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What to read when all you can read about is coronavirus

March 16, 2020, 1:01 PM UTC

Good morning.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

I wish I had a single uplifting message for you today about tech’s role in combating the scourge that is upon us. I don’t. I hoped to make sense of the public-private effort by Google (or is it Verily) to compensate for the Trump administration’s failure to anticipate the need for testing kits. Instead, I simply am disgusted by the president’s attacks on the news media, which is working tirelessly and valiantly to inform a worried public.

The best I can do is to point you to a few of the tech-related, or not-so-tech-related, things I read this weekend that may help you start what will be a trying week.

  • Have you heard of Accenture, the spawn of Andersen Consulting, which I learned from this Economist article is a portmanteau of ‘accent on the future’? It has quietly become one of the most important technology players of our time, providing a gamut of services from humdrum outsourcing to cutting-edge digital advice-giving. As it happens, Clifton Leaf, Fortune’s editor, has an interview in the current issue with Accenture’s newish CEO, Julie Sweet. It is quite illuminating.
  • Private-equity mogul David Rubenstein has a side gig as an extraordinary interviewer and public intellectual. (I told him recently he had a future as a journalist if things got bad in finance; he smiled.) This New York Times interview with him is worth the read.
  • We all may be spending a lot more time reading as we become quarantined in our homes. I’m reading the first novel by the young Irish writer Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends, having recently finished her second book, Normal People. I also loved this obituary of Andreas Brown, the former owner of New York’s Gotham Book Mart.
  • Want to feel inspired about the work journalists are doing right now? Read this message to her readers from San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper.
  • Finally, I’ve been interested in cities of late, so I was pleased to learn that former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom I’ve interviewed onstage a couple times for Fortune conferences, has written a well-reviewed book about their importance.

Please stay safe.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


On and on it goes. Tech continues to do its part as the world combats the coronavirus pandemic. Comcast, AT&T, and Charter Communications announced free public Wi-Fi for 60 days. All kinds of retailers closed all U.S. stores, from Apple (which also put its WWDC event online) to Nike to Warby Parker to Allbirds. The stock market, which rose 9% on Friday, appears ready to give up that entire gain on Monday.

No rest for the weary. Antitrust authorities are not on hold during the pandemic. France fined Apple $1.2 billion for improper deals with wholesalers Tech Data and Ingram Micro.

Turn and face the strange. Billionaire Bill Gates stepped down from Microsoft's board on Friday, marking the first time he'll have no official role since Gates and Paul Allen founded the company in 1975. Gates said he needed “to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities including global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change.”

We were that close. Speaking of billionaires, Elon Musk's SpaceX had to halt a rocket launch at the very last second on Sunday. The Falcon 9, carrying 60 more satellites for Musk's Spacelink Internet-from-space service, had an engine power problem that forced an abort code as the countdown reached zero.


Sixty years ago, Fortune conducted a vast survey of the era’s top designers, architects, and design teachers to create a list of the 100 best-designed products. Some winners are still popular today, like Porsche cars and Eames armchairs. To mark the anniversary, Fortune returned to partner IIT Institute of Design for another go-round. The whole list is fascinating (Steve Jobs would be proud), but IIT dean Denis Weil explains some trends behind larger changes.

The results show a clear shift in design philosophy over the past six decades. “Design has graduated from ‘value-adding,’ ” says Weil. “Now it’s value-driving, unlocking and making accessible the value in new technology.” Sixty years ago, the word design was almost synonymous with the aesthetics of the finished product. Today the emphasis is on how elegantly the product or service performs its specific purpose or function. Perhaps the clearest example of this evolution is a new category that appears on our updated list: Internet services. Google Search, ranked No. 3, is a great design not because of visual adornment, but because it eschews all unnecessary elements to do its job—organizing vast troves of information—near perfectly.


The best Twitter accounts to follow for reliable information on the coronavirus outbreak By McKenna Moore

How A.I. is aiding the coronavirus fight By Aaron Pressman

How early GPS gadget maker Garmin mapped out success against the likes of Apple and Google By Danielle Abril

Sci-fi tech tackles climate change with fake trees By Jennifer Alsever

Plastic that travels 8,000 miles: the global crisis in recycling By Vivienne Walt

How to be effective when you’re presenting remotely By Jenna Birch

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


As Adam noted, we're all cooped up and looking for something to read. My colleague Rachel King raves about the new behind-the-scenes business book No Filter by Sarah Frier. Come for the story about Ivanka Trump setting the Insta crew up in Las Vegas for a party after the $1 billion sale to Facebook, and stay to read about why so many employees got disillusioned with being part of Zuck's machine.

Aaron Pressman