Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Caroline McCarthy

On media, tech, and the cultural lives of whales and dolphins

Caroline McCarthy (CM) is a longtime friend of WITI. She was on the tech beat as a journalist in the heyday of the NYC startup scene and has also logged time at Google and other tech companies. She’s currently serving as a tech policy fellow and media critic and is now driving across the US. We’re pleased to have her on the page today. -Colin (CJN). 

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a woman who left her job in journalism for the “dark side,” a two-time deliverer of TED talks (well, one was a TEDx talk, but it got about ten times as much traction as the actual TED talk because according to the comments some people push the play button if you wear a leather dress), a columnist for Spectator USA, and a pandemic nomad who just left NYC for parts unknown. 

I’m an on-and-off media and tech critic, these days in my capacity as a tech policy fellow at the Lincoln Network, where I’m currently working on a project to gauge how Americans prioritize tech policy when they vote and whether elected officials need to do more to play it up. I am obsessed with my stubbornly analog Jeep Wrangler (hand-crank windows and all), my black cat Minerva, raccoons, the psychology behind folklore and urban legend, and McDonald’s Spicy McNuggets. I also write a Substack newsletter called The Firewood, where I try to reconcile the pull to be Extremely Online with the pull to be, well, Extremely Offline in the woods.

Describe your media diet.

So, this is interesting because I really have to reinvent what I read. I was relying on Twitter for my media diet, following an array of news outlets and pundits and a bunch of wild cards like wildlife biologists, gemologists, art critics, experts on Minnesota politics (I have never been to Minnesota), and animal rescuers. I also try to make sure I follow people who have intelligent but dissenting takes on current events. But I recently quit Twitter, at least temporarily. I really think it was exacerbating some mental health concerns for me and I was also using it as kind of a crutch for pandemic loneliness and reaching for it like I assume some people reach for cigarettes. 

I’m currently enjoying the newfound expansiveness that comes from eliminating a social media app when you’ve effectively been addicted to them. More practically, I’m in search of a new way to consume media at least for the interim, but in one of the great frustrations of our era, so many apps geared toward a curated digital media diet have failed. I still miss Google Reader. I used to live by it.

What’s the last great book you read?

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is absolutely fantastic. She writes about straddling two worlds and their approaches to nature as both a botanist and a Native American, and her writing is thoughtful and beautiful and refreshingly unpretentious. On a more superficial note, it’s written as a series of essays with a relatively rough narrative running through them, so you can pick it up and read a few and then pick it back up months later and you won’t lose a plotline. 

What are you reading now?

Probably the installation manual for some kind of large car part and getting very confused by it. But I’ve also been gradually reading The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell. It’s dense (both authors are biologists, and they don’t dumb things down), but not inaccessibly so. And it is a really delightful overview of cetacean societies. Killer whales in particular are fascinating: they’re incredibly set in their ways and resistant to change, as though they’re about to yell at you and tell you to get off their kelp lawn.

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

This question made me realize that I haven’t read a news or other media publication in print since COVID hit because I primarily would read them while in transit -- on the subway to work, or on one of the many planes or regional rail trips I took. I drive now, which is wild! But it tends to mean history and folklore podcasts or the ‘90s alternative station on SiriusXM instead of news while in transit. I may be missing out on my long-form news consumption but also you can’t easily scream along to Social Distortion on the subway, and I think that’s the kind of thing that’s good for your nervous system.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Dare I say Justin Amash’s Twitter account? He’s leaving Congress after deciding to not run for reelection (switching to a third-party affiliation probably didn’t help), and he’s completely unafraid to tell everyone about how much the American political system sucks and is full of the back-room dealing that we all suspected it was.

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

I use Pocket Universe a ton. There has been some really fantastic night sky viewing over the past couple of months -- Jupiter and Saturn together, and a spectacularly bright Mars, not to mention the NEOWISE comet -- and out of all the consumer astronomy apps out there this one is really the most straightforward. It has some geolocation issues if you aren’t near a major city and you have to remember to reset it when you switch locations, but that’s really the only caveat.

Plane or train?

Does the train have a dining car? How are the views out the window?

What is one place everyone should visit? 

I’m always shocked at how many New Yorkers don’t know about Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It’s a city escape that’s frequently an afterthought compared to the Hamptons and Hudson Valley, but it has terrific hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, and plenty of other recreation options. Vacation rentals are really inexpensive and northern New Jersey has some terrific breweries and other odd roadside stops, so the drive itself doesn’t have to be boring either.

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

I always love when someone posts a request on Twitter for followers to share the one conspiracy theory they are most convinced is true. People tend to be very enthusiastic about sharing, and it tends to turn into kind of a crowdsourced deep-dive into what we believe and what we want to be true and how we connect the dots when we don’t have the information that we feel we ought to have. Typically, the responses aren’t about aliens or the CIA; they’re about obscure dealmaking on behalf of cabinet officials or lobbyists (there are so many that involve the Federal Reserve!), or convoluted explanations for stuff in professional sports that doesn’t make sense at face value, like that Michael Jordan’s baseball career was orchestrated to cover up a suspension from the NBA for gambling. 

(If you want something more specific, around Halloween I also spent about half a day reading up on all the rumors that the White House is haunted. Harry Truman was convinced it was!) (CM)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Caroline (CM)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).