By Michael Fisher | June 8, 2013 8:00 AM
Pocketnow Insider isn’t just about video. It’s a collection of posts that offers a glimpse behind the scenes of Pocketnow – and a brief look into the lives of the people behind it. This new recurring text series offers you the opportunity to get to know our editors better, outside the scope of their work here on the site.
Last week, we learned what it’s like to be Adam Z. Lein, our Windows expert and the longest-standing member of the Pocketnow team. The week before that, we learned just how many miles Managing Editor Anton D. Nagy used to drive in a year, among other things. For our third installment of this series, we’re turning our attention to Editorial Director Michael Fisher. You’ll find out about his background, interests, and activities – and a bit about his duties here on Pocketnow as well. We hope you enjoy this new series documenting the lives of the people who keep the site running!
As an actor in the theatre, you generally only get about 100 words to describe yourself in a program bio, and the whole thing is written in third-person. On the internet, you’re allowed to use “I,” and page space is infinite – but attention spans aren’t. For that reason, I’ll try to keep this reasonably brief. But as this intro is already longer than either of my fellow editors’, I’ll almost certainly fail. I’m Michael Fisher, and I am verbose.
Sometime in the summer of 1982, it was decided that the ARPANET of the forthcoming 21st century would require a legion of young people with questionable hairstyles to write articles about technology. The following spring, I was born.
I grew up in the idyllic environs of Eastern Long Island, NY, surrounded by potato fields, farms, and no small amount of water. My mother tended toward the land -she still works as a caretaker for retired race horses- and my father toward the sea. When my first horseback adventure ended in tears after less than a minute of sitting atop one of the stationary beasts, it seemed clear that I tended more toward the marine side of my genealogy.
Those nautical leanings morphed into naval ones as I grew older and the insidious influence of television crept into my life. My sister was a fan of the then-wildly popular Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I latched on to the customs and protocols of Starfleet, the future-space navy, with fanatical zeal. Of course, the handheld gadgets were a huge focus as well, but that obsession came later. Initially, it was Star Trek’s uniforms, protocol, and the promise of adventure via “away missions” which captivated me – and these lured me first to the USAF’s Civil Air Patrol, then to my high school’s Navy JROTC program. I spent five years as a member of these pre-military programs, participating in bivouacs and search-and-rescue exercises, attending leadership academies, and ultimately rising to second-in-command of my high-school’s NJROTC cadet corps. These experiences, combined with a fascination for nuclear submarines as a result of reading the works of Michael DiMercurio, convinced me that my destiny lay beneath the waves.
It was this naval inclination, combined with an 18-year-old’s desire to escape the increasingly-confining country life, that saw me ship off to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in the summer of 2001. My plan was to take the four-year ROTC route to officership and undersea service, then settle in for a 20-year ride in the Navy. Things didn’t really turn out that way.
To be honest, my plan was never all that concrete in the first place. Asked by a waiter at my post-high school graduation lunch what I wanted to do with my life, I rattled off a list that included astronaut, truck driver, radio DJ, novelist, and about fifty other possible occupations. Even before shipping off to Norfolk, my steadfast plan to become a navy man was losing focus.
College compounded that haziness. Alone in a new city at the top of freshman year, with very few friends and a wavering sense of self-identity, I turned to new, alien territory to connect with people: I started doing theatre.
Acting was useful in that it allowed me to explore all those alternative occupations I’d talked to that waiter about on graduation day. I instantly took to the new, strange performance lifestyle, its emotional underpinnings much more appealing to my right-brained makeup than the advanced mathematics of nuclear submarines. When a professor took me aside to tell me I should seriously consider acting as a career, she got little argument from me. I’d found something I was reasonably good at, amid a group of people I quickly came to love. I’d found a new home.
During my time in college, I played over fifty roles in more than thirty stage productions across three different states. I learned performance techniques, from the ancient to the modern, from some incredibly skilled professors. On tens of stages across the northeastern US, I fell in love, fought with swords, bathed in blood, danced in a ball gown. I performed nude. I even shot a man in the face once.
