New York Times writer Nick Bilton used to cover technology. He wrote about the "internal struggles" at Twitter. He wrote articles challenging the FAA so people could use their phones on planes. He wrote about the Apple iWatch. Important stuff. Sure. Why not. Last month, he became a columnist for the paper's Styles section. He has quickly distinguished himself, both among the paper's most-emailed columnists, and also as a worse columnist than even Frank Bruni.
When columns shoot up the most-emailed list, it's often difficult to tell if it's because they've hit a nerve with some invisible, elderly Middle America that feeds on Maureen Dowd jokes or if it's due to their sheer topical inanity. Bilton seems to be falling into the latter trap quite easily. His columns are focused on the "impact of technology on society and culture," a topic for journalists and old people, and he seems quite comfortable staying in his comfort zone.
His first column was about breakups in the digital age. Should he delete his Facebook profile after a divorce, or no? I know, I know, you are nervous about what might happen to his Facebook profile. So I will not tell you explicitly what he does, though I may subtly reveal it in a later example. But he did offer this keen observation:
Breaking up in the age of social media sometimes proves too much for people, and for that and other reasons, they delete their accounts altogether.
In his second column, he wonders if Hemingway would have written Moveable Feast if he had Twitter (probably? who cares?). Then he makes a resolution to try out some old technology.
For me, I'm making a change — albeit a small one. Last month I decided to try my own Facebook experiment. Rather than wake up in the morning and get lost on social media for an hour or more, I've started spending the early hours of my mornings reading a book.
After backtracking to figure out when I last saw a pen in the house, I realized it had been more than two months.
His fourth column was about cell phones at weddings. Nick Bilton goes to a lot of weddings. How does he have time to write a column.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in matrimony," the priest, rabbi or minister says. "The bride and groom have asked you to use the same hashtag on photos shared to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook."
I've experienced variations of this at several recent weddings. Other times, hashtags are written in the wedding program, on table arrangements or whispered down the aisle.
And for his fifth column, posted today, he takes on Twitter arguments.
Go to a social website and offer even the slightest morsel of opinion on something. You can pick from Gaza, Israel, Justin Bieber, Orlando Bloom, Jay Z and Beyoncé, the N.S.A., President Obama or any other esoteric topic. Then watch what happens. One person says one thing and then the digital mob is upon you.
Esoteric topics, indeed!
Nick Bilton is not funny. Nick Bilton is not a good or inspiring writer. His stories are not interesting or relatable. He mansplains. He bores. His columns are trite and stupid. He is the worst New York Times columnist, but for the grace of Arthur Sulzberger we get to write about him every week. Frank Bruni, you have been unseated.