our obsession with automating everything

This summer, I’ve embraced the ultimate 2019 cliche: I’ve been finding ways to automate more things in my life in an effort to save some time. I got a robot vaccuum so I could spend less time vaccuuming up dog hair. I subscribed to Hungryroot, the healthy meal delivery service with 3-ingredient plant-based meals that can be cooked in 5 minutes, because I haven’t felt like spending an hour making elaborate dinners. I ordered small sundry items I needed, like beauty blenders and tupperware containers, on Amazon because it was easier than going to the store. I considered signing up for Amazon Subscribe & Save for things like toilet paper and paper towels so I never have to run out to buy them again.

I personally hate shopping in stores, and these days prefer to buy as many things as I can online without having to make the trip to a store to buy or return something, which always feels like such a time commitment, such a hassle (yes, I’ve probably internalized the idea that I should always be doing something more productive). But I’m far from the only one: this piece in the New York Times today about the fall of Dean & Deluca and Barney’s, two stores that were once New York institutions, does a great job of examining how our shopping habits have changed in our modern culture of productivity and convenience. Ginia Bellafante writes:

Despite these abiding economic truths, it is also true that the city that produced a retail culture focused on discovery and experimentation has become a place with Amazon boxes on the stoop of every brownstone. We have allowed our habits to become so effectively manipulated toward convenience that is hard to imagine appreciating idiosyncrasy if it returned.

I, like everyone else these days, want everything to be convenient and want to find every possible way to save time. Shopping as an activity — just browsing and letting myself discover things — feels like an almost quaint, outdated concept. To me, shopping has long felt like a waste of time; on the rare occasions that I do go into a store, I go in with a clear purpose and a list and only buy the exact things I need so I can get in and out as fast as possible.

But what has our obsession with convenience done to the retail business? It’s hard for me personally to feel nostalgic about Barney’s and Dean & Deluca — I’ve never shopped at Barney’s and I’ve been to Dean & Deluca maybe once out of necessity because I was in Soho and it was the closest thing, but I found everything to be wildly overpriced (I always think of Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada complaining “I went to Dean & Deluca. It’s like $6 a strawberry there!”). But they represent a time when shopping was fun, was a leisure activity, not a chore to be managed and automated and optimized. (I did spend lots of time in malls in my teenage years, and America’s malls are dying too.)

I also feel slightly guilty about the effects of my convenience obsession on the environment: all the packaging waste created by meal deliveries and the constant pile of Amazon cardboard boxes that seems to magically reappear every time we’ve taken the last stack out to the recycling. Not only are we killing the retail industry, we’re also hurting the environment! How do you square our overscheduled lives and desire for efficiency with its impacts on the world? Is Amazon dependence unethical? Is there any solution to this? I have no idea! Read Ginia’s story though, it’s a very good read.

What I’m reading

Athleisure, barre, kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman, The Guardian. An excerpt from Jia Tolentino’s new book (which I am reading right now, and is excellent).

We’re giving our baby my wife’s last name. Here’s why, The Lily.

Canned cocktails give millennials what they’ve always desired, The Atlantic. “The middlebrow fanciness of cracking open a cold Moscow mule in a friend’s backyard might be just the thing to satisfy a generation whose desires often outpace its disposable income.”

One is Chinese. One is American. How a journalist discovered and reunited identical twins, LA Times. This story is incredible.

I gained 20 pounds before my wedding and it was perfect, Glamour. The only correct take on wedding diets (in response to the NYT publishing a guide to the “perfect wedding dress workout” this week).

You can’t stop mass shootings by punishing people with mental illness, Washington Post. A harrowing first person account from a woman who was a danger to no one, but was still involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

Elizabeth Warren’s classroom strategy, The Cut. Rebecca Traister profiles Elizabeth Warren.

I’ve picked my job over my kids, New York Times. This is a really lovely essay.

Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know

Peak newsletter

According to Vanity Fair, we are at peak personal newsletter. Every journalist has a Tinyletter or a Substack now!

