I’m a journalist and analyst of new ideas and global social, cultural, political and technological trends. I write essays, comment and reportage for Vanity Fair, Harper’s magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, The London Review of Books, The Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, Prospect, The American Prospect, The Nation and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. I also write books. My latest book, Hunting Season, is about the descent of Syria, the rise of the Islamic State group and its kidnapping campaign of two dozen foreign hostages. Before that my last full-length book, Niche, which was about the “missing middle” of media, culture, business and politics, was published by Little, Brown in 2011 and has been translated into many different languages.
I was born in Belfast and educated at St. Malachy’s College Belfast, King’s College London and Hertford College Oxford. Between 1996 and 1999 I taught and lectured in social theory, politics and political economy at the University of Oxford. In 1999, I exited academic life to work as an analyst of global social, political, business and technological trends (or ‘futurologist’) at the think-tank The Intelligence Factory (then part of Young and Rubicam) in New York. Since 1998 I’ve also been writing regularly on social, political and technological trends for British newspapers and magazines and in 2004 I became a writer for the Financial Times magazine. I’ve written essays, features and cover stories for the FT magazine, contributed to the comment pages on ideas and trends, interviewed everyone from Tom Friedman to Naomi Klein for the “Lunch with the FT slot” and reported for the FT from Beirut. Between September 2005 and October 2006, I wrote a column for The Guardian called BIG IDEA, and before that I wrote similar columns for The Times and the Financial Times.
I also talk. I’ve appeared on Newsnight, Channel 4 News and Sky News to talk about new media and social and political change, and been interviewed about my work for Time magazine and The New York Times. I’ve debated cultural policy and the internet with the (then) Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme, have appeared on Newsnight to talk about the internet and on The Moral Maze – and retain excellent contacts within the intellectual and policy communities in Britain and the United States. I’ve lectured on the political consequences of the internet at the LSE, debated geo-politics and social media (with Dominique Moïsi) at the Edinburgh Books Festival, talked about the internet’s effect on contemporary culture (with the artist Mark Leckey) at The Southbank Centre, and debated the future of the internet at an Editorial Intelligence conference. Between 2004 and 2009, I was also Director of Talks at the ICA in London, managing a small team to produce a series of internationally themed talks with a strong focus on airing challenging arguments and pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression. Speakers I invited to the ICA and hosted there included Gerry Adams, Antonio Negri, Amartya Sen, Tariq Ramadan, Harold Evans, Ian Buruma, Malcolm Gladwell, Naomi Wolf and the late Anna Politovskaya. In 2012, for example, I keynoted both The Economist’s annual ‘Big Rethink’ conference and the annual conference of the TV production company Shine on strategy, the arts and institutional change. I was invited to give the keynote lecture for the Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 2013, on the subject of technology and social change. I talk for companies and organisations, too. I’ve delivered keynote addresses on social and technological trends and the near future everywhere from the Arts Marketing Association and Schroders Bank to the Georgia Institute of Technology to the Chartered Institute of IT in the UK. I’ve also led seminars and workshops at advertising agencies like McCann, and participated in panel debates run by outfits like Editorial Intelligence. For some of the topics I talk about, see here; for some of my clients, see here
Other stuff. Between 2004 and 2009, I was, on a part-time basis, Director of Talks at the ICA in London. Speakers I invited to the ICA and hosted there included Malcolm Gladwell, Amartya Sen, Chris Anderson, Samantha Power, Patti Smith, Shere Hite, Gerry Adams, Naomi Wolf, Boris Johnson, Antonio Negri, Tariq Ramadan, and the late Anna Politovskaya. I was the associate producer of Adam Curtis’s three-part ideas-driven series The Trap: Whatever happened to our dream of freedom?, which aired on BBC2 in the UK in March 2007. I was one of the associate producers of Adam Curtis’s latest three-part series All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, which looked at the relationship between cybernetics, ecology and culture and aired on BBC2 in May 2011. My first book, Big Ideas, was based on a weekly column about ideas I wrote for The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It was originally published in 2008 by Atlantic Books, and has now been translated into Korean, Spanish and Polish. My second book Cyburbia, about how the internet is changing contemporary culture, was published in February 2009 by Little, Brown and by Knopf in Canada. In the same year my essay “Caught in the Net” was re-published in Yale University Press’s annual Best of Technology Writing book for 2010. I won a K Blundell award from the Society of Authors for my third book, Niche: The Missing Middle and why Business Needs to Specialise to Survive, is about the problems which face mainstream media, business, culture and politics in an age of ubiquitous new media and social fragmentation; it was published by Little, Brown around the world in March 2011 and again in August 2012. I also work as a social forecaster, analysing global trends for a little agency called Flockwatching
In November 2011 I was one of the very few international journalists to make it into the city of Homs in Syria as the situation deteriorated there; my reports from Homs and Damascus appeared over two pages of The Observer was a cover story in Newsweek in the US. Since then I’ve written widely about Syria’s descent and the rise Islamic State, based on regular reporting visits to Syria on all sides of the conflict as well as trips to Northern Iraq – in cover stories for The New Republic, Newsweek, The Nation and Prospect magazine, in long features for Vanity Fair, Harper’s, GQ, The Smithsonian and The Guardian’s Weekend magazine and in long essays for a range of international newspapers and magazines. I’m a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, and have consulted on the Syrian conflict to LSE’s Department for International Development. In the academic year 2013/2014 I was a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute at Oxford University and a Senior Associate Member of St. Anthony’s College at the same University.