Listening to This American Life is usually a solitary activity. I started listening to TAL regularly when I lived in North Carolina, and I was convinced that Ira Glass was sending dispatches from the urban world directly to me (and to Stick), reminding me that I was not actually Ovid in exile on the Black Sea. Now I usually listen to podcasts on headphones while I work, but it’s still solitary.
Last week, I went to the This American Life show with Harold, Roy, and Roy’s friend Simone, who all listen to TAL independently, and we sat down in a theater full of NPR hipsters, watching the show simultaneously with other theaters full of NPR listeners all over the country. A massive network of people laughing at the Terri Gross bank robbery, or at the RadioLab random numbers, or watching at the street portraits or dances just for the live audience, and listening to more typical TAL segments of audio blog posts and the obligatory David Sedaris reading.
And Ira Glass gave asked everyone to download the TAL Live app, which had three buttons to create three sounds, and appeared magically in different colors on different phones. We were asked to turn our phone volumes all the way up, and reminded several times that ordinarily one should never use a cell phone in a movie theater. Each player would watch the feed for icons of his color, and hit the corresponding button on his phone on the cue. Players without smartphones would be the rhythm section, snapping and stomping. (Audience members were not reminded that ordinarily, one should not stomp and snapping in a movie theater.) Then OK GO came on to play a song, with the accompaniment of that entire massive network of NPR hipsters.
If I had known that play massively multiplayer Cell Phone Hero with Ira Glass and OK GO was a thing to put on a life list, I would have put it on my life list.