In college, my friend Scott lent me his dog-eared copy of Hackers and said I should read it. I knew my way around the command line, and Scott was trying to convince me to switch majors and join him in the computer science department.
I read the book, was mesmerized by its genius, but decided to stick with journalism. As much as I was fascinated with the people and the ideas in the book, I knew it was because of their stories, not because I wanted to emulate their engineering and programming.
Jump 15 years forward. I was standing in author Steven Levy’s office holding a trash bag and asking him if I could throw away a crumpled business card I’d found at the back of his closet. Turned out, the card belonged to a current executive at a major tech firm, but was from a time when the guy was a nobody at another company. I told myself that if Levy decided to trash the card, I’d slip it into my pocket instead.
He kept the card.
We organized dozens of business cards like the one I found in the closet, tapes of recorded interviews, preview copies of software, baseball memorabilia, hundreds of notepads with names like “Gates” and “Jobs” scrawled on their fronts, research files, files, and more files. While we worked, he told me about how he found Einstein’s brain in Kansas, tracked down Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen for interviews when he worked for publications in Philadelphia, and explained to me what is really going on with Google in China. I was there to help Levy organize his office for the July issue of Wired magazine, but I felt more like I won a contest to spend a few days with an iconic journalist and author. Although I hadn’t met him before the project started, I felt like we were already good friends because of my connection with his book.
Since the early 1980s, Levy has been reporting on the technology industry in the U.S., and a good portion of that work was in his home office in the Berkshires. We were able to condense, unclutter, and organize more than 15 boxes of files into two elfa rolling file carts. As is pointed out in the article, the portable carts were a must so that “Levy can roll his files with him wherever he goes” to work in his home (when the power goes out in the winter, there is a wood-burning stove in the living room to keep the space warm). We also upgraded all of his equipment — added a second monitor and Fujitsu ScanSnap, installed an automatic digital data backup system, traded up to an APC battery backup power supply, gave him a much-needed paper inbox and task lighting, updated his audio system, and, although you can’t see it, we overhauled his desk drawer and outfitted it with supplies generously donated by the companies of Newell Rubbermaid. It’s difficult to tell from the angle of the photographs, but we hauled two SUV-loads of clutter to the dump and recycling center before the project came to an end.
I encourage you to check out the transformation of Levy’s space, either online or on newsstands. Also, feel welcome to put any questions you might have about the project in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them. I don’t usually speak or write about my work with clients to respect their privacy, but since this one was featured in a national magazine, I feel comfortable sharing a few of the details about the work we did.
Image by Noah Sheldon for Wired.