One of the beautiful things about life in the free world is the capacity to change your mind. By the time I switched my major to a BFA in acting, I’d long abandoned the notion of sailing in submarines – and indeed, of military service of any kind. While letting go of such a long-held desire was puzzling to my family and bittersweet to me -particularly in Navy-saturated Norfolk- I relished the opportunity to explore a different frontier. I decided to, in the words of Thoreau, “advance confidently in the direction of [my] dreams.”
To help make ends meet while thus confidently advancing, I did some video work on the side. Some, like the USS Cole documentary filmed on the actual Cole, or the welcome video I hosted from a helicopter in midair, were amazing. Others, like the Navy sexual assault industrial or the episode of Discovery’s A Haunting, were disturbing. Still others were downright hilarious. Please accept the following LoL as my personal gift to you.
The acting world provided more opportunities, too, in the form of voiceover work. In 2006, I answered a Craigslist ad seeking voice artists “for help with a books-on-tape project.” After a hurried “audition” in a Williamsburg Starbucks and a little white lie about my (nonexistent) voiceover experience, I became one of a small stable of actors reading legal cases into a microphone for law students to study. And when those other voices faded away, one by one, over the next two years, I didn’t. I had become, quite by accident, the official “voice” of AudioCaseFiles, known today as Courtroom View Network Law School. And when that company packed up and shipped off to Boston in the summer of 2008, I decided to roll up my crisp new diploma and go with it.
My move to Boston put me closer to my Long Island roots, a move I welcomed not just because it put me closer to my family, but because I had business to attend to.
For most of his life, my father has possessed an unnatural talent for building model boats, aircraft, and other scale vehicles powered by steam, electricity, or other more-volatile substances. Until 2009, very few of his creations were seen outside a five-mile radius of his home on Long Island. But the advancement of digital cameras and the rise of profit-sharing services like the YouTube Partner Program meant ordinary people could not only film their projects – but could derive a profit from the resulting videos, as well.
Thus, RapidNadion Scale Model Video was born. I was able to leverage what cinematography skills I’d picked up at ODU, along with the innate internet savvy common to most members of my generation, to put dad’s models on the map – a quest we’re still very much invested in. Occasionally I’ll contribute models of my own -the sinking model Titanics are my own morbid little creations- but by and large the work we showcase on screen is Dad’s. Work millions of people tune in to see, every year. I think it’s pretty awesome stuff.
These days, RapidNadion’s seasonal video shoots are made much easier thanks to the knowledge Pocketnow has imparted. After all, this here site is the only reason I know how to use bigger, beefier cameras and editing suites like Final Cut Pro. So what say we come to the final chapter of our little CV here? Let’s talk about how I got involved with the best team in mobile tech reporting.
I should mention here that I’ve been reading technology blogs for over a decade. I began with classics like CNET and PhoneScoop back in 2002, and started contributing my own voice to the landscape on sites like SprintUsers and HowardForums the following summer.
On HoFo I was just a contributor, but in my hometown cellphone shack, I was the authority. Selling mobile phones from six carriers at the tiny third-party reseller over the summer of 2003 gave me a taste of what wireless retail was like – and due more to my love of mobile telephony than anything else, I found I loved the life. I brought my new phone-slinging skills to Virginia the following fall, and ultimately won a position doing the same at Nextel Retail Stores, where I drooled over devices like the Motorola i930 as I boxed them up for customers with more money than I had.
It was a potent combination of decades of Star Trek-fueled gadget lust and years of exposure to written, filmed, and recorded content from sites like Engadget and Gizmodo that prompted me to reach out to some of them starting in 2010. Though I was still paying my rent and getting fulfillment from acting and voice work in Boston, I was increasingly dissatisfied with phone reviews and editorials. The problem wasn’t the material -the work I was reading was still great- the problem was that I wanted to share my own views. So I started submitting part-time and contributor applications to various sites.
