A Tech Columnist on How He Avoids Twitter Trolls and Finds Screen-Free Escapes

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On the worry side, it’s a cliché, but I’m nervous about A.I. and automation. I’m not worried about the machines themselves — at least not in the Terminator, killer-robot sense. I’m worried about the political and economic system into which we’re deploying this new, world-changing technology, and whether it’s too late to rejigger things so we don’t end up with a truly dystopian outcome.

What is the best news tip you’ve ever received?

I’m not sure about “best,” but the most random tip I’ve ever gotten was probably the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack. It came to me as an unsolicited email from someone (whom we now know was likely a North Korean hacker) who called himself “the boss of G.O.P.” and included a link to a trove of documents. It looked like spam, but I opened it on a whim and was shocked to find 26 folders of internal Sony Pictures documents inside, including spreadsheets containing the salaries of all their executives.

How does it feel after you publish a big story? What do you do?

Hmm, let’s see. After I publish a big story, I usually step out onto my terrace, draw a few deep, contented breaths, crack open a bottle of Château Margaux and spend the rest of the day basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.

I’m kidding. Obviously, I spend the hour after a story is published frantically refreshing Twitter, looking for affirmation from complete strangers and measuring my self-worth by their instantaneous judgments. I’m not a lunatic.

Actually, it usually feels equal parts great and awful to publish a big story. Great because you’re done, which is nice, but then you wait in agony as the world absorbs and digests what you’ve written and tells you that your entire thesis is wrong, or you’ve mixed up 4chan and 8chan, or you wrote that the concept of a “non-playable character” came from video games when it really originated in tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. (I got dozens of emails about that one.) On the rare occasions when the reception to a piece is overwhelmingly positive, I allow myself to bask in it, although I sometimes suspect there’s been some sort of glitch — maybe the experts are all on vacation this week?

I’m lucky to write for an intelligent and attentive audience, and I do get a lot of great and genuinely helpful feedback. I also write a lot about horrible parts of the internet, so once in a while my inbox and Twitter feed get flooded with trolls and bigots calling me a “fake news moron from the New York Slimes” (or worse). On those occasions, I try to take a few hours off from the internet and let the cycle run its course.

How do you spend your time when you’re off duty?

My newest extracurricular is ceramics. Earlier this year, I started taking pottery classes, and it’s been — as Gwyneth Paltrow as this sounds — totally healing and restorative. Making something with your hands is incredibly satisfying, and forcing yourself to get away from screens and learn a new skill is something I wish I’d done years ago.

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