I subscribe to dozens and dozens of newsletters. It’s partly because I work in media, so it’s my job to know what’s going on and consume as much content as I can and I just keep signing up when I hear of a new newsletter that catches my interest. (Eventually, every once in a while, I go through my inbox and mass unsubscribe to a bunch of them when I realize I’m never opening them). But there are a handful of newsletters that I reliably open every single time: NYT’s Morning Briefing, Washington Post Daily Headlines, Kara Cutruzzula’s Brass Ring Daily, NYT Cooking’s Five Weeknight Dishes, Girls’ Night In, NYT’s Smarter Living, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, Heather Havrilesky’s Ask Molly, Ann Friedman’s newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen’s collected ahp, Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s Just Good Shit, to name a few off the top of my head.

There are so MANY good newsletters to subscribe to and not enough time to read them all. Which makes me all the more grateful for those of you who read these emails of mine every week. You have hundreds of choices of newsletters you could sign up for — thanks for letting me take up space in your inbox every week. I hope you enjoy it, and if you feel like it, I’d forever appreciate if you share it with a friend.

What I’m writing

Decoding the book of the summer, Fleishman Is In Trouble. I joined a roundtable with some of my colleagues at Vox to talk about our thoughts on Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s much talked-about new book. Spoiler: I loved it!

What I’m reading

It was never about busing, New York Times. Nikole Hannah-Jones is, as usual, a must-read.

Why is it so hard to finish a notebook?, Vox.

The best $3,000 I ever spent: training for my dog, Vox. This is a delightful read, and it also made me feel better, as a relatively new dog owner, about how expensive training is! (But unfortunately….sometimes necessary!)

Big Little Lies season 2 turmoil: Inside Andrea Arnold’s loss of creative control, IndieWire. If you care about HBO’s Big Little Lies, this is a pretty wild story.

Everyone wants to Instagram the world’s most beautiful canyon. Should they?, Vox. How Instagram turned a beautiful canyon in Native American territory into a tourist trap — and changed the Navajo community that has lived there for decades.

Call me they, New York Times. Farhad Manjoo makes the case for the singular “they” — and genderless, inclusive pronouns for all.

The ignoring of Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington Post Magazine. She was once a rising star in the Democratic Party, but now she’s barely getting any attention in the crowded Democratic primary. Why is that?

How Americans became a nation of snackers, The Atlantic.

Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know

A holiday weekend link roundup

While most New Yorkers fled the city this weekend for the Hamptons/Nantucket/Jersey Shore/whatever their beach of choice is, I stayed put right here in an empty city and it was… delightful. I got restaurant reservations I normally can’t get! My favorite restaurants and wine bars were empty instead of packed! Staying in the city on a holiday weekend is highly underrated, IMO. Anyways, here are my favorite things I read this week.

Madam President? Five women candidates on what it will take to shatter the most stubborn glass ceiling, Vogue. There are more women running for president than ever before in history!

The dominance of the white male critic, New York Times. A compelling case for why we need more cultural critics of color.

What you lose when you gain a spouse, The Atlantic. This piece is super interesting, and I say that as a married person. Studies show that married people

Politics is changing. Why aren’t the pundits who cover it? New York Magazine. This piece by Rebecca Traister makes such an important point: our candidates are more diverse than ever, so why are cable news pundits still mostly old white men?

I’m a garden person now!, The New Yorker. Everyone in Brooklyn, we’ve been owned.

The dubious masculinity of grilling, Vox.

America has reached peak mask, The Atlantic.

The joy of missing out and the surprisingly difficult art of doing less, Vox.

Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

It's surprisingly hard to "do nothing"

Summer is my favorite time of year. I’m already the type of person who plans aggressively and takes on a lot. But in the summer in New York, when it’s not raining for days on end, it basically feels like a crime to stay inside on a gloriously beautiful day.

So of course, in the month of June I filled my calendar with happy hours, rooftop parties, film screenings, a beach day trip, two work trips to DC in three weeks, and multiple visits to the Highline/Hudson Yards/Prospect Park/etc. By this weekend, I was… exhausted! I spent all of Saturday basically doing nothing because I just really needed a chill day. So I loved this piece in the New York Times this weekend encouraging people to spend some time doing nothing this summer.

