Machinist was born, like the best innovations, out of frustration -- actually, many frustrations jumbled together, not unlike that embarrassing swamp of cables behind your PC. The classic tech annoyances -- that new things rarely work as well as we'd like them to, and that improvements often spawn unintended problems -- are as real today as they were back in the Mesozoic era of computing, around the time Walt Mossberg launched his product- reviewing empire by lamenting the sorry, hulking boxes then coming into every den and cubicle in America. Computers have certainly improved in the decade and a half since, but with new things always slipping ever deeper into the loneliest pockets of our days, living peaceably with technology is still a daunting affair. Today we have to tangle not only with kludgey PCs but also with cellphones and set- top boxes and cameras and game consoles and voting machines and e- book readers and UMPCs and DAPs and dozens of other microchipped, network-enabled, just-barely-good-enough beeping, buzzing things.
And yet, we can't stop loving shiny devices. Technology is sometimes a pain, but Machinist is for people transfixed with it anyway, for those who look at every new gadget or Web service with the same sense of hope that folks in Hollywood reserve for elective surgery: New things offer the possibility of attaining perfection, a shot at the sublime in an otherwise workaday world. Whether it's through TiVo, Skype, Napster, Amazon.com or something else entirely, you've no doubt felt the thrill of transformative technology. I still remember how, just four years ago, I had to navigate unbelievable hurdles to manage my daily torrent of e-mail. I devoted hours each week to organizing, sorting, filtering, backing up; every morning's barrage of messages brought me perilously close to losing my mind. Then Google released Gmail. It was fast, ubiquitous, dependable and easy. The sun shone, the birds chirped. In a snap, a single innovation had suddenly and irretrievably improved my life.
I've been reporting on technology and tech culture, on and off with other things, for seven years, and in that time I've covered many technologies (voting machines, for instance) that caused more harm than good. I've also just written a book about how modern communications tools -- the Web, cable news, talk radio -- allow marketers and political operatives to easily manipulate public opinion. I do not, in other words, harbor many techno-utopian ideas. At the same time, I'm uncontainably enthusiastic about innovation. Every day, the techie blogosphere erupts in thousands of posts about new devices, Web sites, business deals, personality clashes and various slights and scandals important to geeks. I've been hooked into this feed for far longer than I care to remember; I read it all voraciously. Now, on the daily Machinist blog, I'll be joining that conversation -- pointing out the best of what's out there and putting forth my own reporting and reviews on what's being discussed.
But Machinist is not just a blog. Every week, I'll also publish a column that offers broader insight into what's happening in the tech world. I'll review products, look into the mysteries of innovation and progress, and explore the creepier corners of tech culture online. Machinist's outlook is purposefully vast: This isn't a gadget site, it isn't a tech policy blog, and it's not really a how-to page. Though I'll discuss all these topics, I'll also delve into the economic and psychological repercussions that accompany tech advances, and sometimes I'll even focus on things that aren't outwardly high-tech -- kitchen gadgets, infomercial products and, I'm sure, toys.
Mainly what I want to talk about is tinkering with the future. The best inventions give us greater purchase on our surroundings; they let us bend the world closer to what we'd like it to be. From the perch of Machinist, I'll cover the possibilities.