Mark Harris became a writer during what he calls the rise of journalism about digital living—“stories about all types of technology coming into our daily lives.”
Harris was always interested in writing, but he graduated from University of York in 1991 with a degree in physics. These passions merged shortly thereafter, when he started writing for the technology section of Which? Magazine, the British equivalent of Consumer Reports. The position gave him front row seats to the emerging world of tech journalism.
Harris was struck by the fact that technology writing was often held back by its ties to business and consumer journalism. “I thought it had room to be a little more grown up … to be bit more like science journalism, which doesn’t take things at face value,” he said. Galvanized by this realization, Harris began investigating the stories behind the flashiness of technology, as exemplified by his 2012 piece on the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) industry.
At that point, Harris was writing approximately 200 stories a year as a freelancer. The Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from 2013-2014 gave him a much needed opportunity to slow down and sink his teeth into Cambridge’s lively intellectual scene, even while juggling family responsibilities.
In professor David Mindell’s course on human-centered automation, Harris found himself learning alongside fighter pilots, NASA engineers and self-driving car designers. “The course opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about how we use and interact with technology,” Harris said. This has informed much of his work since then, including this piece on self-driving cars.
Meanwhile, Harvard professor Rosetta Elkin’s course on botanical technologies led Harris deep into Harvard’s archives. There, he unearthed historical notes about the Wardian Case, a small, mobile greenhouse that allowed colonists to transport crops and the accompanying soil ecosystems to the places they colonized.
In addition to finding interesting stories, Harris was also inspired by the other KSJ fellows who renewed his resolve to write more investigative pieces. One such piece, titled How a Lone Hacker Shredded the Myth of Crowdsourcing, recently won the 2015 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award.
Since KSJ, Harris has continued freelancing from his home in Seattle, Washington. He has enjoyed the benefits of the McGraw Business Journalism Fellowship, but insisted that life in Cambridge with talks, seminars and colleagues makes “KSJ quite unique and quite useful.”
Harris now writes most often for IEEE Spectrum, The Guardian, The Economist, Backchannel, MIT Tech Review and The Sunday Times. He still lives with his wife and two children.