The Verge is nestling back into its breeches

APRIL 30TH, 2016 — POST 117

There’s something new on the homepage of The Verge. Well, actually it’s something pretty old. Notoriously founded in 2011 by a group of dissenting writers splitting from AOL employment at the most successful tech blog of the day Engadget, this “new thing” signals a return to what used to be the site’s bread and butter: gadget journalism. Entitled Circuit Breaker, this new vertical is clearly focussed on all the ancillary pieces of technology that are seeing meteroic rise to prominance in the wake of steadying (or long steady) smartphone, tablet, and computer markets. As The Verge’s Editor-In-Chief Nilay Patel writes in the statement launching Circuit Breaker:

“If the defining trend of the smartphone revolution was convergence, then I think the defining trend of the next few years is divergence — gadgets outside the phone getting smarter and smarter as they get remixed with powerful new components that are newly cheap and abundant.”

This focus sees the Circuit Breaker homepage dominated by smarthome stuff, crazy tech demos and hacks, and no-nonsense reviews all lacquered with the utopian tone of “The Future Is Now”. Gone is the cynicism that wondered aloud the worth of a new-but-basically-the-same iteration of a flagship smartphone release. In its place is a giddy wonderment over the breakneck pace at which crazy-fast processors, ubiquitous connectivity, and purified industrial design are legitimately, every day, changing the world.

It’s not just enough to reinvigorate the mid-2000s era idea of the gadget blog for 2016, however. The most interesting piece of Circuit Breaker’s launch is its Editor. Returning to The Verge after almost 3 years is Paul Miller. When Miller went completely off the internet in 2012 for a year-long experiment for The Verge, he ascended to mythic status amongst the site’s avid fans. When returning to the internet in 2013 and very quickly leaving The Verge, this status only increased.

Pieced together from the short documentary Finding Paul Miller and infrequent appearances around the web including an interview with one of The Verge’s founders Joshua Topolsky for the first episode of his podcast Tomorrow with Joshua Topolsky, fans of Miller understood him to be working on a book, to be spending more time with family, and generally to be sorting out his life. To me anyway, any mention of Miller — from the in-joke at the end of some The Vergecast episodes where the hosts bleat “Paul! Paul!”, to a recent appearance on the show’s 200th episode — made me wish to once again be able to read his voice that remained humble regardless of how biting his analysis or informative his insight became.

I wrote a while ago about the place The Verge has held in my life and how recently my faith in the site’s decisions had began to falter. The piece concluded:

“If the site is to do as they once did and never feel satisfied with the standard they set, they ought to look to highlight those voices that speak to a technologically transcendent humanity that the site once did.”

Miller is one such voice. In building out Circuit Breaker, with particular tenacity on Facebook’s video platforms, to capture people’s imaginations in the very same way the site first did for me, Miller is once again atop the stage that had allowed him to write and speak so poignantly in the past. The vertical is still very much in its infancy, visibly fuelled by innocent enthusiasm. However, it is poised for persistence.

There is seemingly no end to the amount of gadgets coming out daily and no end to the hunger people have for seeing cool stuff on Facebook. Where YouTube channels like Unbox Therapy or even Gizmodo’s “This cool thing” type articles appear to get good numbers on Facebook, neither have moved much passed the taking of photos, shooting of videos, or making of gifs of cool tech. With Circuit Breaker, The Verge not only now has a focussed means of capturing this traffic but also the talent to draw the line from the gadget to a wider context. If Nilay Patel is right, that “[Circuit Breaker is] about watching the future get invented in real time”, it’s not because he thinks every gadget is destined for technological significance. It’s because he knows he has the talent who can locate a gadget’s importance within the wider cultural narrative.

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