How an App Creates ‘Disturbingly Agile Millennial Thumbs’

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Isabella Kwai, a correspondent in Sydney, Australia, discussed the tech she’s using.

What are the most important tech tools for doing your job, and how do you use them?

At this point, my iPhone 6S is basically another limb. We don’t have desk phones in our bureau and everyone bounces around, so it pays to be as mobile as possible. I have Slack, Google Hangouts and the Google Docs app downloaded on my phone. I’ll also take pictures and videos to remind me of scenes when I’m reporting a feature. I’ll use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to both share our bureau’s stories and find potential ones.

It looks like Apple doesn’t even sell the iPhone 6S anymore. They want us to upgrade. But it’s been only a few years, so I refuse.

I still keep a notebook on hand that I’ll occasionally use. But to be honest, I have atrocious handwriting, and deciphering it is arduous. Instead, I use the Notes app. I find it easier to write up thoughts and notes that way — though once, it did freak out a source, who asked me how I was able to type and look her in the eye. (Disturbingly agile millennial thumbs is how.)

For reporting in the field, I had a Sony ICD-PX470 voice recorder with a built-in USB that was the slimmest, most unobtrusive device — until I dropped it on a recent assignment. I’m using the Voice Memos app for now until I can pick up a new one. The TapeACall app works for recording phone interviews. And after a few too many inventive attempts at finding power outlets, I always carry a Cygnett power bank.

My beloved battered laptop is a MacBook Air that does everything it needs to do. While trying to keep organized, I’ve been loving Google Keep lately as a to-do list, because it’s not too fussy. Wunderlist is another app I’d recommend for that.

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An advantage of Sony’s ICD-PX470 voice recorder is its slim, unobtrusive design.CreditKristoffer Paulsen for The New York Times
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Ms. Kwai’s iPhone 6S is a few years old, but she is resisting Apple’s marketing pressure to upgrade.CreditKristoffer Paulsen for The New York Times

My favorite Chrome extensions and Mac apps are Momentum for a dose of nature on my dashboard, OneTab for my crazy tab collection and Self Control, which bars access to Twitter, Facebook and any other time wasters for a set period. Sometimes you need technology to keep you from your basest instincts.

Also, I’d like to formally thank Lane 8’s deep house sets on SoundCloud for hauling me through long hours of writing. Please never stop making music.

Australia has a reputation for trying to limit transparency. And are there tech tools you’ve found that help to improve transparency?

The lack of transparency is more of a general suspicion from officials and people in the corporate sector about journalists. Questions for government officials or corporate executives are heavily filtered through publicists and communications people. It’s harder to get someone in a powerful position on the phone. Certain applications, statistics or reports are surprisingly difficult to find.

It just means having more conversations with different sources to try to get information. One handy trick I did learn is that you can click on the arrow next to a search engine result. It pulls up the previously published versions of the site, even if the current version of a website is down.

What tech do Australians love?

As long as it’s available here, we love many of the same apps and gadgets Americans do.

One thing that doesn’t exist here is Venmo, the peer-to-peer payments app, which I used to miss. But to make up for it, the apps for the major banks here are amazing — super easy to use, with built-in budgeting systems and pretty aesthetics. People use them to transfer money almost immediately from bank to bank.

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A Cygnett power bank is a constant companion, “after a few too many inventive attempts at finding power outlets.”CreditKristoffer Paulsen for The New York Times
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Ms. Kwai relies on the TapeACall app to record phone interviews.CreditKristoffer Paulsen for The New York Times

Also, because there’s so much natural beauty here, a fair few of my Australian friends seem to have drones or GoPro cameras and make travel videos for a hobby.

Another thing I’ve noticed, though it might not be isolated to Australia: For most people I’ve encountered in their 20s who use social media to document their lives, Facebook is pretty much dead. Every new person I meet asks to add me on Instagram now.

Amazon only recently arrived in Australia. Are Australians embracing it?

When I lived in the United States, Amazon Prime was practically a way of life. But it hasn’t quite taken off here in the same way. For me, it’s because the selection of products was limited until November, and shipping here has been slow and unreliable, so it hasn’t quite distinguished itself from Australian retailers.

I’ll still order the occasional clothing and electronics item online — but for everything else, I’ll go in person to browse the stores. That used to include books — until I got a Kindle for my birthday last year. I really hate to say it, but I love reading on it! If there’s one area Amazon is raking in my cash, it’s e-books.

Outside of work, what tech are you obsessed with, and why?

For personal budgeting, I’d really recommend the You Need a Budget app, which has a mysterious way of making saving money seem like a game. Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, helps me wind down. We even had a nice lunchtime meditation at the office together with it once — before a call from a publicist interrupted proceedings.

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