As tech and business reporters at BuzzFeed News, we love consuming stuff. This year, our obsessions weren't limited to the buzziest new gadgets (we recommend LAST year’s iPhone, and the Facebook Portal is conspicuously absent from this list). We were also into all sorts of new apps, fun social media accounts, productivity hacks, and even just ways to…disconnect from technology. (Reading books! Doing jigsaw puzzles!) And yes, we also enjoyed weed vape pens.
Here are all the things that the BuzzFeed Tech and Business team tried this year and wholeheartedly recommends.
1. Customizing my PopSockets to show my cats’ faces — $15 each
I don’t need to go into all the ways that PopSockets greatly improve your life; my colleague Katie has already done that, naming it as her favorite tech thing of 2017 and talking about it nonstop all of last year. (I should know. I sit next to her in the BuzzFeed newsroom.)
Long story short, Katie convinced me too, but I took it a step even further by customizing my PopSockets with my cats’ faces. This is an easy thing. You basically take a picture of your beloved pet (or pets), photoshop out the background, and head over to the PopSocket “customizer” page. A pair cost me only $30. And you can switch out the design by popping off the top, so both Laser Beam and Vivienne get play on my phone.
Yes, this is something I show off to people at parties, frequently and obnoxiously. But now you can be that person too! Also, I’m planning to get a friend of ours a customized PopSocket with the face of his girlfriend on it as a prank Christmas gift. It’s gonna be great.
I don't get why people like PopSockets. They are extremely uncool and bulky. Since I have a deep-seated fear of developing iPhone claw hand and a long history of dropping my phone and shattering screens (my claim to fame is that Bella Hadid and I go to the same screen repair place), I needed to find something that allowed me to hold my phone with my fingers but wasn't totally lame. I noticed that my friend's cool German mom was using a sleek iPhone strap at dinner one night, and I ordered one on Amazon for $2.50 less than a standard PopSocket. It lays completely flat and is the perfect size for my middle and ring finger. While I hear that PopSockets constantly break, my sturdy phone strap has never failed me. One time, a stranger on the subway asked me where I got it! I am a trendsetter.
The thing everyone asks me when I wear my computer glasses is: Do those things work? Well, if by “work,” you mean, “Do they make me look smart and cool?” — then yes. They work great. Do they actually do anything to protect my eyes from blue light? Idk, the science is fuzzy here.
I’ve been blessed with perfect vision, and I don’t need prescription glasses of any kind. But I’ve also been cursed with looking great in glasses! What’s a gal like me to do? Wearing fake glasses with no prescription is embarrassing; it’s something a mall emo teen would do. Computer glasses allow me all the glory of wearing “real” glasses without any visual impairment requirements!
The only downside is they have a slight blue tint, which makes them look different from actual glasses. But it’s probably not that noticeable, so I’m able to walk around looking like a certified genius while still maintaining my idiot lifestyle.
There are fancier versions of these glasses, and maybe those lenses actually do a better job of protecting your eyes. But I was in the market for something cheap, and Amazon had lots of styles under $25. I got a second pair for about $15 in pink plastic frames as well.
I'm 46 and, frankly, I don't want to get too high. Or arrested. Or smoke dope that's been treated with something I use to drive my Honda. I don't want to get blasted or brain-hammered. I have shit to do! But every once in a while I do like to, you know, take the edge off of life?
This is why I like the Dosist pen vape. It's a self-contained oil vaporizer that delivers a measured dose of THC and CBD as you inhale, and then vibrates to let you know to stop. There are various "formulas" with different THC to CBD ratios, and other terpenes, designed to deliver specific types of highs. (I like Bliss.) It's also reusable. When empty, you can bring it back to a store that sells them for a $5 deposit. Plus it's available from various on-demand delivery services, such as Eaze, so you can have it at your door within about 10 minutes of deciding you need to, uh, unwind. Not bad!
