How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Daniel Victor, a reporter in Hong Kong who covers news in Asia and overnight news in the United States, discussed the tech he’s using.
What are your most important tech tools for doing your job?
My desktop assaults me with a terrible mess of information from far too many sources, and I like it almost as much as I hate it. To cope with that onslaught, or perhaps to enable it, I connect my MacBook Pro to two external monitors.
One is dedicated entirely to TweetDeck, which allows me to mainline Twitter in deeply unhealthy ways. When you open the Twitter app on your phone, you see a single column of tweets; now imagine you had 14 similar columns with individual, narrow focuses, all updating in real time. That’s what TweetDeck does for me, with custom lists I’ve created of news organizations, Hong Kong tweeters, my personal friends, Times journalists, and Philadelphia 76ers reporters and fans. It’s out of control.
But that’s not the only way I suffocate myself, as I almost always have several dozen tabs open in Google Chrome. When I’m feeling truly overwhelmed, I use the OneTab extension to close them all but produce a handy list of links to each page I just closed. It can be a lifesaver.
I still cover quite a bit of news in the United States, just from a different time zone, so my other tech needs are built around pretending I’m still there.
If your phone was ringing and you saw the call was from an unknown number in another country, would you pick up? Many of the sources I’m calling probably wouldn’t, I figure. Luckily, Google Voice allowed me to keep my American cellphone number — I can place free calls from Gmail on my desktop and it’ll show up on caller ID as the same central Pennsylvania number I’ve had for years.
I also encounter some crucial websites that are available only inside the United States. I use NordVPN, a virtual private network, to trick the websites into giving me access.
What have you noticed about the difference between the way people use tech in Hong Kong versus the United States?
SMS is no longer part of my life. Instead, WhatsApp is universally used here for texting, both by my friends and sources. This is very common almost everywhere outside the United States, I’ve learned, and I’ve had to talk many of my American friends into using it to keep in touch.
Hong Kong uses Octopus, a contactless card, for its subway system, and it can also be used at 7-Elevens and many restaurants. It’s very handy. I also find there are more businesses that take Apple Pay — I don’t use my physical credit card nearly as often as I used to.
There are a few things I wish I could have from back home. I deeply miss Venmo for settling small debts between friends, like a happy hour tab, and Google Maps has a nasty habit here of placing me about a block away from where I am, making it much less useful.
You recently covered some of the Hong Kong protests over the extradition law. How did marchers use tech?
The demonstrations thus far have been mostly leaderless — there’s no single person or organization deciding what comes next. Instead, they’re directly voting on what actions to take by participating in online discussion forums, the most popular one being LIHKG.
An individual will post with a suggested course of action, like protesting outside a specific building at a specific time. Other participants can upvote or downvote the post, and when a post gets enough attention, they solidify those plans.
They’ve also used messaging apps like Telegram to communicate those plans and organize logistics, but a lot of protesters are wary of it after the police arrested the administrator of a group that had 20,000 members. There’s a lot of fear that the government will use their digital footprint against them.
A lot of protesters also share important information through the AirDrop feature of iPhones. I was anonymously sent two images while covering a demonstration, and I’ve had friends report they’ve been dropped images while commuting on the train.
Another key difference is in how they have a far more hands-off approach to social media than any comparable effort in the United States would. Whereas a lot of demonstrations in the United States would be grist for selfies and Instagram-ready signs, protesters here are very concerned the government could identify their faces in photos and later charge them with crimes. Many hide behind surgical masks and would never post evidence of themselves taking part. They discourage people, even news photographers, from taking photos where faces are identifiable. It’s not built for gaining likes, and they trust exposure will come through the larger messaging.
You have been learning Cantonese. What apps and online programs have helped with that?
Since I’m still awful at it, I use an app called Hong Kong Taxi Cards to show taxi drivers an image with my desired address written in Cantonese.
Pleco is handy for quick translations, and includes audio files so I can come close to getting the pronunciation right. Google Translate has been pretty handy for audio translations whenever I travel.
Outside of work, what’s your favorite tech gadget or app and what do you use it for?
I love One Second Everyday, an app that will cobble together a video of one-second snippets. I found it a great way to smash together a year’s worth of memories when I wrote about using it in 2015, and I’m doing it again this year to document my first year in Hong Kong. I may annoy my friends by taking videos every time we’re together, but it’ll be worth it.
Can you please bid us adieu in Cantonese?
Bai baai! (It sounds just like bye-bye.)