Times writer speaks on technology

After a well-received hour of humorous anecdotes and clever commentary, David Pogue ’85 found a way to end his Calhoun College Master’s Tea on an unexpected note. After an unsuspecting student asked if the former music major still composes, Pogue strutted over to the piano and belted out “The Bill Gates Song.”

Pogue, technology columnist for The New York Times, spoke about his unconventional career path and the future of technology to an audience that packed the Calhoun Master’s House. Known for the animated, humorous style of his articles and video podcasts, Pogue had the audience laughing frequently as he reflected on his years at Yale, Broadway and The Times.

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue ’85 addresses students at a Master’s Tea held at Calhoun College on Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Needham
New York Times technology columnist David Pogue ’85 addresses students at a Master’s Tea held at Calhoun College on Tuesday afternoon.

Pogue, who said he was known as a “musical theater nut” in college, took an unusual path to technology writing. After graduating, he moved to New York City pursue a career in musical theater on Broadway, working on what he described as “a series of flops,” including “Carrie” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

He had purchased his first computer in college, when Apple offered Macintosh computers at half-price to college students. He started to use composing software to write and duplicate his own orchestral scores, but quickly realized that the manuals for the applications were woefully inadequate. Other Broadway composers were soon coming to him for assistance.

Eventually, Pogue started writing software reviews for the New York Mac Users Group’s “The Mac Street Journal” because reviewers were allowed to keep the expensive music software they reviewed. His editor suggested he submit his writing to large computer magazines, which landed him a job writing for Macworld in 1988. In 2000, he said, The New York Times asked him if he was interested in writing a weekly tech column, and he has been working for the paper ever since.

Pogue said his lack of journalistic and technological training was an asset to his reviewing career, as he has continued to represent the “layman’s” perspective on technology. He is still entranced by the “magic” factor of new gadgets, such as the zoom-in and zoom-out feature on the iPhone.

But Pogue’s attitude has earned him his share of criticism from “mean” technology bloggers, he said, admitting that he has had trouble getting used to vicious online attacks.

Toward the end of his speech, Pogue referred to his popular YouTube video “iPhone: The Musical,” in which he set his own lyrics to the tune of “My Way” and a video of himself running around the Times office. Pogue said he received a note from Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, saying more people had watched the video online than had read any single issue of the print newspaper.

At the “Mobile Gadget Show and Tell” held after the Master’s Tea, Pogue discussed some of the trends he expects to see in future technologies. With the emergence of Internet phone service through VoIP — Voice over Internet Protocol — and Skype, land line telephone service will eventually become free, Pogue predicted.

In his slideshow, he talked about an array of upcoming products and services, such as GrandCentral.com, owned by Google, which allows a person to have one unified phone number for all of their phones, and a digital camera that uploads photos directly to Flickr, an online photo-sharing site. At the end of his presentation, he again sang a few technology-related songs, including “I Got YouTube,” “iTunes Man” and “RIAA,” to the tunes of “I Want It That Way,” “Piano Man” and “YMCA,” respectively.

Student reactions to the Master’s Tea were largely positive.

Peter Luehring-Jones ’09 said he was so excited for the event that he brought along his entire suite to hear Pogue speak.

Julie McComish ’10 came into the Master’s Tea expecting a more subdued speaker, more in line with the stereotype of a tech journalist.

“I was really surprised that a technology writer could be so engaging and humorous,” she said. “It was also interesting and refreshing to hear that he took such an indirect path toward his ultimate profession.”

Pogue was brought here under the auspices of the Poynter Fellowship, established in 1927 by Nelson Poynter with the goal of bringing distinguished reporters and others involved in the media to campus.

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