Evan Ratliff (aka Digital Houdini) chats with The Rake
photo credit: Joe Pugliese
I met Evan Ratliff this summer in Toronto at NXNE. He’s a hell of a writer and storyteller. He’s most famous as “that crazy Houdini guy” in WIRED magazine who vanished for a month and challenged readers to find him. This smash-hit article is gonzo journalism for geeks at its best. For me, the biggest hook of his story is that he did what a lot of us fantasize doing: disappearing and becoming someone else. Evan and I spoke again recently and rather than another interview about his vanishing act, I decided to run a little Proust inspired CloudQuestionnaire. Now if he decides to vanish again we’ll maybe have better clues to find him.
What do you love about our world today?
These are the questions I knew I should have prepared for. Umm.What do I love about the world today? I suppose in terms of the modern world I do love that I can walk out the door of my apartment and six hours later be in Europe or San Francisco or many many other places in the world without bankrupting myself.
What has been your life's passion?
My life's passion has been trying to figure out my life's passion.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to see myself sitting on a beach in Hawaii because that’s always where I’d like to see myself at any given time. But in a purely practical sense I would like to see myself still making a living as a writer or editor and being able to support my family and my lifestyle.
What’s the most recent thing you saw that got you excited?
The prototype of a new magazine called The Atavist that I am helping launch.
What word do you love?
There's a lot of words. There's a word I love too much these days because the other day I caught myself using this word non-stop and when I looked though an article I’d written realized I used it constantly there too. But now I can't even think of what it was. The word i really love all the time is “atavistic”. [a few weeks later he told me that he’d forgotten was “purported”]
What is your present state of mind?
I would say it's ... what's one level below panicked?... stressed. Because I owe 4000 words for story by Monday [it was Friday when we spoke] and then I owe 9000 words on another story for the following Monday.
What would make the world a better place to live?
If there was better public transportation.
What device would you never give up?
I'm not sure there's any device I would never give up. It would be difficult for me to give up my laptop in some form in the sense that I need it to work but not because I love it.
What website or blog can you not live without?
None. If you're asking me which ones are my favorite that's one thing. But I always discover when I go on vacation or actually separate myself from the internet is how little I miss the blogs I read every single day.
Who’s the most impressive person you’ve ever met?
I've interviewed a lot of impressive scientists but in terms of people I’ve ever actually interacted with it's probably David Remnick the editor of the New Yorker. If he were to ever read this he'll think I'm kissing up. Everyone else will think I'm kissing up too. You know who else I thought was really impressive? Tracy Kidder. He's a writer. He won a pulitzer prize in the 80's for this book he wrote, 'The Soul of a New Machine'. Subsequently he’s written a series of remarkable non-fiction books on all kinds of topics. He has the kind of writing style I aspire to, somewhat futilely.
What question do you wish you'd asked this person?
I wished I asked Tracey Kidder more about how he worked...how he did what he did.
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