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Every gadget has a story. A new publication from Medium about consumer technology.

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Enough with the passive-aggressive notifications, Duo

Closeup of the green owl icon of Duolingo.

A few months before I went on a much-needed vacation to Mexico City in 2018, I tried Duolingo, the ubiquitous language-learning app, to gently push my Spanish skills into something resembling respectability. But I generally dislike phone games, which meant I didn’t love the app, which gamifies language education through exercises and achievements. I fell off, as many of us fledgling second-language learners do.

Duolingo did not take it well. After ignoring the app’s rude emails (“Learning Spanish requires daily practice. Practice now?” “We haven’t seen you in a while.” “Keep Duo happy!”) …


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Apps that help you find your way may leave you feeling totally lost in the long run

Google Maps on a phone mounted above a car dashboard.

I had an English teacher in high school who would repeat the same line over and over again: “Life is what you pay attention to.” He’d scribble it furiously across the whiteboard. He’d yell at us to wake up from the pathetic little lives we lived on autopilot and start paying attention. (Sorry to bring up Harry Potter here, but honest to God, in retrospect he reminds me of Mad-Eye Moody: “Constant vigilance!”) I was not entirely clear on the connection between his rabid obsession with paying attention and English-language literature, and his lack of explanation rendered his protests unconvincing…


The dream of a better internet for book lovers is emerging on platforms like Glitch

Last year, I lamented the poor design of Goodreads — a much-needed platform where readers can review books they’ve read and track those they want to. Poor search functionality, ugly aesthetics, an embarrassingly terrible recommendation algorithm, and buried club and group features make the site unpleasant to use. Since the story came out, Goodreads hasn’t done much to improve its deficiencies. Instead, it seems content to rest on its laurels as a near-monopoly owned by Amazon, benefiting from its massive existing user base while being, apparently, deserted by its design team.

Tech-savvy readers, many of whom work in technology and…


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Experts weigh in on the app’s killer algorithm and more

Claire Lee, a stay-at-home mom based outside Chicago, downloaded TikTok “out of boredom” a few weeks into the coronavirus lockdown. She loved it way more than she expected.

“Every time I open it I marvel at the sheer number of brilliant, creative people out there,” she says. “It‘s been a bright spot for me during such a dark time for all of us.”

By all accounts, the pandemic has sent TikTok’s growth into overdrive: Downloads in Apple’s App Store grew 154% from the same time last year. A recent survey found that kids in the U.S., U.K., and Spain use…


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Life is totally online — we need ways to politely disconnect

I spend most Thursdays heads down writing. The task is one that, at least for me, requires absolute focus, a quality that I have to essentially beg some corner of my brain to extend to me for a few hours. This usually fails, making the draft take twice as long as it has to. Even now, my phone is lighting up with a text; several Twitter direct messages are awaiting my response; I have an email open in another tab that I actually want to answer.

There are a number of things I could do, some of which I’ve suggested…

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Every gadget has a story. A new publication from Medium about consumer technology.

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