2020 was a busy year for Michael Baxter. Living in the Age of the Jerk, written with Julien de Salaberry, was published and he also co-founded and launched digital title, Techopian.
Michael talks to us about the challenges of launching a title in the middle of a pandemic and how Techopian is opening the debate around technology innovation by asking: will it create a dystopia or utopia?
For some background: How did you get started in journalism?
Alas, I need to start this interview with a confession. I am no longer a young man. I launched an email newsletter in 2003 called Investment and Business News, which was my first foray into full-time writing. But I can go back further. I am sure many readers here will find it interesting to note that I began adult life working in PR. I set up a PR business in 1985 called Solution PR, specialising in the UK computer industry. So, I have been working closely with journalists for a very long time.
2020 has been a truly historic year as the pandemic changed our lives in a way unimaginable before it. How do you think the pandemic changed our relationship with technology?
Covid has accelerated a trend that was already
in place. I think we risk becoming victims of the tyranny of today. Thanks to
Covid, we Zoom more, work remotely, and automation technology will follow, and
no doubt we have become more aware of the privacy implications of data. But
these things were going to happen anyway; they are merely happening more
quickly. I am not sure the world in 2030 will be significantly different as a
result, but we find it hard to think beyond the crisis of our time; that is
what I mean by the tyranny of today.
Techopian is a relatively new title; it was launched in July 2020; what were the main challenges in launching a new website in the middle of a pandemic?
In a funny way, Covid-19 has accentuated the rationale for Techopian. Our focus is rapidly changing technology and responsible use of that technology. Covid has accelerated the need to focus on these issues. Besides, we write about technology, so we would be somewhat hypocritical if we let remote working stop us from moving forward.
We spoke about the challenges, but what are the aspects you enjoyed the most?
I guess what I really enjoy is writing about the things that matter to me. I would be happy if I continue writing right up to the day I die — I just hope that won’t happen for a while.
And I love writing for Techopian as I write about the things I care about.
What do you hope to achieve by opening the debate around technology innovation, creating dystopia or utopia?
I think that we are underestimating the impact technology
will have on our lives. Technology will change the world, for good or ill, in a
very short time period and during the lifetime of most people reading this.
Communicating this and
encouraging people to understand what this means and engaging with the issues
is one of the most important challenges of our time. In terms of importance, I
would put it right up there, with climate change.
Technology is a broad-ranging subject; what are the topics relating to it Techopian focuses on?
The idea behind Techopian is to become the voice for responsible use of technology and to facilitate the conversation about this topic.
Topics that interest us include:
Responsible use of tech, ethical implications of data, AI for good, applying technology to defeat climate change, ESG with a particular technology focus. But above all, corporate responsibility in the context of technology.
What kind of contributions do you find useful from PRs/how can PRs help with Techopian content?
Any information which has a ‘responsible use of tech’
theme would be helpful.
And the usual stuff, not
too ‘salesy’, to the point, contact details, social media handles of people
referred to in PR material. Images would be useful
Do you work with freelancers, and if so, what kind of pitches would you want to receive?
We will be working with freelancers, but not straight
Pitches on articles following our key themes would be
The media industry has a diversity problem – do you think enough is being done to improve this? Do you see any ways technology could help with this?
The big technology angle here relates to how AI can end
up being quite biased. Of course, it is only as reliable as the data it learns
from. In encouraging diversity, it is essential to understand that AI doesn’t
always create results that are most in keeping with diversity issues.
What piece of tech from fiction (TV/film/book, etc.) do you wish would be available in real life?
Well, I suppose it would be the food replicators from Star Trek — a kind of 3D printing of food. That would solve an awful lot of problems.
What tech do you
miss from the past?
I am not sure I miss old tech that much; for a while, I think we all missed the battery longevity of older phones, but I am not sure that is a problem anymore.
I don’t miss pen and paper; in fact, I sometimes think I am losing the ability to hold a pen and write— but not sure that is a bad thing.
I miss Top of the Pops on BBC1 every Thursday at 7.25. I think technology has had a lot to do with its demise. And I miss album covers and the thrill of buying a new album, bedecked in beautiful artwork.