While no stranger to writing, having served as editor of my high school newspaper and as a weekly columnist for the hometown paper, I also hadn’t written professionally for an audience in a long time. So I wasn’t necessarily surprised when site after site failed to respond to my (admittedly halfhearted) applications. Having other things to do, I shrugged the rejections off and kept acting and talking for a living.
When Anton D. Nagy of a site called “pocketnow.com” finally sent me an email in January of 2012, I have to admit: I didn’t even remember applying to write for the site. I’d entered 2011 with a steady relationship, two grandmothers, and a solid job. I left it with none of those things. I wasn’t feeling so hot about … you know, anything. So Anton’s invitation to “audition” for a Pocketnow position came at a strange time. On the one hand, the timing was perfect: I’d just lost my job. On the other, I was hugely depressed and having a (relatively) fine time feeling sorry for myself. But I fought through the malaise and did it. And, after a few rounds of get-to-know-you test articles and videos, and more than one chat with Brandon Miniman, I was brought aboard as a contributor.
By today’s standards, my first video for Pocketnow (shot on a $99 camera and cut together with iMovie) was pretty heinous. By the metrics of the day, though, it was basically par for the course. And no matter how frustrating and time-consuming that first effort was, seeing it go live on the site was also incontrovertible proof that I’d achieved a goal I didn’t even fully realize I’d set for myself: suddenly, I was a tech blogger. And I was happy.
The here and now
I’m still happy. Happier than I’ve been in a long time. Since that first video, I’ve covered three trade shows with Pocketnow, the shows I used to take in as a young reader between classes or breaks in rehearsal: IFA in Berlin, MWC in Barcelona, and CES in Las Vegas (where I met Rich and Eric, the guys behind PhoneScoop). I’ve rebooted the site’s podcast, putting a Pocketnow-style spin on the framework established by years of streaming others’ shows. I’ve absorbed a ton of knowledge from the guys who’ve been running this site for years, and learned many lessons in a pretty short time – some of them pretty tough ones, but all of them useful. I’ve risen from Contributing Editor to Senior Editor, and finally to my current position of Editorial Director, where I’m helping guide the site in the direction the team wants it to go.
I’m still acting; I’m about to perform in a play in Boston this summer called Paper City Phoenix. (I’m playing a character who leaves the internet because he thinks it’s making his life worse. A character named Paul. Yes, I’m serious, and yes, it’s a coincidence.) I also routinely perform in industrial and commercial work, which is why you’ll occasionally see someone scream “AUTO-TRADER!!!!!” in the comments beneath a Pocketnow video for no apparent reason. And I lend my voice to podcasts elsewhere, too, appearing semi-regularly on the Trek.FM series The Ready Room to talk Star Trek. Which, yes, I’m still obsessed with.
But Pocketnow occupies more and more of my time these days – a condition I find I rather enjoy. In my time at this site, I’ve gotten up close and personal with literally hundreds of mobile devices – time that would have been thoroughly less enjoyable if I didn’t have such an awesome base of people to share the geekery with. That means my fellow editors, of course, without whom I couldn’t do a tenth of what I do every day – but it also means you, the reader, who at this point has slogged through 2,000 words of Michael Fisher talking about himself. For that, and for your continued audience and encouragement, I thank you.
The takeaway, if there is one: Do what you want, even if that means doing a little bit of everything. Be nice to other people. Don’t be too drunk when the phone rings with a job offer. And remember: life moves fast. Don’t miss a thing.
Want more Michael Fisher? Tired of watching reruns of his “A Haunting” episode on Discovery and unwilling to make the trip to Boston to see him on stage? You can follow him on Twitter, where he only talks about himself 85% of the time, and seldom in third-person. He’s also an easy mark for baiting in the comments, so you know where to take all that wit you’ve stored up over the past hour.