Ex-Gizmodo Editor Founds The Wirecutter, a Whole Earth Catalog for Gadgets

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It is a problem anyone who buys technology faces. There are so many new products in every category that you're paralyzed trying to buy any one thing. Brian Lam, former editor of Gizmodo, has launched a new and admirably restrained site called The Wirecutter. The conceit is to provide a very slowly evolving list of the best gadgets around. Instead of following the micromovements of the gadget world, The Wirecutter will surf only the biggest waves. It's not organized as a blog, in reverse-chronological order. Rather, it's a catalog in which every item is awesome.

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For me, there are obvious parallels between the new site and the Whole Earth Catalog, which Brian cannot help but have picked up by osmosis being both a surfer and a Bay Area guy. The Whole Earth Catalog's stated purpose was to provide access to tools that aid the "power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested." This is, essentially, what Brian is doing with The Wirecutter, just with a very modern set of tools and a very practical filter.

A big difference, though, is that the Whole Earth Catalog provided mostly cognitive tools. A big chunk of what the Whole Earth catalog editors highlighted were just ways of thinking about stuff. I can understand why this version of the site is focused squarely on gadgets. But I hope that as the site grows and evolves, Brian starts to add some of those other kinds of tools. The site's tagline is "Tech as Magic." I'd extend a corollary proposition, "Ideas as Tech." Or to finish the thought: Ideas as Magic.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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