They were ubiquitous - taped onto magazines covers, bursting out of overstuffed office cabinet drawers, used to hold everything from secret family recipes, to photo albums, to legal documents, operating systems; anything you could cram on 1.4mb of storage was contained on floppy disks.
After a 40 year career as the go to storage method of, even gateway to, the digital world, they were declared effectively obsolete. But are they?
Aleks discovers some of the last people to be trading in, and experimenting with, floppy disks. She finds out which industries still depend on them, how artists are repurposing them, and how they birthed a new niche genre of music - despite never having been a means for storing or creating music in their heyday.
Why is it only when a technology falls into obscurity that we test its boundaries, and how can floppy disks guide us in our relationship with technology in a future world of unbridled, unlimited, data.
The Orbital Human
Now the fanfare of billionaires space adventures has died down we're left with the question of are we witnessing a new democratisation of space not unlike the revolution that brought us the modern digital world?
Aleks Krotoski asks if the legions of amateurs and innovators working out of bedrooms and garages are about to fundamentally change our relationship with space. And will that be a continuation of the idealism of early pioneers or a repeat of the unregulated, disruptive free-for-all that the internet has largely become.
From the NASA retirees who reactivated a space probe from an abandoned MacDonalds to the kids building operational satellites in their after school clubs the face of space is about to change forever.
Producer: Peter McManus
Researcher: Anna Miles
Sound Engineer: Gav Murchie
We have been in an odd dialogue with algorithms from the very inception of the internet. They have been trained to spot offensive words, with the goal of allowing civilized conversation while avoiding trolls, spam adverts and hate speech.
But, many of our online spaces now moderate content to suit the needs of advertisers. This can mean a lot of people, especially those from marginalized communities, those with alternative or dissident views, or even a-typically creative people, are silenced - and so valuable voices, and conversations could be lost.
But humans are very good with language, better than any algorithm developed until now, and we have always found ways to hack around constraints. The latest instrument in this linguistic arms race? Algospeak.
Aleks explores the rise of this new form of social media language, discovers how and why black and queer communities are disproportionately silenced by ‘Ad-safe’ algorithms, and finds out that some of the most effective techniques that could allow us to circumvent AI censorship are rooted in the language of people that had to communicate, and mask themselves, with code, long before the digital world existed.
"Right now, and I mean this instant, delete every digital trace of any menstrual tracking. Please."
This is a tweet that went viral in the wake of the repeal of Roe V Wade in the United States. Fearing a clamp down on reproductive rights, suddenly people were looking at their online data in a very new way. What does my fitness app say about the state of my body? What could be divined from the details of what I bought? What about the data of the people around me?
This is not the first time a sudden social or political change has thrown up potential problems of big data. But now we live in a world of data brokers, thousands of companies collecting, collating and sharing data around the world - and the data related to pregnancy is the most valuable of the lot. Which means, if there is a sudden change in reproductive rights, there’s a lot of data that could be mined for information if a broker sells it on.
Aleks explores what happens when freely given data suddenly becomes dangerous, if it’s possible to keep any secrets in an online maelstrom of information, and why we keep coming up against this problem again, and again, and again…
When the world feels as overwhelming as it has in recent years, it can be hard to fully disengage. Aleks Krotoski discovers the value of retreat, both on and offline.
We take a trip to the the Highlands of Scotland, visiting a tiny, powerless bothy on the Inschriach Estate. Writer Dan Richards found that this isolated retreat allowed him to process a traumatic near-death experience when nothing else helped.
Artist Laurel Schwulst invites us into the 'Firefly Sanctuary' in Brooklyn, New York. It's her apartment, so it's a personal sanctuary, but it's also a sanctuary for strangers. She shares it online via an appropriately relaxing lo-fi website. It's a sanctuary in a URL.
Author and memoirist Katherine May defined her own personal retreat from the world as, 'wintering'. A series of difficult life events pushed her into retreat from the world. At first, she felt overwhelmed by the feeling of the world continuing without her, until she learned to surrender to her own personal 'winter' and saw the value in disconnecting for a while.
In East Lothian, a twice-weekly trip to the Macmerry Men's Shed provides a consistent, revitalising sense of retreat. The largely elderly members derive enormous benefits from being seen and seeing others, and their visits allow them to escape from their day-to-day lives and worries, if only for a few hours at a time.
Producer: Victoria McArthur
Presenter: Aleks Krotoski
Researcher: Emily Esson