Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Chose to Write About Technology Over Food

Everything that's happened over the last year has solidified my decision to stop chasing after food writing as a paid side gig or potential career and just embrace writing about technology.

Some may believe I've given up on something I love, and I can't deny there's an ounce of doubt in that regard myself. My friends know I'm fickle, and I be those who know me best will say I'll swing back to my pursuit of food writing in a matter of months. It's a real possibility. But I don't think it will happen.

Here's how it shakes down.

Life Long Learning
I didn't know who I was, really, and I didn't know that the person I was had a place in this world until I went to college. My brain felt awake during those university years. Nothing ever before stirred me up like going to class. Every day brought stimulation, an insatiable hunger for ideas, a need to seek out arguments if only so that I could work through my own ideas better with another person.

The moment I realized I loved school, I swore I was a life-long learner. No matter my age or position in life, I would never be more than a few years on either side of taking some kind of class or working toward a new degree.

More recently, though, I fell out of love with formal education. The whole system is broken -- it's not any single player. I no longer believe that going to school will quench my thirst.

But the hunger to learn remains. It's like a fire that sucks air from anywhere it can, destroying everything around it if necessary to stay lit. To be happy, I need to keep learning. My brain needs stimulation. I cannot not learn.

Writing about technology means I learn every day, and what is available to learn grows every day. With food, the learning curve tapers off. You feel confident about what you know, and the things that you do know aren't going to change radically out of the blue. Cooking techniques will change a little, but the foundations will remain the same. What we know about nutrition will shift, but the taste and smell and texture of a carrot won't. And even the odd innovation here or there takes decades to catch on.

In the tech world, however, there's a hotbed of new ideas. Nothing is certain. Trends shift in a matter of months. People's palettes, as it were, aren't predefined by deeply rooted habits or cultural norms. Technology users embrace newness. Experimenting is half the fun.

I used to write exclusively about the video game industry, a sector within the technology field that hovers on the bleeding edge. I got into the job in a semi-roundabout way. Most of my co-workers were lifelong video game fiends. I played games here and there, a normal amount for someone in my age range, but games weren't something I felt passionate about per se. But I did love writing about game development and the people who make games.

Now, I write about software, the Internet, and some consumer electronics much more generally, and it's like multiple worlds of ideas and information have opened up. Writing about video game development, as exciting as it was, still felt narrow. The space I'm in now is limitless.

Recent Successes
I don't write too much about my actual full-time job on this blog, so a short synopsis: I am a full-time, in-house writer for PC Magazine, more commonly read now on PCMag.com (because the paper edition of the magazine folded in 2009). The real heart of my job is to test software products, like programs for computers or apps for mobile devices, and write reviews of them. I specialize in a few specific areas of software and the Internet (social media, iPhone apps, programs for productivity and organization, learning and education) as well as a handful of consumer electronics, almost all having to do with health and fitness.
In addition to writing product reviews, I also write opinion articles about any topic that's hot at the moment and really anything that catches my interest.

One of my areas of expertise has always been personal organization. So my editor encouraged me to write advice and tips articles about being organized. After trying it out as a short series of related articles, called Get Organized, we eventually convinced someone higher than me to let me turn the series into a weekly column. It's been running for about six or seven months now, and just last week, a prominent link to the section was added to PCMag's homepage. No one told me that was going to happen, and I still don't know who decided to do it. But if you go to PCMag.com and look along the top, "Get Organized" appears in big red letters. I'm honored it's there.

That success, coupled with a few other little on-the-job wins, made me realize that within the whole huge space of technology writing, I actually do have real passion for the subjects I now cover. Part of it is confidence. People whose opinions I value, like my editor and the editor-in-chief, encouraged me and said they liked my ideas. They liked the kinds of things I could write about. Writers don't often hear positive feedback of that kind. Even the CEO of the company told me he reads the Get Organized articles every week. And, unlike some of the opinionated articles I write from time to time, articles in the Get Organized series provoke overwhelmingly positive and insightful comments and emails from readers. (Write anything with "Apple" or "iPhone" in the headlines, and prepare for the lashing of a lifetime by Android fans. And vice versa.)

Not So in Food
Never in the little bit of food writing that I've done have I heard the same enthusiastic and encouraging responses. Maybe if I did more food writing or wrote for a larger audience, the feedback would change. But this course of writing about technology, organization, and leading an improved digital life feels worthwhile.

Another factor, and this part may sound snobbish, is that more people think they have an educated opinion about food than technology. I'd guess around 75 percent of the people I talk to about food have an opinion and want me to hear it. They're often more interested in talking than listening. When I talk to people about technology, they're more likely to ask questions and want to know what I think. And when they do have an opinion, they still ask questions, likely because they're also life-long learners who see technology as a wide-open area the same way I do.


Despite my new allegiance to writing about technology, organization, and leading a digital life, this blog isn't going anywhere. I still enjoy sharing recipes, penning short restaurant reviews, and putting down in writing my ideas about how we eat or how other cultures see food differently. Nothing's going to change there. But it's really a hobby and personal writing only... not that I'd turn down an offer to write about food professionally! I just don't think I'm going to seek it out, for a while at least.

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