The [Tuesday] Media Diet with Tom Whitwell
On building speakers, Jing Daily, and Apartamento
We first came across Tom Whitwell (TW) via his epic 52 things I learned in 2022 post. We tracked him down to do a MMD. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)
Tell us about yourself.
I live in London and work at Magnetic, doing interesting innovation-ish projects for organisations like the National Grid, Condé Nast, The Economist and Mars.
Since 2012 I’ve also been designing open-source music electronics as Music Thing Modular, making gadgets used by musicians like Thom Yorke and Russell Haswell.
Since 2014 I’ve written a ‘52 Things I Learned’ list every year.
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Describe your media diet.
I’m an RSS loyalist - I follow about 100 feeds (many of them nearly dead) in Feedly. Highlights: Sixth Tone, Things Magazine, Interconnected, Marginal Revolution, waxy.org, kottke.org. I particularly like blogs that post rarely - once every month or two. I check in every week or so, there’s usually a few hundred posts that I’ll tap through, pressing JJJJJJJJJJJ hang on what was that? KK J JJJJ for a few happy minutes.
Doing the 52 things list is a good discipline - just a little nudge year round that I can take time for casual reading without it feeling like procrastination. I ping myself links with ‘52 things’ in the subject line, then in early November have a folder full of interesting stories to follow up and check if they’re actually true.
At Magnetic I work on very diverse projects - 6 months on one thing, three months on another. Often I pick up sources from those projects - I still follow some great fashion things after working on the launch of Vogue Business for Condé Nast (Jing Daily, Vestoj magazine), and a load of Twitter energy wonks after launching @NationalGridESO, people like @MLiebreich, @AukeHoekstra, @guynewey, @NatBullard.
On TV I’ve recently enjoyed Andor, White Lotus, a silly but fun Korean dystopian time-travel series called Sisyphus, and I watched Seinfeld for the first time over the last few months, which was like time travel, so many episodes rely on technologies that are incomprehensible in 2022, like queuing up for cinemas or receiving phone calls.
What’s the last great book you read?
The Dawn of Everything Book by David Graeber and David Wengrow, i’ve never made so many notes on a book, just wanted to capture and retain it. It’s a vision of how people lived and thought and achieved things 10,000 years ago that is also an optimistic view of how civilization might be different in the future.
What are you reading now?
Hugh Eakin’s Picasso’s War, about how long it took the US (and Britain) to understand modern art in the first half of the 20th century, just a great story of the people who believed, like the Irish American lawyer John Quinn who bought hundreds of extraordinary paintings from Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and had them stacked up in his apartment when he died of cancer aged 54 in 1924, when they were all still almost worthless.
What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
Apartamento I read like a book, with a bookmark, just reading all the interviews, because invariably it’s full of people I’ve never heard of who lead interesting lives. The FT I sometimes flip to Lex, at the weekend I’ll start with Homes & Culture. How to Spend It makes excellent wrapping paper if you take out the staples.
Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is the dream-like story of working in TV in Moscow in the early 2000s. The book I’ve given most often as a gift is La Place de la Concorde Suisse by John McPhee, an equally dream-like short book about the role of the army in Swiss life (so better than it sounds).
What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?
iStroboSoft is a very accurate tuner for guitars or anything else. It was one of the first apps I bought when I got an iPhone and I use it a few times most weeks
Plane or train?
Train. Living in South London, It’s incredible being able to walk to the end of my road and be in Paris by lunch, changing train just once.
What is one place everyone should visit?
Dungeness in Kent, if you’re in England.
Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.
I recently made myself some speakers. What an absurd black hole that world is! I felt like I was circling a huge black hole of audiophile nonsense and $4,000 power cables, but really enjoyed the experience, learning about CNC cutting plywood, which feels a bit like a modern superpower.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Tom (TW)
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