How We Think About Technology

The Atlantic Tech's how-to guide for producing meaningful, in-depth stories in a resource-starved, time-crunched media age.

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One way to think about media, courtesy of the 1970s art/activist collective, Ant Farm (Alexis Madrigal).

Today, we released an anthology of this blog's best stories for a variety of ebook platforms. You can download it for free until the end of the year. We selected a few dozen stories that we think showcase what we're trying to do here out of the 1,500 posts we did in 2012. 

And let's be honest: we're psyched about this project. I think we've developed distinctive ways of looking at the world. We do a different kind of writing from most of what you see on Techmeme or Google News.  

A beautiful way to read our best stories. Plus, the book is free! Free Download

I wrote an introduction to the book that attempts to explain how we think about technology and thank (some of) the people to whom we owe intellectual debts. It's reprinted here.

Perhaps it is our personal how-to guide for producing meaningful, in-depth stories in a resource-starved, time-crunched media age. 

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Thank you for downloading The Atlantic's Technology Channel anthology for 2012. We're proud of the work in here and hope you find stories that you love. [Note: You should really go download this anthology now.]

But I have to admit that this project began selfishly.

I wanted to see what we'd done on a daily basis assembled into one (semi-)coherent whole; I wanted to see how, over the course of the year, we'd shared our obsessions with readers and continued to grope toward a new understanding of technology.

That process really began when I launched the Technology Channel at the The Atlantic in 2010. Back then, I knew that I wanted to build a different kind of tech site. I wanted to write things that would last. My friend Robin Sloan, who you see pop up on the site now and again, has a way of talking about this. He says that "stock and flow" is the "master metaphor" for media today. "Flow is the feed. It's the posts and the tweets. It's the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist," he's written. "Stock is the durable stuff. It's the content you produce that's as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It's what people discover via search. It's what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time."

To my mind, even the best tech blogs focus on "flow" for both constitutional and corporate reasons. They're fast, fun, smart, argumentative, hyperactive. Some of them do flow very well. And I knew we were not going to beat them at that game. But stock, that was something else. Stock was our game.

Looking at The Atlantic as a brand or an organizing platform or a mission, I see a possibility that verges on a responsibility to do things that resound over time. Resound. Things that keep echoing in your head long after the  initial buzzing stops. Things that resonate beyond the news cycle. After all, we're old! Born in 1857 out of the fires of abolitionism, The Atlantic has survived because it's been willing to change just the right amount. It's responded to the demands of the market, but never let them fully hold sway. And in the best of cases, we changed the way our readers thought, challenged our own convictions, and laid down some of the essential reporting in American history. This may all sound like big talk, but we have to own this history, regardless of what the information marketplace looks like right now. Recognizing this history gives us a duty to provide journalism that stands up over time--no matter how it gets consumed.

But how to create stock in a blogging environment? It may sound crazy as a content strategy, but we developed a worldview: habits of mind, ways of researching, types of writing. Then, we used the news to challenge ourselves, to test what we thought we knew about how technology worked. Embedded in many stories in this volume, you can see us going back and forth with ourselves over the biggest issues in technology. How much can humans shape the tools they use? What is the relationship between our minds and the tools we think with, from spreadsheets to drones? What is the potential for manipulating biology? How do communications technologies structure the way ideas spread?

Delve into almost any technological system, and you'll see the complex networks of ideas, people, money, laws, and technical realities that come together to produce what we call Twitter or the cellphone or in vitro fertilization or the gun. This book is an attempt to document our forays into these networks, looking for the important nodes. This is a first-person enterprise, but we couldn't do it alone.

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