When you have a tendency to collect stuff, it’s difficult to create a detritus-free space in which to work. It’s even harder when you have to do it on the fly because you’re suddenly working at home rather than in an office. Adi Robertson, senior reporter for The Verge, has actually managed to do that, and in this chapter of “What’s on your desk,” she explains how she has organized a place in which she can concentrate and do her fabulous reporting without distraction.
Tell me a little about yourself. What is your background, and what do you do at The Verge?
I joined The Verge a few weeks after launch as a news writer; it was my first professional journalism (or writing in general) position after some low-key blogging and writing the cocktails column in my school newspaper. The great thing about my job is that I get to work across so many areas — I’ve covered film festivals, virtual reality hardware, net neutrality and copyright, speech moderation, obsolete tech, and too many random gadgets to count.
I think this is absolutely the neatest workspace I’ve seen yet. Is this new?
Extremely new. I spent the pandemic working at my dining room table until I cleared out a dedicated room — which I’m unbelievably lucky to have in a Brooklyn apartment — for a long-term home office.
To put it delicately, this looks nothing like the rest of my home. I’m trying to commit to having one neat space that I can feel good working in, and then… well, everything else. Which means I occasionally bring things (knitting, my mic stand) into the office and then shuffle them into the next room (let’s be honest, the dining room table, it’s not like I hold dinner parties) when I’m done with them.
Tell me about your desk. Where is it located in the room, and where did you get it?
I put my desk in the corner of the room that gives me the least trouble on camera for Zoom meetings and interviews. It’s against a wall that’s facing a window, opposite the only wall with no windows or doors, and far enough from my ancient radiator that I won’t scald myself in the winter.
The desk is a walnut Kardiel Urbane — minimalist so that I won’t feel tempted to fill it with stuff, but with a tiny drawer that’s perfect for spare cables, USB drives, and the recorder and earpiece microphone I use to capture interviews for transcription.
Tell me about your chair.
The chair is from Joss & Main, although like every furniture brand I mention here, I had to ask my husband where he bought it. Left to my own devices, I am incapable of finding home goods anywhere except Ikea or the first random neighborhood store I walk into, so I acquire everything by vaguely describing what I want and always end up with something nicer than I’d have ever gotten for myself.
Could you tell us about the tech that you’re using?
I spend the workday at my Vox laptop, a 2017 MacBook Pro, with a few accessories: the Satechi USB-C hub my colleague Chaim Gartenberg recommended, a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones that my other colleague Chris Welch reviewed, an Anker wireless charger for my Samsung Galaxy S10E, and a Razer DeathAdder Elite wrapped up for the rare times I need an external mouse.
Sadly, I got the MacBook during Apple’s bad keyboard years, and I guess it couldn’t handle my typing volume and intensity. I’ve broken so many keys on butterfly keyboards that I gave up on getting them repaired and stacked a Bluetooth keyboard on my laptop with a cardboard separator.
Outside work, I bought a Samsung Chromebook 4 that I’d hoped I could turn into a GalliumOS Linux machine, only to learn most newer Chromebooks don’t support full Linux installs. Turns out Chrome OS is almost shockingly convenient, but I still want actual control over my hardware. It really bothers me! I miss netbooks!
There’s also an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset tucked by the desk legs. Like the Google Chromebook, there are some real privacy concerns here, but it’s such a well-designed product and Meta-Facebook-Oculus is very good at nabbing game exclusives.
I love your lamp. Where did you get it? And is that a duck or a goose?
It’s a mallard duck from West Elm — another thing I would never have bought and now find delightful to have.
I see you use a notebook.
I’m usually accidentally writing across two or three different notebooks during any given period, but I keep one ruled Muji B6 at my desk for jotting interview notes and doing non-work writing and game design. (I love Muji pens, too, but I bought a Lamy Safari fountain pen because I was constantly using up disposable ballpoints.)
The B6 is a solid all-purpose size that fits in a purse very well, it feels respectable without being super expensive, and as a left-handed person, a spiral-bound notebook means there’s less paper to get in the way of my hand when I’m writing.
And of course, you’ve got to tell us about the typewriter!
I spend a bunch of my time outside work writing games and fiction for fun, and I like experimenting with the ways different tools influence the flow of it, although I usually end up using my laptop or notebook. (There’s a Freewrite electronic typewriter and a Psion Series 5 PDA on the shelf behind me.) I’ll cop to this being kind of pretentious, but I think of it like a musician’s instrument collection — some tools let you go back and edit and others don’t, some make it harder or easier to see what you’ve already written, some are physically faster or slower to write on than others, etc.
The typewriter is a manual Olympia I bought a decade ago off Craigslist and got tuned up by visiting a typewriter repair technician in an unmarked office at the top of a rickety elevator in Manhattan, because I had just moved to New York and was amazed that this was the kind of thing you could just up and do. It’s still got a couple of bent keys, but on the whole it works pretty well.
That said, trying to use a typewriter always makes me impressed that anybody wrote anything at all during their era. There’s such a precise rhythm to hitting the keys hard enough that they’re legible but not so fast they lock up against each other. And you’re so exposed! Anybody can just wander in and see exactly what you’re writing! Someday I will be confident enough to complete a story on a typewriter. Today is not that day.
Are you planning to decorate your space any further, or are you going to keep it minimalist?
I knew an early Verge video team member who kept a corkboard where he’d pin up all his badges from covering events, like a trophy / memory board, and I always thought it was a cool idea but never had the space to put one up. So I’ve got a decade’s worth of haphazardly collected film festival and tech conference badges stored in a box in my bedroom, and I want to finally put them on a wall.
Otherwise, I’m currently getting a Michael Tunk cutout collage based on Metal Gear Solid framed, and I’m hoping to put up a Verge 10-year anniversary poster as well. But my general goal is to bring as little into the room as possible. Like a fortified redoubt against the clutter of my apartment. We’ll see if I can keep that up.
Is there anything else about your workspace that we haven’t covered?
I have a minor update on the dried leaf at the edge of one of my photos. My cat Trico saw it moving outside the window the morning I took the pictures, and she got so excited that we brought it inside for her to play with. It’s on the floor now.