5. Infinite content feeds that aren’t social media — various prices
2018 was the year I embraced the continuous scroll and the back catalogue. Long live the podcast feed, the extended playlist, and the audiobook. There were too many moments in 2017 when I was browsing Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and asked myself, “What am I doing here? How have two hours passed? Is this why I can’t finish a book?” or exclaimed, “Holyshiteverythingissobad!” I was receding-hairline-deep in inane and stressful content, a condition that only encouraged stress and self-loathing. I needed a change.
So did I really listen to two years’ worth of Who? Weekly, a gossip podcast about C-list celebrities? The alternative was reading more Twitter takes about how and why the Russia investigation wound torturously on, so you fucking bet I did! Did I stream Abba’s entire discography on Spotify? It distracted me from the hellfires shrouding my apartment in ash, so I sure did! Was listening to 37 hours of The Brothers Karamazov's intellectual Russian family drama better than clicking on three gay thirst trap accounts in a row? YES.
Tabs. I tend to have a lot of them. As of writing this, I have 67 open across six windows, and many I don’t even remember clicking. There’s that big New York Times exposé on Donald Trump’s tax schemes, which I got halfway through before I was probably distracted by something dumb and meaningless on Twitter. There’s a friend’s 10,000-word essay I promised myself I’d read eventually. And there are three tabs of stale Twitter feeds I forgot to exit out of.
Tabs are the most obvious byproduct of my internet attention deficit disorder, the online exoskeletons of things my addled mind was interested in for about 10 minutes until a new shiny notification fluttered across my screen. Compared to others, my problem is probably mild. A colleague, whom I’ll leave unnamed, confided to me the other day that he had 2,193 tabs that he’s archived with an online tool. [Editor's note: BuzzFeed News does NOT endorse Ryan’s tab strategy; it will slow your computer to a crawl.]
I have yet to download a tab manager — it’d probably just feed my habit — but I have found something else to cope with my issue. Audm, an iPhone app, streams audio read aloud by professional narrators of longform articles from outlets including the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and BuzzFeed News. Priced comparably with a newspaper or magazine subscription at $7.99 a month, Audm is perfect for long commutes and vacation road trips. Stories, of which there are more than 1,000 on the app, run anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, and they sound exactly like a well-done audiobook. The content is also surprisingly fresh, with releases timed to magazine publication dates or within a few days of a story appearing online.
While the app is buggy (it takes a full minute to load and crashes about three times before I can get a working stream), it's worth the wait. It’s transformed my morning train rides from a constant refreshing of Twitter, email, and Slack to one where I’m able to catch up on a subject I actually wanted to read about, a distraction from the distractions. And the best part is, when I get to work, I’m finally able to X out of one those tabs that I forgot about a few months ago.
7. @_personals_ Instagram
I spend way too many nights scrolling through Instagram until I finally fall asleep. Some of my favorite posts are the ads on @_personals_, an Instagram-based dating community for queers. The account is inspired by old-school newspaper personals, and it's so damn good.
The way it works: The small group running the account holds an open call for ad submissions and asks for a $5 donation. Throughout that month, the account posts the ads, including a cute emoji and the submitter's Instagram handle so interested people can get in touch.
Here’s a sampling of the ads:
And all of this was posted just in the last week! I was introduced to this account to expand my dating options. But now I mainly read this account for the prose.
8. Dark Mode
For the last few months, my world has been dark. It started when Apple added a new feature in the latest version of its Mac operating system that switches all menus and other parts of the user interface to blacks and grays. This makes it easier to look at your computer at night or in a dark room without squinting. Eventually I got so used to the look that all bright colors on any screen made my eyes hurt.
Fortunately, more and more tech companies seem to be building a “Dark Mode” into their products, and I’ve since switched to it on all the apps I use the most: on Instapaper to catch up on my reading, on Twitter when I’m scrolling through my timeline for hours, on the Kindle app to read books, on YouTube, and on Reddit, which added it earlier this year. Last week, I installed Dark Reader, a Chrome extension that makes all web pages dark by default, and a dark theme for Chrome that makes the browser’s tabs jet black.
Most of us can’t help being chained to our screens for unhealthy amounts of time each day, but turning on dark mode wherever possible is a tiny luxury we should all indulge in.
