How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Daisuke Wakabayashi, a technology reporter in San Francisco, discussed the tech he’s using.
What are your most important tech tools?
I’m most particular about the tech products I use as basic tools of my job. I’m a maniac about keyboards and mice; I generally hate most of them. While I use Macs at home and at work, I dislike every Apple keyboard and don’t care for the company’s mice, either. The keys are too flat, I never know if I’ve pressed hard enough, and it hurts my hands after a while.
As my colleagues will tell you, I use a very loud mechanical keyboard made by Das Keyboards. These mechanical keyboards are similar to the ones that came with my family’s first IBM computer from the 1980s. I’ve also used the same mouse for the last five years.
Aside from that, I use an app called Voice Record Pro on my iPhone for recording interviews. If I’m recording a phone call — with permission, of course — I’ll use an app from Rev, which is also the service I use to have my interviews transcribed. It’s a little steep at $1 per minute, but the accuracy is so much better than the A.I.-only alternatives that cost like 10 cents a minute.
Why are you so particular about your mouse and keyboard?
I feel like I type faster and more accurately with this keyboard — which is important because I’m already a slow typer. What’s more, the tactile responsiveness when I push a key is so satisfying. It’s silly but it also makes me feel productive, each keystroke an audio reminder that I’m one step closer to my goal.
There are drawbacks. The keyboard is not as sleek and visually appealing as the Apple keyboards. They are also super loud, and the click-clacks can be distracting for people around you, as well as unsettling for people you’re on the phone with if you’re taking notes. I’ve often been stopped by sources who ask why I’m typing so feverishly, afraid that I’m pounding the keys because they said something they shouldn’t have. Now, I’ll sometimes take notes by hand using a pen and paper, and then transcribe them later if it’s a sensitive conversation.
My mouse for the last five years has been a wireless one from Microsoft. It’s called the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse. I like this mouse because it has good heft. Some wireless mice are too light, and they dart around like a hyperactive child. I also don’t want too big of a mouse, and then I feel like arm-wrestling with the device. This one provides a good balance. Also the bottom is plastic, and it’s quiet when I move the mouse around on my desk. The Apple ones make this cringey scraping sound.
(Again, I acknowledge that I’m crazy when it comes to my computer accessories.)
You cover Google, and in a past life you covered Apple. Both are fierce competitors with their own mobile operating systems, internet services, smartphones and computers. What do you see as the challenges for the companies going forward?
Apple has focused on creating beautiful, easy-to-use products, but I find that its products are becoming harder to use.
I think some of it is just a function of our devices being asked to do more — my iPhone is central to my life in ways that it wasn’t even three years ago — and how do you build in that additional capability without bogging down the software? Apple’s products are still beautiful, but I think that form is overtaking function in some areas. (See: headphone jack, lack of ports on laptops.) A device’s beauty is meaningful only if it is also useful.
Google’s issues are different. They’re not purely product questions, but are more fundamental.
The company turned 20 last year, and it feels like it’s going through an identity crisis. Google was the anti-Microsoft in the early days. Many of its longtime employees were drawn to Google not purely because it was a moneymaking machine but because it also seemed interested in being a force for good in the tech industry. Who can forget “Don’t Be Evil” and all that?
But as Google has grown increasingly dominant, it has become difficult to subscribe to a self-image of a whimsical do-gooder when everyone else sees you as Godzilla trampling across the internet landscape. We’ve already seen some employee revolts, and I suspect we’ll see more. Look at how it is wrestling with what it plans to do with search in China, which shows this identity crisis is filtering into its business and products decisions.
Outside of work, what tech product are you and your family currently obsessed with?
My wife and I have a 2-year-old son, and he just loves playing with our digital speakers. We have an Amazon Echo in the kitchen and a Google Home upstairs. They’re both connected to Spotify. He knows that he can ask Alexa or Google to play “Wheels on the Bus” or “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and, voilà, the music comes on.
But these days he’s become more particular, and he likes a version of “Wheels on the Bus” performed by Mother Goose Club, so he’ll shout something like, “Alexa, play ‘Wheels on the Bus,’ the goose one, PLEEEEEEEEASE.” (We’ve tried to tell him that Alexa won’t do as he asks unless he says please.) Alexa and Google usually struggle to decipher this request, so Mom and Dad frequently intervene, but occasionally Alexa or Google understands him and he is delighted.
His other favorite activity is to ask Google to play sounds of different things. His favorite requests (in no particular order): animals, emergency vehicles and modes of transportation. Recently, he discovered that Google can play the sound of a dinosaur, and this excited him to no end.
But now my son thinks anything with an illuminated green ring means it’s a portal for Alexa. Recently, I found him shouting instructions to my wireless iPhone charging pad. It got me thinking, why doesn’t Amazon make an Echo that doubles as a wireless phone charging pad? My toddler the innovator.