TL;DR: Download Ration. Claim a username. Get an invite. Curate. Share. Consume better.
I was born in Goshen, Indiana to a 17-year-old skateboarder and an 18-year-old valedictorian. They had just graduated high school, and now they had a kid. My dad likes to say that the most likely outcome was that we would have ended up in a trailer park and I would likely still be stuck in Indiana today. Luckily for me, my mom got to work getting scholarships for both her and my dad to go to Indiana University in Bloomington and we all went together, starting my first and longest career: 27 years as a full time student.
Mom got her Bachelors in Nursing (which is particularly impressive because not only did she have a tiny child to take care of but she was diagnosed shortly after I was born with severe bipolar disorder, she is beyond resilient). My dad got his degree in computer science. As a huge music nerd, he managed to finish getting us the hell out of Indiana (on accident) by starting to design websites for bands on the early internet, and we moved to Los Angeles in 1995.
I was raised in LA by a bunch of 20-something kids (it takes a village) who loved me unconditionally, and taught me what I now know is not something most people learn: you can and should build a career doing something that you love. That may seem cliche, but they really set an example of this for me. My dad managed to spend the first half of his career building things like Winamp, Yahoo! Music, and Beats Music. I watched his friends become successful artists, musicians, furniture builders, and engineers. I remember dad telling me that if I wanted to be a professional snowboarder, I could do it, but I had to move to Mammoth and snowboard for 8 hours a day (I decided against it). So what did I want to do? I put my energy into two things: radio and science.
When I was 13, I left a mix CD in dad’s car, he posted the playlist to his blog, and the next thing I knew I had a radio show on Little Radio, a pirate radio station in Los Angeles. ZoëRadio: “I’m Zoë, I’m 13, and this is my radio show.” Supreme creativity ;) I DJed a Teen Vogue event, I was named Bad Ass of the Month in Elle Girl, and opened for the Beastie Boys at the Greek Theater my senior year of high school (that is a longer story). That was all fun, and made for a great college admissions essay, but college radio was even more transformative for me.
I ended up joining as a DJ on the indie-rock block (Breakfast of Champions) and being General Manager of WMBR Cambridge while I was at MIT. During grad-school, I managed the music department Stanford’s KZSU and had a show. My lifelong friends are people that I met doing college radio, and some of my favorite people I have met later in life all have college radio in common. One of the greatest gifts of the pandemic was that I got invited back to do Breakfast of Champions remotely, and it has been an absolute joy. Building playlists and putting together a show has always been meditative for me. I take great pride in crafting a playlist that has the perfect progression, a sense of humor and the right balance of new and old music. The BoC audience is loyal and I work hard not to let them down.
On to the science…I have a PhD in Genetics from Stanford, and I went to MIT for undergrad. So I am supposed to be doing things that are science-y (in theory). Unfortunately, I stayed in school till I was 27 to become a scientist and saying that I don’t love working in biology labs anymore is an extreme understatement. I left grad school and tried working in a lab at a biotech startup. This actually brings me back to an earlier point, the thing that proved to me that I was not supposed to work in a lab anymore was that the three amazing scientists I was working with were SO EXCITED to come in and work in the lab every day. That proved to me that some people really did love doing this and I was not one of them. Thanks to being at a startup, I moved to the product team, and worked on helping the biologists, computer scientists, sales and marketing teams learn to speak the same language. Eventually, I moved on to being a consultant on the Digital Health Innovations team at the Gates Foundation. I think that I will always be science adjacent, and I may even start a company some day related to education and genetics, but for now…I am working on something totally different.
When I was realizing that I didn’t love “doing science,” I started to think about the things that I do love. I love building new things, I love fast paced development, I love talking to people and helping people understand one another and I love making playlists.
All of that gets us to today, July 14, 2021. I am so excited to announce that a project I have been working on for the last 2 years is finally in the iOS AppStore (and coming out soon on Android I promise). It is called Ration. Ration is where real people can build playlists of links to the things that they are reading, listening to, and watching and share those playlists with other real people. You can check out my current Ration here.
It is clear to me that there needs to be a change in how we spend our attention capital and that the invasiveness of ad driven algorithms is finally a problem that even my grandparents are aware of. It is time to start building post-social internet utilities that help us share our interests and culture outside of the realm of click-bait and polarizing platforms.
Recently, a fellow WMBR alumni went back to the record library and texted me to remind me that my friend Kelsey and I were the first DJs at the station to play Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies, Matt and Kim’s Grand, and Tokyo Police Club’s Champ. She knows this because we had to handwrite which tracks we played on the stickers of new CDs at the station so that people would know what other DJs liked. That is how we discovered music. At WMBR, I learned about Bluegrass, Punk, and Blues from community members with encyclopedic knowledge of those genres. I trusted them, and so I took their recommendations seriously. We are bringing trust and ‘handwritten’ recommendations back to the way we share things on the internet.
Each link that is shared to Ration has space for commentary. Don’t just share it, tell me why it matters to you. Put your real name and some human emotion behind your posts again. That is why people gravitate toward newsletters and podcasts. It is far more meaningful and enjoyable to get news and recommendations from real people who you trust.
Down the line, we are going to build lots of features that both help you find exactly what you are interested in and help you remember that there are lots of ways to look at the world. For now, the app is simple:
- You can follow people that you trust and see their current playlist.
- The Ration team (all 2 of us) will update the “Staff Picks” section on the home page and showcase the growing community of curators on Ration.
- You can build and share your own playlists.
Now that I have told you what it is…it is worth mentioning that it is not a place for you to comment on other people’s posts, we do not display the number of likes that any posts get or the number of followers that any curator has, it is not integrated with any social media apps, and it does not have any ads. We want to build a place where people post what they genuinely like, not what will get them the most social credit or generate the most ad dollars.
We are going to build the community slowly and intentionally, so we are invite only for now. If you want to join Ration, either ask a friend that is on it already or email me. In the mean time, check out our first 5 curators:
- Kyle Thornton — My husband and co-founder who loves adult swim and 2000s emo music.
- Nathan Kipniss — My best friend since undergrad who is a brilliant scientist and knows more about fashion and pop culture than anyone else I know.
- Greg Uyeno — A scientific journalist who is by far the best current Ration curator. He posts things about sports, video games, journalism, cooking and beyond!
- Ian Rogers — My dad, who I have been talking about this idea with for at least 5 years, has encouraged me to pursue the project, and currently drives the most traffic on Ration.
I am beyond excited to finally share this idea and get out of the vacuum we have been developing in. My hope, is that people use this tool to do things that we haven’t even thought of yet.
Zoë N. Rogers
Geneticist, DJ, CEO of Ration.
Check Out My Ration