For most of my life, hearing people talk about meditation would conjure up New Age visions of crossed legs and om-ing and marathon stretches of Nirvana-achieving trances. From afar, it seemed like an activity that required endless hours of devotion — more like a way of life than a healthy hobby. So to say I was extremely skeptical of app-based meditation would've been an understatement. At worst, it sounded like a scam; at best, a bastardization of a sacred kind of ritual.
I was wrong. A friend introduced me to Headspace after a conversation we had about productivity — specifically, how I'd found it nearly impossible to focus and structure my days without jumping haphazardly from tab to tab in my browser. And how I'd end even my best days feeling frazzled, detached, and legitimately unsure of what I'd just accomplished. On their advice, I bought myself a year's subscription in order to incentivize actually creating a routine. I chose the Basics tutorial and tried a couple of five-minute sessions.
Unsurprisingly for a mindfulness app, the introduction to meditation is very calming and gentle. I learned that I'd been mostly wrong about the entire practice — devoting just 10 or 20 minutes a day (or whenever you have some downtime) can pay dividends quickly and improve focus. And the app — despite some corny animations — is full of guided, unguided, and semi-guided sessions that you can tailor to your day (helping to fall asleep, unwinding at the end of the day, focus before or after a workout, or just taking a breather).
I'm still no guru and I'll admit I've struggled to sit down with Headspace reliably every day. But when I do, it's immediately satisfying and is maybe the only thing on my phone that makes me feel good. The app-based part, of which I'd been so skeptical, is actually the part I find most essential in that it helps me take a few minutes for myself during random bits of downtime. It’s technology that introduces a little friction and reflection into my life, and for that I'm thankful.
10. /remind command in Slack
You can set a bot to remind you of anything by just typing a command. It’s like having a personal assistant in the future, and it’s great for someone like me, who never leverages to-do lists or calendars to their full potential. You can set these reminders hours, days, or even weeks in advance by just typing a command. So for example, if I know I need to mail something when I get to work but am afraid I’ll forget to take it out of my backpack, I just set a Slack reminder for about 10 minutes after I expect to arrive at the office, and it reminds me to do it!
11. Cutting the cord — Savings: $125.79/month
I can't believe how long I let my cable company pump cash from my bank account. The last time I got a bill from Spectrum was in March. It was $208.26 for a "Triple Play" bundle: allegedly "fast and reliable" internet, cable (with HBO and DVR), and a fucking landline that I never even bothered to get a phone for. This package, according to a dubious customer service rep, was inexplicably cheaper than just ordering internet and cable separately without the unused landline, and it was the lowest price they could offer me, a customer of 10 years. Shit, right? The point had clearly arrived in my life when I had to decide whether I was willing to pay $2,499.12 a year to mindlessly flip through a-hundred-something channels when I was too bored to do anything else. But lame habits die hard, and it was comforting to know that I could always pull up some channel playing Friends reruns at the end of a long day. After painstakingly convincing my husband that he'd still have access to his precious, vital, life-sustaining ESPN through any number of streaming services, we made the irreversible leap to the land of the cordless, and my GOD, it has been wonderful.
We rebuilt our media habitat like this:
- An internet-only account on Verizon for $42.48 per month
- The cheapest Sling TV subscription (it has my essentials like CNN, Comedy Central, HGTV, BBC America for those great animal series, and TBS for Friends reruns, as well as ESPN for hubby) for $25 per month, and it came with a free Roku
- An HBO Now account that's $14.99 per month
We also got a digital antenna for $14.99 plus tax, a one-time cost. There's less content, but there hasn't been a microsecond when I thought, Man, there's not enough to watch. In fact, I might even say the quality of my media consumption has slightly improved since we cut the cord, as there are fewer channels that lure me into hours of accidental, regretful viewing. My programming has become more intentional. And the Roku universe is full of apps for free content like YouTube (and, ahem, BuzzFeed) and PBS Kids for my toddler. The free Roku Channel also has a boatload of free movies — not new releases, but stuff like Brooklyn, The Fighter, Spaceballs, and Braveheart: things you might have previously watched on DVD.
