The Community app connects A-listers with their fans—an odd proposition in the era of Covid lockdowns

Illustration of boy sitting on his bed looking at his phone. A wall of posters featuring an American flag, celebrities, stars, and drinks are behind him.
Illustration of boy sitting on his bed looking at his phone. A wall of posters featuring an American flag, celebrities, stars, and drinks are behind him.
Illustration: Isabel Seliger for OneZero

I’m at the point now where I don’t even bother reading Post Malone’s texts.

Same with Diddy. Same with Paul McCartney. When Barack Obama’s name pops up on my phone I tap to see what he has to say, but he doesn’t text that often so it’s fine.

I have never met any of these people; none of them know me. Their contacts are in my phone because of Community, a startup that celebrities, businesses, and influencers of all stripes can use to text their fans.

People who purchase a Community phone number (or “leaders,” as the company calls them)…


Gary Arnold in Elkton, MD on January 29, 2021. Photography by Mengwen Cao for OneZero

To defend science, the Paranormal Challenge devises experiments to test claims of X-ray vision, telekinesis, and other paranormal abilities

When Gary Arnold first heard the noise, he was alone in the library at the local college where he teaches writing. He was enjoying his lunch and reading a copy of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the story of a man whose life is changed by the unexpected spectral visitors.

He heard it in his right ear, a staticky, high-pitched crackle that reminded him of old dial-up modems. It was odd, but it also seemed important, so he pulled his inexpensive feature phone out of his pocket. …


Agility Robotics created a robot that could walk up stairs and carry boxes. But the main complaint from customers? It didn’t have a face.

The robot Digit. Photo: Agility Robotics

The robot Digit stands approximately five feet, four inches high, with a metallic torso the teal color of a hospital worker’s scrubs. It can walk up and down staircases and around corners on two legs, and lift, carry, and stack boxes up to 40 pounds with arms whose hinges evoke the broad shoulders of a swimmer.

Agility Robotics, Digit’s manufacturer, shipped roughly 30 of these robots earlier this year to industrial and academic clients. …


Advice from crisis psychologists, intelligence analysts, chronic illness experts, and more

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

During the first few months of the pandemic, many of us assumed that this was all an inconvenient yet ultimately finite detour from normal life. It’s now clear that this is no detour, but a journey of unknown length most us were never truly prepared for. No one is coming to save us, as Roxane Gay wrote for the New York Times back in May. There are no easy routes out. A safe, effective, widely available vaccine is not on the visible horizon. The political chaos after the U.S. election could well dwarf that which came before it. …


Reusable eight-by-four-foot steel cylinders, packed with wood chips, straw, and alfalfa, present an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial

Illustration: Kelsey Borch

There’s an empty warehouse 20 miles south of Seattle that, if everything goes as planned, will soon be full of dead people.

The facility belongs to Recompose, the first U.S. company to compost human bodies indoors, through a process known officially as natural organic reduction. Washington state became the first — and so far, only — U.S. state to legalize the practice in May 2019. Recompose opens in November. …


The discovery of a chemical compound with antibiotic properties is a helpful case study in the potential — and limits — of using A.I. to develop new treatments

Photo of a researcher wearing gloves and safety gear pipetting into tubes.
Photo of a researcher wearing gloves and safety gear pipetting into tubes.
Photo: boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

In late February, a paper appeared in the journal Cell with encouraging news regarding one of the world’s most persistent public health problems. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University had used artificial intelligence to identify a chemical compound with powerful antibiotic properties against some of the world’s most drug-resistant strains of bacteria — a welcome discovery in a world where 700,000 people die every year from drug-resistant infections. It was the first time an antibacterial compound had been identified this way. …


As hackers compromised world leaders’ Twitter accounts, researchers released a report on the risk tweets pose to international conflict

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

When it came time to set a publication date for their report Escalation by Tweet: Managing the new nuclear diplomacy, King’s College London researchers Heather Williams and Alexi Drew settled on the arbitrary date of Wednesday, July 15 to release 18 months’ of research on how Twitter’s format is uniquely positioned to make dangerous global situations exponentially worse.

Their timing turned out to be prescient. Within hours of the paper’s online publication, Twitter endured the worst security breach in its history.

Hackers seizing the official accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Apple, and other high-profile companies…


They say that this experience will make us better people — but right now, I’m a mess

Photo: Maryna Andriichenko/Getty Images

Last night I was texting with a friend who is also a working parent about school closures and this strange new world in which we now find ourselves. She shared something lovely that another friend had sent her, and told me that for her, it had been a great source of strength the past few days:

Whatever is coming, I think there might be something cathartic in realizing that we can get through something hard. That there is still love and joy and sunshine in hard times. And that we have reservoirs of strength we’re not usually aware of.

It…


Illustrations: Dominic Kesterton

An exhaustive 2,700-email analysis of donation requests, emojis, and dog pictures

For all the influence social media has in our lives, it’s still far from a universal medium. It’s true that some 70% of us check Facebook at least once in a while, but only 37% are on Instagram. A Reddit AMA will reach only the 11% of U.S. adults who have ever logged into the platform, and just 22% of U.S. adults ever bother to peer into the pit of rage and despair that is Twitter.

But if you are a person on the internet in 2020, you almost certainly have an email address. And if you are a voting…


The ‘news therapy’ app Sift thinks of itself as a gym, not a spa

In fall 2018, an app called Sift debuted in Apple’s App Store. A product of All Turtles, the artificial intelligence incubator co-founded by former Evernote CEO Phil Libin, Sift billed itself as “news therapy”: a tool to equip users with the perspective and context they needed to process the substance of the news without being overwhelmed by rage or despair.

Sift offers a series of “cards” containing text, graphics, and interactive features that together summarize the debate on five political issues — gun control, climate change, immigration, healthcare, education — as well as a primer on news literacy. …

Corinne Purtill

Journalist with words at Time, Quartz, and elsewhere. Author of Ghosts in the Forest, a Kindle Single.

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