This week marks the 31st anniversary of when Tonya and I started publishing TidBITS, way back in April 1990. Last year’s anniversary rolled through during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, when we were all struggling to regain equilibrium in a world upended (see “TidBITS Marks Its 30th Anniversary in a Time of Pandemic,” 13 April 2020).
Not to detract from the pandemic’s incalculable human, social, and economic costs, but a year later, it feels as though there is finally a path forward. I just hope we can stay on it until governments can broadly disseminate the astonishing scientific and technological vaccination advancements of the past year across the entire planet. (Tonya and I will be fully vaccinated by the first week of May, with Tristan receiving his second shot two weeks later.)
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you think about what you do and why you do it. I started TidBITS because I genuinely take pleasure in using the Mac and Mac apps, figuring out non-obvious ways of leveraging technology, and sharing what I’ve learned with those who are interested in expanding their knowledge and abilities. The Apple ecosystem has evolved significantly since then, but if I didn’t actively enjoy exploring Apple-related hardware, software, and services, I’d do something else. TidBITS has always been about using technology to improve our lives, and while we criticize where appropriate, we try to ensure that it’s always constructive criticism.
However, it has been hard to stay positive in the past year in general. News from the tech world hasn’t helped, whether it’s Apple’s haphazardly applied App Store policies, Facebook algorithmically participating in election manipulation around the world, or digital advertising companies tracking our every movement online and off. Beyond the news about all the ways that Big Tech is failing society, writing about the creeping crud of security exploits and fixes makes me feel a little dirty. At least we can use such coverage to encourage good computing habits.
The point behind this confessional? Merely to reiterate that when I decide what to publish for you each week, I’m continually evaluating whether the article will be useful, important, or amusing. Regardless of which category an article falls into, I always want it to be thoughtful, detailed, and well-crafted. We’re not perfect, but we try hard. Our authors regularly tell me that TidBITS does more—and more detailed—editing than nearly any other publication out there. It might not be the most lucrative use of our time, but it’s all in the cause of ensuring that what we publish for you is as good as we can make it.
Going forward, I certainly don’t want to sweep the ills of Big Tech under the rug, but they’re well-publicized elsewhere. Instead, I want TidBITS to focus more on the positive ways we can use technology to improve our lives, improve how we communicate and interact with one another, and improve the world in general. Amplifying the drumbeat of negativity does little to make the world a better place. You can help me in this goal by participating constructively in TidBITS Talk, where I’m continually pleased to see the generosity of spirit embodied in people helping others, purely because they can. Please feel free to both ask and answer questions.
I would be remiss in my duty to our authors if I didn’t note that we can only keep commissioning articles thanks to voluntary contributions from TidBITS members. Modern publishing trends encourage exclusive subscription-only email newsletters and website paywalls, but we’ll continue to help even those who can’t pay as long as we can make ends meet. If you join the TidBITS membership program, you’ll also get discounts on over 90 Mac apps. Apps we’ve added of late include Acorn, Retrobatch, TextSniper, HazeOver, and Timing, and don’t miss all the apps from our sponsors Smile and Rogue Amoeba. Thanks to all our current members, who made it possible for us to ride out 2020 in solid financial shape!
On a final note of both personal and numerological nature, Tonya and I started TidBITS when we were 22 years old. When we were 31, we had our son Tristan (see “Please Welcome Tristan Mackay Engst,” 18 January 1999). He’s now 22, the same year that TidBITS turns 31. And like us, after he graduates from Cornell University in May, he’ll be heading off to the Pacific Northwest. Not to work at Microsoft, as Tonya did in 1991, or to live in Seattle, but to start his PhD in machine learning with a focus on computer vision in a young, energetic department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. What goes around comes around.