So I went from paying $208.26 per month to veg out with my TV to paying $82.47 to veg out with my TV. I am a step closer to entertainment enlightenment, my friends. As for the math: I'm saving $125.79 a month; which adds up to $1,509.48 per year! I intend on taking my family on a low-key getaway with this money, which is definitely going to be more memorable than 200 hours of MTV. I know people will ask "But what about DVR?" (it's an extra $5 a month on Sling) and "Won't all the streaming services you get to replace cable add up?" (it depends entirely on what you need, but a lot of my friends who have cable are ALSO paying for HBO or Netflix or Hulu already, so we're possibly all oversubscribed). If there are cable-only programs that really add value to your life, then by all means, keep the cord and stay happy — I've just found that isn't the case for me.
It's possible that one day we'll all be so dependent on cordless services that they will find ways to force customers to subscribe to bloated media packages. But for now, what's not to love?
12. Buying last year’s model iPhone X (256GB edition) – $710
This year, I decided to switch from my Android back to an iPhone. I fly a lot to visit my parents in the Philippines, so I loved the cheap, convenient international coverage my Pixel’s Google’s Project Fi offered me ($10 per 1GB of data plus $20 for unlimited calls and texts!). But I missed the easy compatibility of the iPhone with other gadgets in my home, like my finicky Vizio soundbar.
But another difficult decision awaited me because 2018 was the year when choosing an iPhone became confusing as hell. The new iPhone XR’s upgrades were minimal compared to last year’s X, but the phone got wildly more expensive. So I got a used iPhone X (for a great deal, I might add) on the website Swappa.
My colleague Nicole Nguyen convinced me to make this call in her (excellent) iPhone XR review. Basically, a used iPhone X checks all the boxes in terms of positive qualities: It’s small-hand-friendly, has a super high-res screen, extra zoom, portrait mode, and is less than $1,000 to boot.
And hey, I was glad to hear some year-end 2018 news that aligns well with my choice: In November, Google renamed Project Fi to “Google Fi,” and announced that it would soon support a lot more phones, including my iPhone X. Huzzah!
13. @girlshredclips Instagram
Back when I was a little girl living in the middle of nowhere and roaming around my rural town (population: 125) on my skateboard, I couldn't have imagined that there were other girls who liked skating as much as I did. Anything I ever found online or in Thrasher magazine featured boys. Yes, there was occasionally Elissa Streamer, generally considered to be the first woman skater to go pro, and there were always bikini babes... but I couldn't relate much to Ms. Streamer (more badass than I could ever hope to be), and I certainly was not a bikini babe. I never saw another skater like me (which is maybe not a surprise, considering how rarely I saw other people at all back then).
Now I'm a grown woman in a big city and skating less often than I used to, but my heart skips a beat anytime a post from @girlshredclips, @meowskateboards, or @skatelikeagirlsfbay pops up on my Instagram feed. Holy shit, these girls can shred.
Some are just little kids, some are my age, some are moms. Although they all skate better than me, I can see myself in them — past, present, and future — and it delights me to think that skater girls growing up in 2018 have plenty of relatable examples to keep in mind whenever some dude tells them that they're posers. Yes, the internet can be a facilitator of chaos; Instagram and the other social media platforms can sometimes make you feel like you have a garbage life. But lady skater Instagram accounts bring me joy every day. (Pro tip: Unfollow people who make you feel bad about yourself; follow a few women who shred instead.)
14. Soundprint — free
When I go to a bar, I want to be able to hang out with friends and just, you know, talk to them at a normal human volume. But many food and drink establishments are so dang loud that you end up gesturing at, instead of conversing with, people. That’s why I am very into the free Soundprint app, which is only available for iOS but also has a website version. Soundprint publishes a list of quiet places in major cities, including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.
The Soundprint app shows you an average noise rating in decibels of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops near you. The app calculates the rating based on “SoundCheck” submissions from users who allow the app to access their iPhone’s microphone to measure how loud the environment is. According to the app, a red rating (over 81 decibels) means a place is so loud that long exposure can cause hearing loss — and there are over a dozen establishments within a square mile of our office that fit that profile! Anyway, if you, like me, are a grumpy curmudgeon, this app is great if you want to find a quiet place to chat.
