The Monday Media Diet with Chris Bolman

Chris Bolman (CB) is a longtime friend of WITI. I’ve always admired his wide-ranging tastes from techno to public policy and many things in between. We’re pleased to have him on the page today. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m the founder of Brightest, which helps organizations measure, partner, and improve their social impact, sustainability, and ESG (environmental social governance) work and performance. Before Brightest I’ve worked across data, tech (including with WITI Co-Founder Noah at Percolate), renewable energy, and briefly in film when I was younger. In my spare time, I really enjoy music, running, cycling, hiking, and volunteering, and live in Brooklyn with my partner Roxane. 

Describe your media diet. 

I’ve always been a believer in curated feeds for intentional news and info discovery. A lot of that starts on the digital side: dozens of Twitter lists of different topics, thinkers, and domains I’m interested in, rounded out with email newsletters. One challenge for me is I work in climate and sustainability, which has a penchant for doom-scrolling and alarmism (justified, but often not constructive), so I try to curate my facts and inputs by talking directly to experts and reading more balanced coverage from specific journalists. Bloomberg Green does a fairly good job on balance, and I also do my best to synthesize regular learnings myself in Week in Sustainability, which is more weekly-ish but takes deeper dives on structural topics.

A few other notables that come to mind (beyond WITI of course) are Kneeling Bus, Culture Study from Anne Helen Petersen, and some wonkier stuff like Deep Learning Weekly. For music, I dig First Floor and just following Manchester’s Boomkat on social. No one writes a snappier, more colorful one or two-graph album review (or tweet) than Boomkat. 

To me physical spaces like bookstores are more about auspicious or accidental discovery - Strands, McNally Jackson in Soho, Greenlight in Ft. Greene, or, for records, Mixtape Shop in Bed-Stuy. Sometimes I go in looking for something specific, but more often I like to just browse, explore, and see what catches my eye. I haven’t done quite as much of this during the pandemic but it’s important to me that a healthy chunk of my media consumption’s deliberately anti-algorithm.

What’s the last great book you read?

A recent read I really enjoyed is “Maybe The People Would be the Times” by Luc Sante. It’s a collection of cultural essays about growing up in New York City in the 1980’s - the art scene, collecting records, going to parties, collecting self-published zines - that’s simultaneously lyrical, hazy, and ethereal. John Ashberry describes it better than I can when he said Sante’s writing “gives astonishing form to floating moods no one noticed before.”

I grew up in the midwest and didn’t come to NYC until I was a teenager a little after 9/11, which marks a strong ideologically and culturally defining before-and-after, so this may be a case of nostalgia or saudade about a time and place I never personally experienced but still feel some distant historical connection to.

What are you reading now?

I just finished reading the UK’s National Food Strategy, a set of recommendations for dealing with food inequality and climate impacts by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, the Food and Drink Sector Council, and a group of academic, agriculture, and business leaders and researchers. Three quick reasons why it’s great. First, it takes a systems view of England’s food issues: environmental, economic, cultural, urban vs. rural, public vs. private innovation. The lens is specifically English but a lot of the root causes are fairly universal across wealthy western countries, and many of the solutions could easily be adapted to the US. Second, it’s an example of proactive, collective problem-solving designed to stave off much more costly, reactive treatment of the system’s ills down the road. Third, it’s powerful seeing us start to finally connect the dots between our food systems and the biggest social problems and opportunities of our time. As a society we are how and what we eat: food is a public health issue, a climate issue, a race, and class issue, an education issue, and we’re finally starting to understand the full magnitude of that.

It’s 73 pages with citations so a fairly quick read but if you’re in a hurry I wrote up a quick summary here.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I have a backyard with a small garden adjacent to a big tree I’ve grown quite fond of over the years. I do my best reading outside in the shade with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s become my little reading oasis as long as the neighbors aren’t blasting music too loud.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Bathsheba Demuth. Floating Coast (a sweeping history of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia) is terrific, original, and informative, and to me, she’s one of the sharpest, most unique minds in environmental history, where it can be as helpful to look back as imperative to look and plan ahead. 

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

If you’re into music, recordings, or voice memos and have a lot of audio files on your phone (as opposed to streaming) the Audioshare app’s a really good way to organize and manage everything. Much better and more purposeful than generic file-sharing or native apps. I aspire to be minimal and mindful with my consumption but I also consider the Reverb app a guilty browsing pleasure. It’s a marketplace for buying and selling musical stuff (instruments, gear) that’s more deep and intentional than eBay or Craigslist, where someone will post like Neil Young’s Lexicon reverb they found at a garage sale, cool artifacts like that.

Plane or train?

Train whenever possible. It’s better for the environment and I find the overall travel experience far more relaxing. It’s a shame we don’t have high-speed rail in the US comparable to Japan or Europe. The technology exists to train from San Francisco to LA in an hour and a half, or SF to Denver in four, we just can’t bring together the collective will to build it. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

A couple come to mind but Bornholm’s very special. It’s an island in the Baltic Sea between Denmark and Sweden. Even without COVID restrictions it’s hard to get to -- you have to take a bus from Copenhagen into Sweden, then a two-hour ferry -- but it’s worth it and in many ways, the inaccessibility’s a benefit unto itself. It’s a very peaceful, beautiful place with some of the best beaches in the world. High-end hourglasses use sand from Bornholm, it’s that white and fine. If you get there there’s an around-the-bend cafe near Svaneke called Syd-Øst For Paradis where you can grab food and drinks, listen to live music and swim (or even dive) in the ocean if you’re in the mood.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

Likely due to a medley of factors - work, pandemic, getting deeper into my 30’s - I started feeling physical manifestations of stress pop up for me last year for the first time. Nothing serious thankfully, but I’d get headaches or a little anxiety after drinking coffee, or my back would hurt for no reason, little things like that. It wasn’t serious enough to warrant medical attention but was enough of a quality-of-life recurrence that I started doing a lot of research and reading about natural health. How your vagus nerve works, how gut microbiome health influences physical and mental health, the role practices like meditation, stretching, exercise, and yoga can play in your overall energy balance and wellbeing. I definitely still believe in science, Western medicine, and certainly vaccines, but I’ve been exploring incorporating different complementary practices into my daily routine and just reminding myself I need to move more often. Something like 60% of the human body is ultimately water; in nature still water gets stagnant, fresh water flows. (CB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Chris (CB)

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