Those who know me best know that I enjoy two things above all else: Reading and recommending articles (and through a combination of luck and stubbornness, have managed to build a business peripheral to this).
A friend asked me what was the best stuff I read this year. I have a pretty intense reading system where I use Instapaper and the Amazon Kindle to read and highlight, and Readwise to catalogue and surface past highlights. I pulled the 15 articles from 2018 with the most highlights and found it was a pretty incredible set of reading material.
The themes of technology’s impact on society, income inequality, Trump, disinformation, artificial intelligence are heavily represented in the selection. Some of them serve as fantastic overviews of topics like the Opioid Epidemic or Russia’s Election-hacking. A few provide an important historical perspective on today’s pressing issues, while others serve as predictions of what is to come. And there are a few simply engrossing stories that capture #2018Business perfectly (ICOs! WeWork! Bubbles!).
Without further ado:
The Artificial Intelligentsia — The Baffler
45 highlights — March 2018
Aaron Timms could be one of my favorite writers around. He’s a former financial trade journalist (who wrote an epic 2014 piece on the Race to Topple Bloomberg) that went off to be the Head of Content at a predictive financial data firm. His bumpy ride rewarded us all with this hilarious piece that calls bullshit on so much of the world of “AI”. The writing is so cutting, it can make you a bit uncomfortable, but in a much needed, old-fashioned, truth-to-power sorta way (versus a social media algorithm-driven rage sorta way). Please set aside some time for this one.
Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy? — The New Yorker
47 highlights — September 17, 2018.
You all know Facebook, fake news, and big tech monopolies are all current obsessions of mine, so it’s fitting this definitive New Yorker piece would find it’s way to #2. If these topics are important to you, this is the one to read.
43 highlights — October 2, 2018
This incredibly deep NY Times investigation was so long, the authors published a summary of takeaways as an accompanying piece. For a brief moment, this was to be the bombshell that might do him in. In a testament to our current news cycle and collective attention span, it barely seemed to make a dent.
Raised by YouTube — The Atlantic
39 highlights — November 2018 Issue
Having a 2 year old kid makes has me fascinated and terrified of how the next generation will use technology. Alexis Madrigal is one of my longtime favorite writers on technology’s effect on society, and he more than delivers on something I watch and fear firsthand, kids and YouTube. This also introduced me to Johnny Johnny Yes Papa.
The Blockchain: A Love Story — WIRED
37 highlights — June 2018 Issue
This WIRED longread is just an incredible story. It’s got absurd characters, love and heartbreak, and ICOs. This was easily my definitive crypto-craze story that managed to capture every element of what went wrong, packaged into a compelling narrative.
36 highlights — February 2018 Issue
Andrew Sullivan’s still got it. This February 2018 NYMag article managed to tie together the topics of opioids, addiction, healthcare, community and even religion, in a way that helped someone detached from the direct day-to-day effects of the crisis want to learn more.
WeWork’s $20 Billion Dream: The Lavishly Funded Startup That Could Disrupt Commercial Real Estate — CB Insights
CB Insights breaks down a private, opaque business like nobody else can. If you’re at all interested in the WeWork business, or the world of opaque decacorns, make sure to read this one.
32 highlights — November 14, 2018
WIRED’s Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson and Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer join forces for this tech+foreign policy masterpiece. The China vs. U.S. tech arms race will be at the center of the next decade’s business and foreign policy, and this will get you up to speed on the challenges that lie ahead.
How this all happened — Collaborative Fund
32 highlights — November 14, 2018
Morgan Housel of the Collaborative Fund is one of my favorite financial writers. Through a lengthy construction of America’s post World War2 economy, this chart-filled longread manages to lay out the case of our current state of inequality and a declining middle class “happened”.
A Business With No End — NY Times
31 highlights — November 27, 2018
This is an incredible story that captures the weirdness of the internet in 2018. An exploration that begins with a few odd packages delivered leads Jenny Odell, an Oakland-based writer and artist, into a world where it’s impossible to distinguish digital from physical, and real from fake. And makes you wonder if you can ever trust Amazon reviews again.
30 highlights — September 20, 2018
Continuing on the theme of definitive overviews of incredibly complex and news-dominating topics, this NY Times article can serve as your Russia Election Hacking 101 textbook.
The Great Risk Shift That Helped Deliver Donald Trump — Book Excerpt
30 highlights — October 24, 2018
This book excerpt from Jacob Hacker (a Yale Professor) serves as an incredible complement to the above Morgan Housel piece on the topic of income inequality.
Too many men: China and India battle with the consequences of gender imbalance — South China Morning Post
29 highlights — April 24, 2018
The South China Morning Post is one of the more intriguing media stories of 2018. While they have been accused of being a tool of China’s soft power after being purchased by the Alibaba Group in 2016, they have been one of my favorite sources for an Asian perspective. This April analysis covers a hugely pertinent geopolitical topic that doesn’t seem to make many headlines.
How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump — MIT Tech Review
29 highlights — August 14, 2018
Following the 2009 Iranian Green Revolution on Twitter was what really got me obsessed with all things media. Needless to say, that early optimism has ceded a bit, but this Zeynep Tufekci contribution to the MIT Technology Review tells the story of social media’s societal impact (if these topics interest you, make sure to follow the Turkish UNC Chapel Hill professor on Twitter).