Nate Abrams may make a living as an engineer but his true passion is in connections. He enjoys finding the places where different ideas and concepts meet and meld and create new things. He's an innovator, a thoughtful debater, and our pundit of the week.
As part of the "pundit of the week" blog, we spotlight one outstanding PolicyMic-er to share personal experiences with our community, and pose one never-been-asked question to a staff member.
About Nate: He's an avid reader, writer, and observer of the world around him as it constantly remakes itself. He’s a husband, the father of two amazing little boys, and owner of one incredibly silly little dog.
Caira Conner (CC): First things first, tell me about when and why you decided to get involved with PolicyMic.
Nate Abrams (NA): I stumbled on PolicyMic completely by accident about two years ago. I can’t remember where I found it but I ran across an article that mentioned PolicyMic as a place where people could really engage with topics rather than just passively taking in the news and other opinions on it. I followed the link and ended up reading a piece by pundit Cameron English on obesity. Food and food systems are particular areas of interest for me, so I got in on the conversation and never looked back.
CC: Your recent articles on race and racism prompted some very candid discussion in the comments sections. How was it to host dialogue around racial equality? What are the advantages (or disadvantages) to using PolicyMic as your platform on this particular issue?
NA: It was actually kind of stressful. I’m a pretty low-key guy and even though I knew the pieces would be contentious before I submitted them, the vigor and heat of the conversation really surprised me. Although race in America has been an ongoing topic of discussion over the years within my family, I've rarely had the chance to talk to such a diverse range of people on the topic. The discussion was enlightening — in some great and some not-so-great ways. I found that in some areas we have a long way to go before justice and equality become a reality. In other areas we are doing well. One of the things that I love about PolicyMic, and that I think is a real advantage of the platform, is that it affords me the time to think about how I am going to respond to any particular comment. The fact that it isn’t real time lets me do more than simply react to vehement opposition (or unwarranted praise). I can approach each comment in a thoughtful and (hopefully) enlightening manner and keep the conversation going, even with those with whom I disagree.
CC: If you could change one thing about your user experience with PolicyMic, what would it be?
NA: I’d like to be able to collaborate more with the other pundits. There are some fantastic minds here on PolicyMic and I think that the ability to work collaboratively through the platform could yield some really powerful work that crosses traditional boundaries and opens up new avenues for seeing the world in which we live.
CC: Any advice to like-minded peers about the best way to engage with PolicyMic? What's one fantasy outcome that could result from your having used PolicyMic?
NA: In my view the best way to engage on PolicyMic is to make bold statements while keeping an open mind. Though I do try to tread lightly, I’ve found that sometimes the only way to get people to talk is to say something that challenges people's established thoughts and patterns. The key is to be thoughtful and go deep enough so that you’re not viewed as just another reactionary crackpot. But when others do criticize, engage that criticism honestly and use it to push your own thoughts forward.
Through my participation in PolicyMic, I can imagine being able to quit engineering (it pays the bills!) and gaining the ability to support my family by writing about the issues that I care about full-time. I’ve often thought about how amazing it would be if some editor noticed something that I’d written and offered me a position. I love reading, writing and research, and to be able to make a living doing those things would be awesome.
CC: Let's go offline. What do you like to do when you're not PolicyMic-in'?
NA: I read everything in sight. Literally. I’m usually reading at least three books at one time — something fiction, theology/the Bible, technology, or systems science. I spend as much time as I can with my two sons and my wife, and every now and then I pick up my much-neglected guitar and plunk out a tune. I listen to all types of music (blues, rock and country are my favorites). I can also often be found penning essays for my blog Living Connections, working in my garden, or volunteering at church.
CC: Your turn. What's one question you have for a member of our staff?
NA: My question is for Michael McCutcheon. I mentioned that I think that collaboration among pundits within the PolicyMic platform could yield some really powerful work. Are there any plans to add any collaborative features to the site?
Michael McCutcheon: Definitely, Nate. Right now, I'm starting to organize pundits into small subject-oriented groups that share a common listserv. The idea here is to create a small space to share articles and ideas, like mini policy circles. The step after that would be to use articles written by group members as the basis for white papers, that we get in the hands of policymakers. But, this is still pretty nascent. In terms of site features, things that would require developers to build, there's a lot of opportunity. Some cool ideas could include the ability to follow other pundits and get notifications when they publish, a way to share drafts with other pundits for feedback, etc. Let's catch up by email and talk further about what you'd like to see! Always enjoy reading your posts.
CC: Nate, you're wonderful. Thank you for helping make PolicyMic great!
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