The best thing to happen to my cat in 2018 was Mousr, a small, wheeled, AI robo-mouse he has embraced in a Milo and Otis kind of way — if Otis was a cat toy and Milo was a cat hellbent on its destruction. This is in no way an exaggeration. My cat has developed an almost pathological addiction to "Mr. Roboto," which uses a small array of cameras, a "time-of-flight" sensor, and some other whiz-bang tech to convince him that it's an actual mouse. Watching my cat playing with Mousr is like watching one of those slow-motion YouTube videos of cheetahs surprise-attacking gazelles. My cat talks to Mousr — with those same sinister chattering, chirping cat-sounds that typically signal imminent murder. My cat drags Mr. Roboto off its charging station when it’s recharging. This has become such a problem that we recently moved the charging station to the top of an armoire. The other night we heard a small crash downstairs. A few minutes later, our cat came upstairs proudly dragging Mr. Roboto by one of its custom tail attachments. He mewled at us until I pulled out a phone and fired up the app, which allows for both autonomous (wander, wall-hugger, and stationary) and remote control modes. Then he stalked, captured, and mercilessly beat the absolute shit out of it (donkey kick!). Happy kitty. Mousr retails for $149, which is outrageously expensive for a cat toy. But we are probably going to invest in one anyway (ours is a loaner); frankly, I'm not sure there's any other option. My cat would kill me.
Instagram is by far the app I am most addicted to — sometimes I'll be scrolling through it, close the app, look around, and mechanically reopen it like some kind of zombie. I have the timer set to 20 minutes, which means I get the alert that it's time to stop basically every day, sometimes even first thing in the morning! But even though the pop-up message usually makes me stick my tongue out at my phone and roll my eyes, it does break the spell and remind me to do something more useful with my time, like practice Italian on Duolingo. It's not a cure-all, but it's a nudge in the right direction in a world where software is almost always nudging you in the wrong direction.
You move into an apartment and you get a couch, kitchenware, your bed. But after all those basics are set? An essential upgrade is filling your home with sound. In the continuing hellscape year that was 2018, there was one thing I realized could shift my mood in a small but significant way: playing whatever jam I was currently obsessed with on my Sonos One.
Sure, you can just blast your fave song loudly on your laptop, which I used to do. But then I decided I was going to be the grown-ass 30-year-old woman I am and splurged on a nice-sounding speaker. I went with Sonos because it’s the wireless speaker brand that’s widely known for high-quality sound. Against the wishes of my boyfriend, I bought a Sonos One, a speaker that integrates with voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. My boyfriend is freaked out by the idea of an always-on mic listening for a wake word. When I brought the Sonos home, I left the mic deactivated for weeks after setting it up — but I liked to know the option to use Alexa was there if I wanted it.
Then one day… I turned it on. I didn’t tell my boyfriend, I just set up the Sonos One with Alexa when he wasn’t around, and started talking to her. Whenever he came by, I pretended I was still committed to a life lived free of voice commands. But eventually, when we were talking about some song, I just blurted out: “Alexa. Play [song].”
Look, that first reveal wasn’t pleasant, but now my boyfriend has totally come around and yells at Alexa too. “What’s the weather?” “What time is it?” “Play [podcast].” My best troll is commanding Alexa to read an excerpt of an Atavist story he wrote a few years back out loud. He narrated it, so his voice comes through the speakers; you’ve never seen anyone shout, “Alexa, STOP!” so fast.
There are times when the speaker conks out and refuses to respond to me, but you know what? It’s a lot more fun having the thing in my apartment than not. And yeah, to a certain extent, my boyfriend and I have both warmed up to having a voice-activated gadget. The Sonos One is the first and last one I’ll be getting for my home, though. I promise, Joseph.
