For years, Danah Boyd has been watching the internet through an academic lens, studying how society interacts with technology. Her recent book, It's Complicated, looks at how teenagers, born into an online world, are navigating social media and whether they're better off for it.
Danah's resume is, to put it mildly, impressive — she is the Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. There's more — she is also the founder of a think tank called the Data & Society Research Institute. And, yes, that's how she chooses to spell her name.
Location: NYC when possible. (All too often, on the road.) Current Gig: Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and Founder/President of Data & Society Research Institute One word that best describes how you work: Intensely Current mobile device: My primary phone is an iPhone, but I despise the device. I only use it because it's how I can test out apps in development. I really really really miss my Sidekick. Current computer: I have two laptops — one is a MacBook Air and the other is a Lenovo.
What apps/software/tools can't you live without? Why?
I spend most of my device time in mail clients (Mail and Outlook) and I rely heavily on my psychotic procmail file which allows me to obsessively filter how my mail is handled.
Twitter is still my social media of choice. I'm a huge New York Times junkie which means that I consume it in various app forms as well as in the browser. I also am a heavy user of Kindle, both the app and the device. I share photos with family through Flickr, although their redesign has rendered the app pretty useless to me. I experiment with lots of apps, but use none as obsessively as I use Twitter.
What's your workspace setup like?
Right now, I'm in limbo. Data & Society is looking for a permanent home and when we have that, I can't wait to create a working environment that will work for me, but right now, I eke out space where I can. Annoyingly, I need silence to really think and write which makes coffee shops and most co-working spaces very difficult for me to function in. I can do email nearly anywhere and since that's a bulk of my life these days, I'm always sitting with my laptop in odd places.
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
For me, it's not about time saving as much as it is about making sure I have time to recharge. For this reason, I take an email sabbatical each year (which is also pretty much a break from the internet as a whole). During this period, I shock people by not allowing my inbox to receive emails. I have a serious process by which I go about this so that I don't screw anyone over. I don't simply turn off my email — I ritualistically close down commitments with collaborators before leaving on holiday. For a detailed description of what I do, see here.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I do everything through Evernote through a mechanism of nested to-dos and collaborative to-dos. I've never liked the formal managers. I really want to have control over how my to-do list looks and feels and how I structure it and Evernote gives me that paper feel while still being networked and accessible from anywhere.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
Probably my Kindle. I read a lot. I collect physical books and I love reading from the paper version. But I also like reading books on the Kindle. When I'm at the gym, the Kindle fits nicely on the machine stand. When I'm travelling, it's light in my bag. When I'm in bed, it has a nice backlight that doesn't keep others awake. And when I'm walking around town, it syncs to the audiobook version. I'm one of those weird people who often buys books in three forms — paper, kindle, and audio. And I move between them frequently. I rarely read a book in just one format (and usually because it's only available in one format).
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
To be honest, I'm probably not. I pride myself on being excellent at my work and average at daily activities. I focus my time on my work, my partner, and my son and do the bare minimum on everything else.
What do you listen to while you work?
I often need silence to work, although when I'm really in the writing groove, I go back to old psytrance (primarily Son Kite) or calmer electronic (e.g., Dr. Toast) because I heavily associate that music with writing. When I'm with my son, we spend time dancing to jazz or popular female vocalists. And when I'm alone or in the car, I'll sing off-key to Ani DiFranco whose lyrics still make me feel at home.
What are you currently reading?
Today, I moved between two books: a draft copy of Frank Pasquale's upcoming book The Black Box Society and Heather Paxson's The Life of Cheese. The former is a phenomenal accounting of the politics of algorithms, while the latter is a science and technology studies analysis of contemporary labour through the practice or artisanal cheese-making.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I used to be a huge extrovert, gaining all sorts of energy from people. But as my work has become more intense and more about engaging with people, I find myself much more of an introvert personally. The other factor in all of this is that I'm a geek and I was always comfortable in geek zones but I find myself having to navigate non-geek environments much more these days (both personally and professionally) and those drain me much more than geek contexts.
What's your sleep routine like?
I used to be a late night person, but I now have an adorable alarm clock that cries for my attention at 6AM which has forced me to go to bed much earlier than I'd like. It's rare that I'm up past midnight these days and quite common for me to be asleep by 10:30 or 11. My younger self would be horrified.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Focus on what's happening right now. The older I get, the more easy it is to have my attention fragmented and so I'm constantly remembering an old mentor's advice to be present above all else, whether I'm with my son or in a meeting or working on a project. It's hard and I'm constantly having to check myself, but it's something that I try to achieve.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
I live and breathe by being attentive to others. These days, I get more email and more requests that I can possibly manage which pains me immensely because I want to be responsive to all who take the time to engage with me. And I want to say yes to those who want me to speak. But I sadly can't. And so I struggle regularly with how to give attention and maintain my own sanity and balance. I find this is harder and harder each year, but the worst thing in my mind would be to become a flake. So I hold myself to unacceptable standards and then feel constantly behind.
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.