohibitive interest rates. Stalled out housing markets.
    Quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, a new consensus is building in Washington concerning technology, and trade, and growth. It has three main parts: first, there is a newly aggressive approach to subsidizing the construction of new infrastructure, clean energy, and advanced computer chips that are integral to AI and military; second, there are new tariffs, or new taxes on certain imports, especially from China to protect US companies in these industries; and third, there are restrictions on Chinese technologies in the U.S., like Huawei and TikTok. Subsidies, tariffs, and restrictions are the new rage in Washington.
    Today’s guest is David Leonhardt, a longtime writer, columnist, and editor at The New York Times who currently runs their morning newsletter, The Morning. he is the author of the book Ours Was the Shining Future.
    We talk about the history of the old economic consensus, the death of Reaganism, the demise of the free trade standard, the strengths and weaknesses of the new economic consensus, what could go right in this new paradigm, and what could go horribly wrong.
    If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.
    Host: Derek Thompson
    Guest: David Leonhardt
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
    Links:
    David Leonhardt on neopopulism: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/19/briefing/centrism-washington-neopopulism.html
    Greg Ip on the three-legged stool of new industrial policy: https://www.wsj.com/economy/the-u-s-finally-has-a-strategy-to-compete-with-china-will-it-work-ce4ea6cf
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    • 59 min
    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 explains how new star players have continually revolutionized the game. Goldsberry traces the evolution of basketball from the midrange mastery of peak Jordan in the 1990s, to the offensive dark ages of the early 2000s, to the rise of sprawl ball and "heliocentrism," and finally to emergence of a new apex predator in the game: the do-it-all big man.
    Today, we talk about the history of paradigm shifts in basketball strategy and how several key superstars in particular—Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Manu Ginóbili, Steph Curry, and Nikola Jokic—have served as tactical entrepreneurs, introducing new plays and skills that transform the way basketball is played.
    If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.
    Host: Derek Thompson
    Guest: Kirk Goldsberry
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
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    • 49 min
    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 most popular explanation on offer today in the media says: It’s the smartphones, stupid. Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. This is a story I’ve shared on this very show, including with Jonathan Haidt, the author of the new bestselling book 'The Anxious Generation_.'_
    But this interpretation is not dogma in scientific circles. In fact, it’s quite hotly debated. In 2019, an Oxford University study titled "The Association Between Adolescent Well-Being and Digital Technology Use" found that the effect size of screen time on reduced mental health was roughly the same as the association with “eating potatoes.”
    Today, I want to give more space to the argument that it's not just the phones. Our guest is David Wallace-Wells, bestselling science writer and a columnist for The New York Times.  He says something more complicated is happening. In particular, the rise in teen distress seems concentrated in a handful of high-income and often English-speaking countries. So what is it about the interaction between smartphones, social media, and an emerging Anglophonic culture of mental health that seems to be driving this increase in teen distress?
    If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.
    Host: Derek Thompson
    Guest: David Wallace-Wells
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
    Links
    My original essay on the teen anxiety phenomenon
    https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/04/american-teens-sadness-depression-anxiety/629524/
    "Are Smartphones Driving Our Teens to Depression?" by David Wallace-Wells
    https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/01/opinion/smartphones-social-media-mental-health-teens.html
    'The Anxious Generation,' by Jonathan Haidt
    https://www.anxiousgeneration.com/book
    Haidt responds to his critics
    https://www.afterbabel.com/p/social-media-mental-illness-epidemic
    Our original episode with Haidt
    https://www.theringer.com/2022/4/22/23036468/why-are-american-teenagers-so-sad-and-anxious
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    • 38 min
    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
    Guest: Gideon Lewis-Kraus
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
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    • 59 min
    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 history of news media. Today, we're running that conversation on this feed in a rare example of me getting interviewed on my own show. Enjoy!
    If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.
    Host: Derek Thompson
    Guest: Sean Illing
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
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    • 56 min
    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 thousands of Gaza civilians have been killed, according to various estimates. Millions are displaced and hungry, and many are camped near Rafah, where Israel is considering a new military campaign to root out Hamas leaders.
    Today’s guest is Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. I asked Natan to come back on the show because, while the entire media is covering the campus protests in excruciating detail, I felt like the news cycle was losing its grip on the actual war itself. Today, I asked Natan my biggest questions about the war as it stands, including whether Israel’s military strategy has already failed; whether Hamas’s top leadership actually wants the kind of ceasefire that campus protesters are calling for; and whether anything about this war would actually change if the U.S. immediately halted military aid to Israel.
    If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com.
    Host: Derek Thompson
    Guest: Natan Sachs
    Producer: Devon Baroldi
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    • 42 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
1.5K Ratings

1.5K Ratings

KEITH LESNIAK ,

I like this podcast.

BUT, did you talk to any folks that work with the youth, I just left education after 10 years. The smart phone isn’t the problem, it’s that it provides accessibility to hate, and accessibility to seeing others who are “better than you,” and celebrated. We don’t celebrate the ordinary, oh wait…. Yea we do it’s called social media.

Steven000 ,

Smart Talk

Asks all the questions you would ask. I learn a lot from every episode.

Chelliebeann ,

Really mediocre

Just guys being dudes

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