How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Nellie Bowles, a technology reporter in San Francisco, discussed the tech she’s using.
As our tech culture reporter, what is your most crucial tech tool for doing work?
There’s only one gadget I can’t live without. It weighs in at 114 pounds. It is my desk treadmill.
I can never sit still. I get a nervous twitchy energy when I try. I’ve used a standing desk since my first job out of college in 2010, but got my treadmill (the LifeSpan TR1200) about six months ago, and life on it is truly my ideal state.
The treadmill goes under my desk. I walk usually 1.5 miles an hour, but drop to 1 mile an hour for writing something tricky. I’ll kick up to 2 miles an hour if I’m feeling wild or on a long call. If I’m transcribing or doing something that doesn’t require tons of decision making, I’ll do 2.5 miles an hour, but that’s the max. And I stay like that all day long. And that’s how I work.
How did you decide to get a treadmill desk?
For me, the game of work is always how long each day I can keep my mind sharp and absorbed in the task at hand. I find walking to be very good for this. But logistically for my job, I need to be typing notes during calls and writing up stories, so I discovered the treadmill desk. My mind doesn’t flit around as much when I’m treading.
It also just feels good. I think it’s strange that from a very young age, we’re all expected to cram our bodies around these squat little tables and then remain stock still for hours on end.
How did your colleagues react to it?
I moved the treadmill into the office on a Sunday evening so when everyone got in Monday, it would just be a fact of life. Were there jokes? Many jokes. But we’re goldfish and get used to new items. And the trick is that bringing up the treadmill now is actually worse, because then I’ll start rambling about some new treadmill desk health study and how I’m going to live forever. So we’ve reached a silent truce.
I’m in an open-plan office, and my desk neighbor Jack Nicas (who covers Apple) said he was a little concerned that I would be looming half a foot off the ground walking 10 miles a day straight at him.
“But it’s kind of soothing now,” he said during a recent interview I conducted while treading directly at him and typing this. “It’s also giving me this intense self-loathing sitting here while you’re walking all day.”
You write about a lot of trends permeating Silicon Valley, like e-scooters, CryptoKitties and wool shoes. What trends do you think will actually last?
I will be honest: The e-commerce wool shoe market niche is a lot bigger than I had imagined. Pared-down e-commerce basics shops like Everlane and Allbirds are interesting to watch (though I think Amazon might eat them all). There will be good stories in what people do with storefronts instead of selling things.
Electric city vehicles are here to stay. In terms of shape, since batteries have gotten cheaper and better, the form factor of the electric bike (big, with pedals, hard in a skirt) has become less necessary. Scooters are light and fun, and, God help me, they look cool.
The biggest shift will be when we get self-driving cars. But that’s kind of obvious.
Some of the trends here (virtual reality, blockchain) get comically overhyped. But that’s actually my favorite part of Silicon Valley culture — the blind exuberance and goofiness and the kids who flood in from around the world. I grew up in San Francisco, but it was the start-up boomtown vibe that made me want to stay here to write.
Outside work, what tech product do you love? What’s so great about it, and what could be better?
I use a small, portable purple Bluetooth speaker (the UE Roll 2) for outdoor hanging out and as my in-room sound system. It is perfect. There is nothing that could be better about it.
To deal with your smartphone addiction, you grayed out your smartphone screen. How is that working out for you?
I love it. It gives me a sense of control over something I felt had too much power, and that is a small daily satisfaction.
These phones are designed to look and work like slot machines — hit us with bright colors and little pings to activate and please — and I’m glad to have scrubbed some of that. My computer screen is grayscale as well.
To step back, as our screen worlds have gotten better and so deeply immersive, we all have to figure out little hooks to pull back into the physical world (assuming we want to be pulled back). For me, for now, a good hook is color — the world is colorful, and my screens are gray.