Hi Charles! For those who may not know who you are, how would you describe what you do?
I'm technology editor - so I used to commission and edit (and write part of) the physical paper Technology supplement. That closed in 2010 so now I write for the Guardian (and Observer) online, and for the Observer's Tech Monthly supplement, and for the news and business and feature parts of the paper. Not sport. Yet.
What was your career path leading up to writing for The Guardian?
Long and winding. Began long ago writing freelance for a tennis magazine (called Tennis). Then joined a weekly trade paper about computing (Computer Weekly). Then went to a monthly business magazine (Business). From there, to a new job at a magazine for scientists (New Scientist). Then to a newspaper which didn't have a single owner (The Independent). And after a year freelancing, to the Guardian - that was eight years ago, November 2005.
How does an average work day go for Charles Arthur?
Starts 6am, occasional breaks for food, ends variable some time in the evening, depending what's happening. BlackBerry and Microsoft have been making life quirksome lately.
In general, though, every day is the same: there are far more stories that I could write than I can write. A common whinge from commenters is "why haven't you written X story which is on Y site?" The answer is often "because it's not worth the effort and duplication", but also that "I have 10 other stories on my life, all of which are more interesting than that, but only 3 of which I'll have time to actually write usefully."
I generally feel it's not worth writing something that's already appeared elsewhere unless we can add some extra information - insight, analysis, quotes, access to people, timeliness - because otherwise, it's like you're ignoring that the web exists and works.
The problem though is that there are lots of potential stories that come my way which could be worth pursuing that just get swept past by the flow of news. On a daily paper, you don't get to choose quite how your day will work out. You can hope, but it's never guaranteed.
What aspect of the technology industry are you most looking forward to coming to the fore in the next few years?
Ummm. Wearables are interesting. I wonder if Google Glass is going to be popular with consumers at all. I can see loads of applications in businesses, eg where you're trying to fix something, or for surgeons trying to get colleagues to look at something. But for the average person? Less convinced.
Smartwatches could be a thing, but then again, the set of problems they solve is quite limited.
TV is sort of interesting, but it's so fragmented that all the stupid, stupid, stupid American bloggers who think that because something applies to them that therefore it applies all over the world are just annoying. Most of them have no idea how the BBC works or is funded, for instance.
We've all got that on piece of technology that we hoped would be real as a kid but they haven't happened yet, mine was the hoverboards from Back to the Future, what's yours?
I was a Star Trek kid - and we didn't call it "the original series" because there was only one series. (And all the ones that have followed have been grade-A crap. Real junk. Whereas Doctor Who has got better - smarter plots, better sets, more exciting script - the Star Trek series have made the sort of transition we last saw in going from "A New Hope" to whatever the first Star Wars film is called. Anyway, I digress.)
So, because I'm a Star Trek kid, it would have to be the transporter and the communicator. (And the phaser, yeah.) But of course we've got the communicator.
What do you consider to be your most valuable piece of technology?
Valuable as in pull-from-burning-building precious? Well, the phone is easy to replace because so much is in the cloud, but I have scripts and stuff that (despite the backups) lives on my laptop. So I guess it would be my retina MacBook Pro - bought with the royalties from my book Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet. Available on Amazon, iBooks and even paper.
If there was one or more common misconceptions about working in this industry what would they be and how would you set them straight?
This industry as in journalism?
I'm really amazed at how the accusation of "shill" gets thrown around. Yes, thank goodness you're here, Snide Anonymous Commenter! I think it's some sort of American thinking that has infected people over here. Though I think it's also a sign of the immaturity of a lot of "debate" that one sees online. There are lots of people who are stupidly enthusiastic about technology who simply don't know how big companies lie to you, again and again. And when you raise concerns about things - or, equally, when you express enthusiasm because for once something actually lives up to the billing - they get all mad.
As a journalist it's quite a shock the first time a company lies to you and you subsequently discover how much of a lie it was. That happened to me a few decades ago: a contact told a bare-faced lie to me, and when I called him on it later he said "I had to." That was a big lesson. But some of the people throwing accusations around at journalists who are being rightly sceptical about what companies or people in power say don't know that that happens. They think only the little people lie.
As to the "shill" thing, journalists aren't interested in personal gain. If they were, they wouldn't be in journalism. (You make more in sales, or PR.) They do it because they're fascinated by it, by the process and the people they meet. I really like the fact that I can ask pretty much any question of pretty much anyone, and sometimes have. You move through every part of society - it's far more equal in that sense than pretty much anything I can imagine.
Who do you admire most, both in the technology industry but also outside of it?
I'm not big on admiring people who I might have to interview at some point. In the technology industry, there are plenty who I find interesting to observe. I tend to admire people or organisations which provide data openly and thoroughly, and distrust monopolies and those which dissemble or lie.
Outside technology, the single act which I most admire was when Peter Tatchell tried to perform a citizen's arrest on Robert Mugabe. It was 2001. Imagine it, though: you're going to try to arrest a head of state who has had people killed in his country. Just you. Now imagine how much courage that needs, even to take the first step towards someone who is surrounded by very tough bodyguards.
Read on: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/mar/06/zimbabwe.andrewosborn
I keep wondering if I could ever reach that sort of determination over anything. One of my children, I guess. An amazing act.