Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done

A picture of Tim Maughan

Tim Maughan

Writer, journalist

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a writer. I use both fiction and non-fiction to explore technology and how it impacts on people and their lives. I've got a particular fixation with the future of work at the moment, but I'm also constantly fascinated by cities, public spaces, surveillance capitalism, and how emerging technology impacts class and inequality. I've got a novel, Infinite Detail, being published next year by FSG. It's about what happens if we decide to destroy the internet.

I also do a lot of collaborations with artists, filmmakers, and speculative designers like Liam Young and Superflux. With Liam we made the first narrative film shot entirely by drones, and we made a short movie set in Detroit shot entirely on LIDAR laser scanners.

Away from writing my main obsession is electronic music, and especially techno. It's true to say I actually spend the majority of my time listening to, thinking about, or trying to make techno, even when it looks like I'm doing something else.

What hardware do you use?

A few years ago I made a trip up the consumer electronics supply chain to look at the labour and environmental impact of manufacturing and our lust for new technologies. We spent a week on a container ship, visited electronics and Christmas factories in China, and ended up at a toxic lake in Inner Mongolia that is the result of rare earth mining. It's basically a 5 mile wide pool of semi-radioactive sludge that's the byproduct of polishing smartphone screens and making the magnets in your earphones.

Since then I've been really conscious of trying to cutdown on the hardware I buy. When people see the images of the lake and ask me what they can do, the best answer I can come up with (short of some kind of armed insurrection) is try and make your devices last longer. As such I've become quite anti-upgrading. I have, however, literally just bought a new MacBook Pro, as my last one was from 2010 and the drive had finally failed. I'm hoping I can make this new one last 7 years too.

Similarly I'm still using my iPhone 6s, which I'm hoping I can get a good few more years out of. I use it extensively for note taking, as well as all the usual work related stuff. I also have an iPhone 5s, which has an EU sim card in it for traveling. I also keep the amount of personal data on it to a minimum, which makes me more comfortable when I'm crossing borders.

Apart from them, the main other thing in my bag is a cheap-ass 50 buck Sony voice recorder, which I use as a backup for doing interviews/capturing audio in case my phone battery is dead. It's super reliable and easy to use. It's got like 3 buttons and a USB jack. Sometimes I wish most the stuff I use was that simple.

And what software?

Mainly Pages on the Mac for writing, and Keynote for presentations. Calendar keeps me organized. Editors and people I collaborate with love to use Google Docs, and luckily it's got a lot better over the last few years. But I'm never happy having my work on servers I don't own or control, to be honest. There's something very disturbing knowing that my words are being consumed by the world's largest semi-automated advertising network. I personally use Dropbox for sharing and backing up, but I'm not under any illusion that my data is any safer from algorithmic surveillance on there as opposed to Google or Apple.

For music my main platform is Ableton Live, alongside Native Instruments' Reaktor. I also use NI's Traktor - and increasingly Pioneer's rekordbox - for DJing. But to be honest I'm getting tired of using the computer to make music, I really want to be stepping away from the screen when I do it, so am hoping to move into a more hardware focussed set-up.

The other piece of software I've become reliant on is Freedom. It's a cross platform app that allows me to block my own access to Twitter apart from a few hours a day. It keeps me both productive and sane.

What would be your dream setup?

What I'd love - and maybe this exists somewhere - is a semi-dumb phone. Basically a touch screen phone that gives me calls, texts, emails, a camera, and maps - and nothing else. And everything has to be local, it doesn't connect to any cloud services. I can't install apps on it. And that when I tap in a simple PIN it wipes all my private data and images instantly.

For music - well, I still daydream of owning the classic 1980s Roland gear. The 808 and 909 drum machines, a SH-101 synth, maybe a Juno-60 and an Akai MPC for good measure... but they're all collectors items now, and prohibitively expensive. Ironic, as the music I love was only made possible by how cheap they were in the 80s and 90s.

Apart from that - looking around at the world today - I can't shake the feeling that the technology everybody needs to embrace the most is the guillotine.