Wade Roush has been covering technology and science for almost 25 years. BostInno readers may recognize Roush from his time serving as staff editor at Xconomy (2007–2014). He’s also written a lot for print magazines, notably Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, and Science. In 2014–15, Roush was acting director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism fellowship program and the producer of the ScienceWriters2015 conference. He recently edited Twelve Tomorrows, a science fiction anthology published by the MIT Press, and recently finished another book for MIT Press, due out spring 2020. Roush’s latest career move piqued our interest as he’s plunged into the world of audio storytelling. He’s the founder and host of Soonish, a podcast examining how technology and science innovation is guided by thousands of big and small choices made by individuals. Soonish is a part of Hub & Spoke, a collective of independent, idea-driven podcasts, of which Roush is also a cofounder.
Enjoy our pre-podcast interview with Roush below. You can listen to our BSU podcast discussion with Roush on any of your favorite audio platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud). Enjoy.
You grew up in Michigan. Where exactly? Charlotte. A rural town south of Lansing.
How would you sum up your childhood? Small idyllic town, big dreams.
You’ve lived in Boston and San Francisco. How are they different? Boston runs on ideas. San Francisco (and I include Silicon Valley) runs on money.
What led you to Boston? I got into Harvard College.
What do you love most about Boston? The endless supply of people excited about ideas, but in a modest way, without the overlay of pathological hustle.
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in journalism? I caught the journalism virus at my college newspaper, the Harvard Independent.
What about technology and science most excites you? Science is a way of asking better questions and getting less wrong answers over time. Technology is the way we use those answers to transform our environment for the better. If we stick to it, the combination can power us to the stars.
What about technology and science most concerns you? That the gains from technology will end up concentrated in too few hands, and that we might backslide as a civilization and forget how to do science with the required honesty and commitment.
What inspired you to take an entrepreneurial plunge into audio storytelling? Listening to shows like 99% Invisible, and feeling that maybe I could also tell stories that would be that fun, immersive, and insightful — and that if I didn’t try, I’d regret it.
What’s the goal of Soonish? Every story I tell on the show is meant to remind listeners that technology is not a mysterious or autonomous force but a human endeavor in which they have a real part. The show’s motto (which you can now get on our coffee mug!) is, “The future is shaped by technology, but technology is shaped by us.”
What’s the mission of Hub & Spoke? Hub & Spoke is a collective of like-minded indie podcasters making thoughtful, story-driven, non-fiction shows with an intellectual or humanistic bent. Our goal is to grow the audiences for each of the shows through cross-promotion, and to help each other reach a point where our shows are more sustainable and we can all spend less time at our day jobs!
What category of innovation most interests you right now? I’m fascinated by what’s going on in machine learning, but our most urgent need (and the innovation I’d most like to see) is affordable carbon-capture-and-sequestration technology to start taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. No one should feel off the hook about reducing carbon emissions, but that’s not going to be enough to stave off catastrophic impacts.
What’s a current challenge you’re facing either in life or at work? It’s that unease you feel when your creative work doesn’t pay, and your paying work doesn’t feel as creative as you’d like. I’m thankful to have more than enough freelance writing and consulting work to pay the rent. But ideally I’d like to spend a lot more of my time on my podcast — there just isn’t a perfect business model to support that yet. But I’m working on it.
What is your biggest passion in life outside science, technology and entrepreneurship? Well, in my work, my passion is communicating about science and technology and helping people feel more equipped to make good decisions about them in their own lives. But I don’t think that’s what you were asking. Outside of that, I’m all about the art of appreciation — -trying to slow down enough to enjoy the world around me (travel, art, dogs, books, being outdoors, family) and to always be learning.
Outside of Boston, which city would you most likely call home? San Francisco. I hate that it’s all about money, but it’s still the most bewitching city on Earth.
What problem facing the world would you most like to see solved? Obviously global warming and climate disruption (see the answer above about carbon capture), but also the growing pains from the astonishingly rapid gains in connectivity, health, and prosperity over the last 150 years. It’s all one big interconnected problem. In this century we need to figure out how to deal with all of the negative externalities of the first and second industrial revolutions, how to extend the gains equally to everyone, and how to adapt constructively to our newfound digital connectivity. If we can do all that, I feel like our future is very bright.
What initiative do you want more people to pay attention to? Getting Trump out of office one way or another, so that we can get on with the business of saving the planet and saving the economy, which are the same thing.
You can follow Roush on Twitter — @wroush.