January 2022

’24-karat breakthrough’

I love the Popular Science print archive on Google Books. Exceptional writing about complex and exciting technologies; a magazine that rarely missed a pivotal moment.

Here’s an article from July 1970 heralding the first ever watch made without moving parts*. Its writer, Arthur Fisher, doesn’t fall short in telling readers the significance of what they’re about to read:

“Breakthrough. It’s a much-abused word–a pity at a time like this. Because here is a genuine, 24-karat breakthrough in timekeeping.”

The article then becomes a detailed explanation of precisely how the technology works, complete with a diagram of the circuitry. Fisher wraps it up in about 250 words, ending with the price: $1,500 — an eye-watering $10,000 in today’s money.

It’s fun to draw a line from this technology to something like the Apple Watch. Like Apple, the makers of the “Pulsar” decided it needed to conserve battery power by having it “light up only on demand”.

(* “unless you count the oscillations of its quartz crystal”, that is. Pop Sci’s attention to detail was always second-to-none.)

On influencer-journalists

If all or most journalists were columnists in the influencer-journalist vein, we would not get stories like The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files or The Information’s investigation into Apple’s secret deals with the Chinese government. Elizabeth Holmes wouldn’t be a convicted felon. We’d have remained in the dark about Donald Trump’s taxes—not to mention those of the hundreds of billionaires ProPublica exposed last year.

Jessica Lessin, writing in The Information, touching on an important point regarding the inherent weaknesses of influencer (or newsletter) journalism. As she notes, the model is enticing for all involved, readers included, but it can’t replace investigative work done by a large editorial body (and its expensive lawyers).

I’d also argue that the role of traditional broadcast media is underappreciated too. It may feel like a straightforward occurrence every time there is a speech/rally/whatever on television, but getting material out there requires nothing short of an army: the camera operator, the sat truck operator, the technicians, the producers, the reporters, the travel planners, the diary planners, the archivists and so on.

They’re all part of one big expensive puzzle that means you can, with one Google search, find footage of exactly what was said at any given event. In other words — we’re all in this together.