Up, Up, and Away

This week was my last as a journalist at The Verge. In my five and a half years with the publication, I’ve written more than 1,000 stories.  Along the way, I got married, had a couple of kids, became a cyborg, walked through virtual realities, and travelled to the other side of our world. This has been the most rewarding, challenging, and inspiring job I’ve ever had, but I’m ready for a new adventure.

As I prepare to leave the world of journalism, I've thought a lot about something Nilay Patel, my terrific editor-in-chief, told me the first day we met. As journalists, he said, we should always remain skeptical, be critical when necessary, and never shy away from telling the truth. But a piece of our editorial mission at The Verge was also to peddle hope, to be excited about the future and what innovation might bring.

Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn to that simple mission, to stories about the ways in which new companies, technologies, and products are changing the world for the better. After a decade writing about the world as an outside observer, I’m interested in seeing what it’s like to help build a business from the inside. So I’m joining the communications team at DJI, the world’s leading manufacturer of consumer and commercial drones.   

I first learned about drones at SXSW 2013, and from the beginning two things were clear. Drones were about to take the world by storm, and DJI, a company no one in my world had heard of, would stand out from the pack. Over the last four years it has separated itself from the competition, the first Chinese company to emerge as the global leader in a major consumer electronics category. 

I spent the holidays reviewing everything I’ve published during my time here and was struck by just how much has changed in half a decade. Bitcoin had already been through some minor booms and busts when I first wrote about it for The Verge. At the time the value of Bitcoin in circulation was $1.5 billion, a sum that seemed massive, given how few people knew it existed, much less understood how it worked. My colleague Adrianne Jeffries took a group of us out to a bar that accepted Bitcoin and bought everyone a few rounds. The coins were worth $120 a piece at the time, and it seemed to us as though that would surely be the peak of the phenomenon.

We weren’t the only ones to miss that boat - predicting the future is hard. My first big feature for The Verge peeked into the lives of basement bio-hackers who believed we were on the cusp of combining our frail flesh with more easily upgradable machinery. Advances in brain-computer-interfaces from the world of medicine continue to produce incredible results, and robotic exoskeletons are proliferating in the workplace. But the last five years have shown that most people aren’t ready to wear a pair of smart glasses or spend much time inside a virtual reality headset, much less cut themselves open to put a chip inside. 

What we have become is eternally connected and online, livestreaming our way through a world where hacks and tweets shape the geopolitical arena more than military might. Everyday life comes down to how you tune the algorithms and notifications around you, and to which buttons you push and why. It’s why we care so deeply about net neutrality, which in my time here was mortally wounded, miraculously reborn, and then felled once again. The fight seems far from over.

This will be my first time in five years not making the annual pilgrimage to the CES in Las Vegas, although just writing about it brings back that special odor: a mix of stale trailer, unwashed blogger, and endless carpeting. I went to CES for the first time unsure of what I should be covering. In an effort to generate some excitement, I tased myself with an iPhone case and got punched in the head. Over time, as I found my focus, I stopped hurting myself for views and started embarrassing myself instead. 

As drones became my primary beat, CES became an annual review of just how fast things were changing. While the form factor of smartphones solidified, with modifications measured in millimeters, consumer drones evolved radically in size and shape with each new generation. They went from simply taking pictures to inspecting bridges, fighting fires, and delivering packages. They learned how to follow subjects and dodge obstacles. I'm convinced drones will become smarter, more autonomous and far more ubiquitous over the next decade, and I hope to play a part in making that happen.

This new job will be very different, I’m sure, but the key elements remain the same. How can I use storytelling to help explain the ways technology is changing the world so that people want to know more? While remaining realistic about the challenges innovation brings with it, I’m excited to use my new vantage point on the technology world to find ways I can make people hopeful about what the future will bring.