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What We Learned in 2021

The articles that taught the Pocket team something new this year, from the surprisingly fascinating history of peanut butter to the spooky power of artificial intelligence.

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Pocket users love to learn and the Pocket team is no different. These are some of the things that we saved to Pocket in 2021 that taught us something new or made us think in a different way. In a year that kept us guessing, here’s what stuck with us, big and small.

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

Anne Helen Petersen
Culture Study

The reason we aren’t going to bed on time: “This year I learned that one of my favorite/least-favorite activities has a name: Revenge bedtime procrastination. The act of staying up late to maximize ‘me time’ while cheating yourself of sleep. I can’t say that having the words to describe it—and a community of people who get it—has eliminated the problem, but it’s helped me be a little more gentle with myself on late nights or early mornings.” — Amy, Recommendations Editor

How to Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

J. Kenji López-Alt
Serious Eats

An egg epiphany: “Hard-boiled eggs have haunted me since I worked at a cafe in college. I’d show up at 5 am to bake muffins, make soup, and prep the egg salad. That way, the three-ish customers we had daily could order a latte from the world's worst barista (me) and no food, of course. I ate a lot of sad, gray, rubbery leftover egg salad made with eggs that took a lifetime to peel. Ever since, I've struggled to boil my eggs correctly until J. Kenji López-Alt came along. Two words: hot start.” — Jesse, Senior Product Manager


Vauhini Vara
The Believer

The machines can write: “An author has a story she can’t bring herself to write about—her sister’s death—so she enlists an AI predictive text model to help her. That’s the premise behind this wildly original, wholly unforgettable Believer Magazine essay exploring grief, technology, and memory. (RIP Believer, a wonderful magazine that I hope is revived.) What I found most revelatory was just how easily some of the AI-generated sections could be mistaken for words written by a person. Vauhini Vara writes that in some instances, the AI’s language ‘was weird, off-kilter—but often poetically so, almost truer than writing any human would produce.’ What a grand, yet disconcerting experiment: start with a story, and see where AI takes it. Kinda feels a bit like modern life.” — Carolyn, Head of Content Discovery

Myths About Millennial Friendship

Rainesford Stauffer

What it means to be friends: “I loved this essay about friendship so much that I immediately sent it to several of my closest friends. Beautifully written, it explores how special and somewhat elusive adult friendships can be, and how friendship changes—through time, geography, life stage and subtler, harder-to-name shifts—but also how, in the best of friendships, ‘what remains, regardless, is dedication to knowing each other.’ — Kimi, Pocket Hits Curator

A Theory of Zoom Fatigue

L. M. Sacasas
The Convivial Society

Interrogate technology mercilessly: “I learned and realized that given a tool that’s either difficult or less than satisfying to use, first assume that the tool has a problem, not the humans that use it. At a minimum, ask if the users (and the tool’s builders) understand the tool’s limitations and strengths adequately. I also realized that conversations are not bit streams and I miss looking into others’ eyes and there is still no camera setup that really allows for this. It’s not just that zoom limits the richness of our interaction, the ‘conversational uncanny valley’ precludes outright some of the stuff that connects us most profoundly.” — Matt C., Staff Software Engineer, Machine Learning & Recommendations

Have You Ever Heard of the “Emoji Commission”?

DW Documentary

All things emoji: “I was trying to solve a (seemingly) simple problem: how do you truncate a string to the nearest ‘word’ unit in a string that might contain emojis? This question rocketed me into a deep dive into unicode standards, how emoji are encoded, and how new emoji are decided on for inclusion. Along the way, I found this documentary. Billions of emoji are sent on different communication platforms every day, all over the world. If you believe emoji is an emerging global language, who should control what gets included?” — Kat, Senior Software Engineer, Backend

The Roe Baby

Joshua Prager
The Atlantic

Another way to look at a polarizing issue: “Getting a perspective on Roe v. Wade from the people who were the catalyst of the case rounds out the story. This article is devoid of the sensationalism, and explains the sensationalism that accompanies most of the stories about the Roe baby.” — Laurie, Mobile Product Manager