Hosted by Jane Marie, The Dream dives into the multilevel-marketing schemes that have overrun social media. MLMs like Herbalife, Mary Kay, and Amway have been around for a while, but a whole slew of weird new female-friendly ones that sell essential oils or athletic leggings have popped up recently. I’m fascinated by the role the internet has played in their explosion. The podcast talks to people who have been burned and lost money from these schemes. It also dives into the history of how MLMs came to be so popular over the last 50 years, and how the government has failed to rein them in. My favorite episodes are when a producer signs up for a cosmetic MLM and we get to see the details of just how it tricks the sellers into buying the product, losing money outright, and selling within a closed system.
19. 2013 MacBook Pro — around $500 on eBay
I'm a sucker for shiny new gadgets, but my favorite piece of tech this year was my five-year-old MacBook Pro. It's a late 2013 model with a 13-inch display and middling innards, and it's been the workhorse I have relied on for everything from live-blogging Apple events to reporting from remote corners of the country.
OK, so it's got some spots across the screen. The battery only runs about five hours before it needs to be plugged in. The spaces between the keys are grubby from the time I spilled tea into the keyboard and never quite managed to get the stains out completely (I let the laptop dry and it still worked like a champ!). And one of the speaker grills is bent from the time I banged it on my bed when I was annoyed with someone on the internet.
But I wouldn't trade this for anything else, not even for one of Apple's modern laptops that are thinner, lighter, sexier, pricier, and full of frills like a Touch Bar that nobody asked for or keyboards that can be destroyed by a single speck of dust.
As long as I can stream Netflix and browse the web without Chrome grinding to a halt, my old Macbook Pro is all I need.
Biking to work is awesome. You don’t have to be face-to-armpit against complete strangers on the bus. You get a little work out. It’s good for the environment, too! What’s not awesome is how dangerous biking on crowded city streets are. I was constantly yelling, “HEY, AHGGHBLERGH” after getting cut off by drivers or pummeled by Uber/Lyft passengers that don’t look over their shoulders before opening the car door.
That is, until I got this rad bell (lol, yes — a RAD BELL) called Spurcycle. It was a birthday gift, which I highly recommend, because at $49, it’s certainly pricier than other bike bells. I like this bell because it’s really small, but it rings very loudly, for an absurdly long time. If you don’t believe me, believe the thousands of people that backed this on Kickstarter in 2013, because they too were into loud little bike bells.
The ring isn’t obnoxious, like a car alarm. It’s nice, and using it is a really lovely way to tell cars, pedestrians, and ride-hail passengers “I’M HERE!!” without having to shout “I’M HERE!!”
21. Shortcut to creating a new Google Doc
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until just recently, until after I saw someone tweet about it. As someone who primarily works in Google Docs — I use it for all my note-taking and writing — I open new docs all the time!
The shortcut lets you skip all the usual clicks required to open a new doc. Instead, you just type this URL: http://docs.new. But even that’s not really convenient enough. So I dragged it onto my bookmarks bar, and now I have a handy button right in the middle of my browser for NEW DOC.
22. Wireless charging pad — $4
I got my wireless charger in the most discount scenario possible: on a Sunday evening as the Black Friday weekend sales entered their desperate final hours, in a Neiman Marcus outlet store where everything was 40% off, fished out of a giant bin of extra, extra discounted garbage positioned near the registers. It was four levels deep into an Inception-style discount world, it’s some no-brand piece of suspiciously light and hollow junk, and it ended up costing like four bucks. It was the best thing I bought in 2018.
The reason why is pretty simple: The first time you just put your phone down on the table and watch it begin charging — without any plugging in or fiddling around with a cable — is a legitimately magical experience. It’s one of those moments when a thing finally works the way you always wanted it to work, even if you didn’t know you wanted it to work that way. Think of the first time you experienced a real touchscreen phone — i.e., the first time you played with an iPhone — or the first time you put in your AirPods and experienced headphones the correct way.
It’s not a coincidence that both those examples were Apple products — while the company doesn’t tend to be the first to market with a new technology, it’s typically the first to bring a good version to market. There were crappy touchscreen Nokias years before the iPhone, and Bluetooth headphones have been a thing since those dorky headsets people were wearing in the early 2000s. They were all junk, and then Apple made the Correct Thing.
