Michelle Slatalla isn’t a technology geek; gadgets and gewgaws don’t necessarily excite her. But the longtime journalist likes to explore how people use technology and why. A former Newsday New York reporter, Slatalla started writing about technology in the mid-1990s, and has co-authored several books with her husband, Josh Quittner, a technology columnist/editor for Times. In 2006, she wrote “The Town on Beaver Creek,” her first solo book and a loving tribute to the perseverance of the residents of the tiny Kentucky town in which her mother grew up. But Slatalla is perhaps best known for her New York Times columns, first Online Shopper, then Cyberfamilias and now Wife/Mother/Worker/Spy.
Michelle Slatalla and her husband work out of the Mill Valley, Calif., home they share with their three daughters, Zoe, 19, Ella, 17, and Clementine, 11. Her next book is a humorous look at her family’s move from the East Coast to the West Coast; it’s due to be published in spring 2010.
You have three daughters; how do handle being a working mom?
I know it’s fashionable to think there’s something hard about having a job and a family. I’m not sure why. We do lots of things in the course of a day, and nobody asks us how do you juggle having friends with having to go to the grocery store. It’s sort of simplistic to set it up in either/or terms. My mother always said to me, “There are 24 hours in a day; why don’t you fill them up with as many things that you like to do?” When they were younger, I was more tired, but that just comes with having younger children.
You were the Digital Diva for the Discovery Channel Online and then the New York Times' online columnist. How did you get interested in the cyberworld, and how did you, as a woman, infiltrate what has been considered “man's work”?
(My husband) and I covered a story about a bunch of computer hackers. These lads considered themselves in a cyberwar with another hacker gang. My husband and I were looking around for a book project to do and we decided to write a book about them. That’s when I first started covering computers . . .I never wrote about technology for the sake of technology; I write about the intersection between technology and life, and whether technology and its advantages make our lives easier or not and in what ways.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Probably what any writer would say; we’re all going through the same stages and questions and challenges, and it’s something incredibly luxurious and wonderful to be able to kind of put it into context that’s broader because you’re a writer.
You often write about your kids and your husband in your columns. Does it bother them? How do you reconcile their need for privacy and your need to have them be “guinea pigs”?
Whenever I write about family, neighbors, friends, I’m never going to make them the butt of the joke. If anyone is, it’s going to be me. There are things in other people’s lives that aren’t mine to publicize. The challenge is balancing the journalist’s mission, to always place the greatest loyalty to your story, versus, in my case, my loyalty and responsibility to the people I write about.