Matt Novak – Blogger, Paleofuture
On what seems like a daily basis, new developments in science and technology lurch us into the future. Think bipedal warrior robots. Striving to keep up with the cutting edge, we relish advancements when they’re made and then fix our collective gaze on the future.
In today’s media industry, how could anyone make a career out of advancements that never happened? Well, Matt Novak did just that. His thriving blog, Paleofuture, discusses “past visions of the future” using pop culture artifacts from days past. As Novak looks back on society’s expectations for the future, from transportation to weaponry and social issues, he examines how our predictions fared against the ultimate course of history and what former daydreams tell us about ourselves today.
Paleofuture moved from host site Smithsonian to Gawker-owned Gizmodo in May. This move, along with his decision to stop blogging for Pacific Standard and BBC Future, will allow Novak to focus on Paleofuture more closely. Although the blog’s home has changed, little else has.
“There won’t be any change in content,” he said. “But now that I’m writing for one organization exclusively, you’ll be able to find all my content in one place.”
Novak created Paleofuture for a college assignment in 2007. “I’ve been thinking about past visions of the future ever since I had first visited EPCOT with my family when I was a kid,” he said. “I saw this blog as an opportunity to explore those ideas that had been following me around for years.”
Initially, Novak felt concerned for the longevity of his blog, considering the specificity of its topic; however, those fears quickly dissipated. “I soon figured out that I could blog about past visions of the future every day for the rest of my life and never run out of material. If you can think of a topic, someone somewhere made a prediction about it in the 20th century.”
He now advises would-be bloggers to “find your niche and stick to it.”
While the blog’s content will remain the same, Gawker’s new blogging format, known as Kinja, may alter the way Novak engages with his readers. Kinja allows Gawker users to follow (or block) other users, mark stores and comments as “favorites” and most strikingly, create their own content via user-generated blogs. Jalopnik editor Matt Hardigree imagines a new generation of writers will emerge from this innovative system.
Kinja intrigues Novak and, appropriately enough, he embraces the future of blogging. “So far, it’s been working really well,” he said. “I really prefer this new design to anything else out there.”
Looking forward, Novak hopes to reap more content from archived government documents in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. “I’d like to get better at filing FOIA requests,” he stated. “I don’t think I’ve even come close to cracking the puzzle that is archival government research that must be done remotely.”
Novak favors this kind of research method, which is much more hands-on than online. In fact, he attributes his success to it. To those entering the field of journalism, he gave this advice: “Get offline. The reason that I’ve found success in blogging is because I introduce things online that haven’t been online before. I think so many people today assume that if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist. Probably 90 percent of what I blog about originates as an image or fact or interview that wasn’t online already.”
Novak did not predict the level of success he would find in blogging, a career facilitated by the ongoing evolution of digital media. “It’s weird to call blogging a profession since it was invented within my lifetime,” he said. “That was the dream (writing full-time in any capacity) when I started back in 2007. I’m incredibly lucky that I get to call blogging my job.”
Musing over his own past visions of the future, Novak thinks of nothing less than one of the most iconic sci-fi memes of all time. “When I was a kid, the futuristic thing I wanted most was a hoverboard. Back to the Future II really did a number on my generation.”
If pitching to Novak via email, he asks PR pros to “use my name to show that it’s not a blast email and keep it brief.”
He is open to hearing ideas but takes issue with “spammy-looking emails” and pitches that are clearly outside his beat.
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