Alexis Madrigal is senior editor at The Atlantic, contributor to the almighty Fresh Air, and a journalist for many fancy news organizations. He has been called "the perfect modern reporter," and most recently, has become a contributor to that small fraction of your daily email pile that is actually worthwhile. His lists of 5 Intriguing Things are delivered as an email subscription, succinctly excerpting five salient bits of information from the Interwebs for your skimming pleasure. Art, tech, current events, inventions, futurism and history are mashed up into a digestible dose of what he calls "tidbits from the past and future."
A recent edition of 5 Intriguing Things introduced several mind-blowing stories: A new invention called Drum Pants; the history behind a photo of a massive Arctic explorer and his fashionable wife; a quote from a soon-to-be-unemployed typist in India; crowdfunding for cryogenics; and new information about pharmaceutical companies' manipulative ways. It was because of this particular five that I was compelled to contact Oakland's Madrigal and ask him to reveal his secrets for aggregating golden nuggets of fascination on the daily.
Madrigal says he started the service as "a way to connect with readers that did not pass through social media." He processes information all day long from "a good mix of sources: big media, small media, individual blogs, primary historical documents, random company webpages, artist portfolios, YouTube videos, design, fiction," and emails himself the best bits. "Basically, one teeny piece of my brain is always scanning what I'm looking at for its intriguing-ness," he says.
"What I call intriguing relates to, I think, knowledge that's adjacent to what I already know, but twisted," Madrigal explains. "That could be because it is from the past or the future. Perhaps it defamiliarizes the familiar, or makes the strange seem normal. I want the links to be like funhouse mirrors for things that you've thought about. I think this is the only way to prepare for the weirdness of the future. Because the unexpected will happen."
There's a secret structure to the way things are numbered in Madrigal's mini publication. "A number one is usually newsy. Then, two has to play off of one in an interesting way. Three tends to be a longer passage, perhaps an essay or something more 'thinky.' Four is usually an archive piece or something old. (Oh, and I tend to like something visual in slots 2 or 4.) Five is a wildcard. It could be anything. And even though 5 Intriguing Things is not a joke, I like to think of it as a punchline (e.g. CIA drones, super-habitable planets, cringe-inducing augmented reality, death TV, and tropical pigeons)."