How Smartphones Are Changing Life In Egypt

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Written by Staff

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Declan Walsh, The Times’s Cairo bureau chief, discussed the tech he’s using.

What tech is most important for you to do your job as our correspondent in Egypt?

A dented, screen-cracked iPhone is the center of my work. When I started out as a foreign correspondent 18 years ago, in Kenya, I carried a small satchel that held a tape recorder, a camera, an address book, a map and perhaps a shortwave radio. Today all of that has been squeezed into the thin black slab in my pocket.

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It taped an interview with the leader of Hamas. It shot video and pictures as I drove across Syria. It has helped me navigate the back streets of Cairo, and then hails a cab ride home. It hasn’t, however, replaced pen and paper, although the stack of notebooks on my desk is gradually shrinking. I type faster into my Times-issue 13-inch MacBook Air than I can write. But I’ve come to realize that’s not always a plus: Slow and messy as it is, taking interview notes by hand makes you listen harder, and edit your notes as you go along.

The other key thing is secure communications. With so many Egyptians in jail, and many others at risk of arrest, encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal have become indispensable tools. The Egyptian police detained dozens of gay people recently, so when I called an activist to set up an interview, it was through an encrypted app. If I’d called on a regular line, he would have hung up. Apart from that, digital lines are simply better quality.

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