Author Bonnie Tsui writes:

Fallow time is part of the work cycle, not outside of it. In periodic intervals around the completion of a project, I have lately given myself permission to watch “Deadwood: The Movie,” to nap over the newspaper, to take a walk and restore the white space for complex thinking and writing. It can feel indulgent. It can feel … lazy. But the difference between lazing around and laissez-faire is that I’m actually going about the business of my business.

And on the feeling of guilt that comes with not accomplishing anything or being unproductive:

Protecting and practicing fallow time is an act of resistance; it can make us feel out of step with what the prevailing culture tells us. The 24/7 hamster wheel of work, the constant accessibility and the impatient press of social media all hasten the anxiety over someone else’s judgment. If you aren’t visibly producing, you aren’t worthy. In this context, taking time to lie dormant feels greedy, even wasteful. 

As a person who’s almost always doing something and has a tendency to overschedule herself, this piece really made a lot of sense to me. And I’m hoping to carve out more time to do nothing this summer! Maybe I will even finally get around to reading the book everyone’s been talking about this summer on this very topic… Jenny O’Dell’s How to Do Nothing.

What I’m reading

You are doing something important when you aren’t doing anything, New York Times.

Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think, The Atlantic.

The tyranny of workplace food shamers, The Atlantic.

No male editor has ever accepted my pitches on abortion, Columbia Journalism Review.

People love to hate the garlic press, Taste Cooking. I am very firmly on team garlic press, FWIW.

The mommy blog is dead. Long live the mommy blog, Topic.

Work is like water, New York Times.

Elizabeth Warren is completely serious, New York Times Magazine.

Here’s some money advice: just buy the coffee, New York Times. Financial advice that shames people for buying coffee is bad!!

Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house, The Guardian.

Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

So many links

I spent a lot of my Sunday working on some other writing-related projects, so I’m almost all out of words to write an intro for today’s newsletter. But I do have lots of great links for you! There was so much good stuff to read on the internet this week.

What I’m reading this week

Why women, but not men, are judged for a messy house, New York Times. My hot take is that, if you can afford it, it is well worth it to hire a cleaning service.

A modest proposal for equalizing the mental load, New York Times.

Smash the wellness industry, New York Times. “Wellness” is just another word for what women have been told to do since the beginning of time: diet.

The case for boring office clothes, The Atlantic. Listen, as someone who supports uniform dressing and also buys like 80% of my clothes from J.Crew and Ann Taylor, I support this. I’d rather spent my energies elsewhere.

The Negroni is 100 years old — and the perfect cocktail for 2019, New York Times. Finally a *correct* take from the NYT on cocktails involving Italian liqueurs! Negronis are good and I will not be entertaining any arguments otherwise.

Natural wine, explained, Vox. What makes a wine “natural” is….complicated! But this is a great explainer!

Two writers on the joys of being single, but also sometimes dating, in your 30s, Bon Appetit.

The invention of the “beach read,The New Yorker.

Mindy Kaling’s Late Night Is a Rebuttal 15 Years In the Making, Slate. I saw Late Night this weekend and it was so good! Emma Thompson is incredible! I want to watch it like 3 more times! More comedies about women at work, please!

Mindy Kaling on not being the long suffering Indian woman, NYT Magazine.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner really, really, really wanted to write this profile, Cosmopolitan. Taffy makes $4 a word? I say more power to her - she’s the best profiler in the business.

The highs and lows of life as a black editor-in-chief, Medium. Former Teen Vogue EIC Elaine Welteroth shares some *truly insane* stories from her time at Conde Nast.

Stuff I’ve been cooking

Maybe you’ve noticed this section was missing the last few weeks! That’s because since summer started I can barely motivate myself to cook anything. In winter I’m all about the elaborate project cooking and in summer I basically: a) only want to go out all the time and b) refuse to turn on my oven and heat up my entire apartment. If anyone has easy summery, no-oven-required recipes to recommend to me I would love to hear about them!

Just for fun

Here’s a cute photo of my dog being cute this week.

Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

Loading more posts…