Maybe that’s what’s going on with wireless chargers now, because hardly anybody seems to be using them, despite them being pretty good. Apple seems to have completely screwed up in its attempts to launch its own extremely fancy one (and maybe given up entirely?) and the result is that the market lacks a certain halo of Apple approval and encouragement. But don’t let that stop you! Even my $4 piece of crap is *fantastic*, and everyone should have a wireless charging pad sitting on their desk at work and their bedside table at home.
Start by buying the cheapest one possible to get a feel for how they work; because they don’t need to pay the Apple tax levied on anything with a Lightning connector, they’re wildly cheap — cheaper than all but the cheapest regular iPhone charging cables. Here’s a probably-perfectly-fine Anker wireless charger for $12 — the same price as a six-foot Lightning cable from Amazon Basics. What are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose but your chains.
23. Band Memes on Instagram
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to go ahead and guess you might have been not the coolest person in your high school (no offense). Perhaps you were even like me and played in the middle school or high school band — if so, these memes will be very relatable. I have found myself strangely overjoyed to find extremely niche relatable memes that are mostly made by and for high school students, but that I, an adult, can enjoy as well. This year, I joined an adult community concert band, and I’ve been so happy to play the bassoon in a group setting again. It also gives me an excuse to revive “playing in band” as part of my Personal Brand. And as part of my Personal Brand, I deserve to enjoy these wholesome memes.
I love Apple's AirPods wireless earbuds. I think they're among the company's best products and a reminder that Apple still has the chops to inspire that "sense of childlike wonder” that Steve Jobs used to talk about. Problem is, I no longer use them. For whatever reason — my overly large head, my poorly designed auricles, a shitty external auditory meatus — I have difficulty keeping my AirPods in my ears, or getting the type of fit that delivers good sound. I do not have this problem with Master & Dynamic's MW07 True Wireless Earphones. They have detachable “Silicone Fit Wings,” which slot them securely into my outer ear, and they sound fucking fantastic. In fact, they are by far the best-sounding buds I’ve used. And they’d better be because they cost $299 (double Airpods’ $149). This is perhaps because they feature “custom 10mm high-performance Beryllium drivers,” are cloaked in “handcrafted acetate,” and come with a hefty stainless steel charging case (14 hours of additional charge) that might break a toe were you to drop it on one. I don’t need or care about any of those things. But as a big-headed, recovering audiophile, I am happy to pay for them if it means my earbuds will stay in my ears and reliably play “Master of Puppets” into them with solid sonic accuracy.
In August, my wife, my dog, and I spent a weekend with friends in a rental cabin in New York’s Hudson River Valley. We planned on hiking the whole time, so of course it rained for two days straight. The options inside were limited to books, conversation, and wine — good enough for the Greeks, but not for me. I ransacked the cabinets. Scrabble, been there. Monopoly, done that. Then, at the back of the bottom shelf, I spied it: a jigsaw puzzle. And not any jigsaw puzzle, but a 1,000-piece warhorse from the bad boys at Ravensburger. When completed, “The Sanctuary of Knowledge” depicts an old couple reading by the fire in a cavernous Baroque library as fairies fly around them. (I took the fairies to be a metaphor for the magic of reading.) I’m like any other tech-addled thirtysomething (i.e., delayed gratification averse) but something about this wee old couple and their whimsical retirement made me want to dump the box out and get to work. So I did! — to the polite ambivalence of my friends.
I didn’t finish it. I got about a quarter of the way there and then we had to leave. But those few hours I spent matching shades of brown for the inlays on the vaulted shelves felt, I don’t know, therapeutic? Meditative? Purposeful? The puzzle didn’t come with an app or a leaderboard; it didn’t want to know anything about me or my friends; it couldn’t tell me the weather. Instead, it drew my mind and my fingers into a soothing little loop, never popping up with notifications, never leading me to other puzzles that secretly advocate for fascism, always with a discrete ending in sight. Good for me! I thought at the time, the completion of one-fourth of a moderately challenging puzzle was proof that there was still some gray matter left between the internet-sized holes in my brain. Bully for puzzles!
I ordered “The Sanctuary of Knowledge” on the car ride home. I’m saving it for a rainy day.