Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 135: India’s WhatsApp-ocalypse; the Ascent of Fortnite; Year’s Best Fail

Edition 135 of my email newsletter went out a few weeks back.

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Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

💬 1) By me in The WSJ: Think American Elections Are Bad? Indian Voters Get 1,000 Texts a Day [WSJ] — A story with my colleagues about how political parties in India are turning WhatsApp into a potent communications weapon. The opening few grafs:

For Gurupad Kolli, a 40-year-old lawyer who lives in a remote Indian village, the torrent of WhatsApp messages surging to his phone a few weeks ago meant one thing: election day was near.

They’re at turns strident, angry, buoyant, informative, misleading, gripping and confusing, he says. Some days he received as many as 1,000 of them through the popular messaging service. Pleased to no longer “depend on the mass media like newspapers,” the resident of Ramapur village in the southern state of Karnataka nonetheless also conceded “there’s so much false and fake news going around.”

He isn’t alone in his bewilderment. The rapidly falling cost of smartphones and mobile data in the world’s second-most-populous nation has turbocharged the spread of WhatsApp, where it is growing far faster than other social media and messaging platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

🥚 2) By me on my blog: Delhi Snapshot: Transporting Eggs [] — Delhi traffic is no joke. I snapped a pic of perhaps the coolest customer in all of this teeming metropolis.

✏️ 3) You Can Draw, and Probably Better Than I Can [] — Not new, but new to me: an inspiring 2011 post from the late film critic Roger Ebert on the pleasures of drawing and the risks of perfectionism. Just doing the sketching, and not worrying about getting every little detail right, is crucial — and something I always struggle with as I continue by own drawing and watercolor painting, since accuracy is so central to my day job. (Via Austin Kleon.)

🎮 4) Tech longread of the week: How Fortnite Captured Teens’ Hearts and Minds [New Yorker] — Nick Paumgarten has the crazy stats:

Released last September, it is right now by many measures the most popular video game in the world. At times, there have been more than three million people playing it at once. It has been downloaded an estimated sixty million times.

And the wider significance:

Game fads come and go: Rubik’s Cube, Dungeons & Dragons, Angry Birds, Minecraft, Clash of Clans, Pokémon Go. What people seem to agree on, whether they’re seasoned gamers or dorky dads, is that there’s something new emerging around Fortnite, a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before.

👂 5) We Made a Tool So You Can Hear Both Yanny and Laurel [NY Times] — Obligatory entry about this week’s internet “controversy.” TLDR: Your interpretation depends on the frequencies you hear.

💊 6) My Adventures with the Trip Doctors [NY Times Magazine] — Last week I pointed to Michael Pollan’s WSJ essay adapted from his new book about promising new research into psychedelics. He’s back with another piece, this one looking at the therapists working underground to treat patients.

🗣️ 7) What Google isn’t telling us about its AI demo [Axios] — Remember that bit I mentioned last week about Google showcasing new tech in which an artificial intelligence system carried on a real-life conversation with unwitting participants? Google won’t say if the audio was edited, Axios’s Dan Primack reports.

⛵ 8) This Armada of Saildrones Could Conquer the Ocean [Bloomberg Businessweek] — A fascinating profile (with cool visuals) by Ashlee Vance of Richard Jenkins, whose vision is to launch 1,000 seafaring robots for tasks like collecting scientific data and prospecting for oil and gas.

⚡ 9) Headline of the week: Motorised shed hits 100mph to break speed record at Pendine Sands [BBC News] — Hats off to 53-year-old Kevin Nicks, from England, for this spectacularly silly feat.

🤭 10) Fail of the week: Hilarious video as man tumbles down set of steps into Thames [YouTube] — I love a good fail video. And this one is excellent, from the narration to the blooper itself to the fact that they guy wasn’t hurt. I only hope it wasn’t staged. It’s an instant classic for me, right up there with 2012’s “Catch the Ice Dude.”

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,


By Newley

Hi. I'm Newley Purnell. I cover technology and business for The Wall Street Journal. I use this site to share my stories and often blog about the books I'm reading, tech trends, sports, travel, and our dog Ginger. For updates, get my weekly email newsletter.

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