‎The Wonders of Web3

The Tim Ferriss Show

What’s next for the web: “I’ve been intrigued by crypto since 2013, and still learned a number of things about Web3 from this podcast, which got me excited to discover even more. It eloquently talks about the future of the internet and new technologies like crypto that are already changing the world. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go down this rabbit hole with me.” — Peter, Head of Brand Partnerships

A Brief History of Peanut Butter

Kate Wheeling
Smithsonian Magazine

A delicious backstory: “I love peanut butter, and millions of other Americans love it too. And its popularity is growing in other countries. But I didn’t know how George Washington Carver used peanuts to help Black farmers plant sustainably in the late 19th century, or that it was a food staple in both world wars. And now, scientists are using it to test asymptomatic carriers for COVID-19. Not only is peanut butter tasty, it’s also made a huge impact on American society for three centuries.” — Michelle Lewis, Content Curator

A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own

Carl Zimmer
The New York Times

Pregnancy is even more incredible than we thought: “This year I had my first baby and—safe to say, I felt different. It wasn’t until I learned about ‘microchimerism’ that I realized just how different a mother actually is after she carries a baby. Turns out I have someone else’s DNA inside of me now!” — Steph, Head of Engineering

Dead as a Doornail.

Malcolm P.L.

Why we say that thing: “I’m always curious about the origin and meaning of idiomatic expressions and other set phrases. Usually, they’re impossible to discern (e.g., no one knows why ‘raining cats and dogs’ means what it does). This one’s a beautiful exception: we know exactly why it means what it does.” — Nicole, Mobile Engineering Manager

Psychological ‘Specialness Spirals’ Can Make Ordinary Items Feel Like Treasures

Jacqueline Rifkin
The Conversation

Why we just can’t part with clutter: “This year, I loved finding out that my decade-old geode soap and once-worn boots from 2012 are a result of me idealizing the future occasions for which I’d use them. Learning about psychological ‘specialness spirals’ and how they contribute to clutter around the house made me look at what I’ve been caching in a new light. I think it’s time to break the boots out of their shoebox prison and finally lather up with the fancy soap.” — Corrie, Syndication Coordinator

The Enduring Hope of Jane Goodall

Ciara Nugent

Why Jane Goodall matters: “I learnt about the legacy of Jane Goodall, the environmentalist who transformed our ideas about the relationship between humans and animals, and why she advocates a non-confrontational and hopeful approach to tackling the climate crisis. Her legacy includes her Roots and Shoots program, which engages 100,000 young people in activism or restoration projects across 60 countries. Storytelling, rather than protest, has been a key part of her campaigns, and hope has defined her philosophy. A quote that stood out to me from Time’s interview with Goodall: ‘If you don’t hope that your actions can make a difference, then you sink into apathy’.” — Madeline, Content Curator

Postures of Transport

Hunter Dukes
Public Domain Review

A backstory that rocks: “A very interesting deep dive into rocking chairs: where they come from, how they were used, and how virtual travel fits in.” — Brett, Site Reliability Engineer

Magic Without Tricks: The Art (and Sleight of Hand) of Derek DelGaudio

Claire McNear
The Ringer

The magic of magic: “The article is from 2018, but I read it after watching the truly affecting and amazing In & of Itself performance by Derek DelGaudio on Hulu. This performance stretched my definition of magic and just completely floored me with its power and insight. What did I learn? That much like comedy, sometimes magic is so much more than the ‘trick’.” — Matt K., General Manager

Treat Your To-Read Pile Like a River, Not a Bucket

Oliver Burkeman

You don’t have to read everything: “I realize it’s a nice problem to have, but the sheer amount of great stuff to read that’s piled up in my Pocket and by my bedside table can also be a source of anxiety. This post by Oliver Burkeman helped me banish the illusion that I’ll ever be ‘caught up’ with my reading because it’s literally impossible. There’s simply too much out there that one might want to read. Instead, Burkeman advises that it’s best to treat your to-read pile like a ‘river’ from which you selectively pluck items floating past instead of like a bucket ‘which demands that you empty it.’ Thanks Oliver, this helped a lot!” — Alex, Recommendations Editor

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