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I recorded my reaction, and when I listen back now, I can hear myself say, “Jesus Christ. Before everything fell apart, Boudinot was a writer and teacher.
At the time, he wasn’t, but this spring, he emailed me and said he was working on something new.
He’d tell me the old story, but only if I listened to the new one.
“What I’m doing right now is so much more interesting than what happened back then,” Ryan Boudinot told me shortly after we first met.
We were sitting in a coffee shop on 15th Avenue in Seattle—the kind of place with $5 cold brew and kombucha on tap—and, frankly, I didn’t believe him.
In one particularly memorable scene in his book, Ronson writes about Lehrer’s attempt to publicly atone while giving the keynote speech at a journalism conference.
As he spoke onstage, tweets reacting to his talk were projected on a giant screen.The site is long gone, but today, if you visit Ryan Boudinot.com, it redirects you to a post on a now-defunct local gossip blog that compared Boudinot’s refusal to apologize for his essay to sexual assault. Soon after the essay was published, Boudinot stepped down from Seattle City of Literature, the nonprofit he’d founded. All of this—the personal and professional consequences of one essay—was what I wanted to talk to Boudinot about.I’ve written about the contemporary phenomenon of “cancelation” before and I reached out to Boudinot last winter to see if he was interested in telling his story.People were, quite literally, put in stocks in the town square.Eventually, this went out of favor—not because it wasn’t effective, but because it came to be seen as simply too cruel.I handed them over, and he plugged them into his i Phone. “Just listen.” Boudinot pressed play, and all of a sudden, I had the uncanny sense of being in a puddle. This is not where he would have envisioned his career landing just a few years ago, but then something happened that derailed his life as he knew it.“Very few people have heard what you’re about to experience,” he said. It sounded like water dripping on leaves, but unlike traditional audio, the sound seemed to move around in space. He lost his friends, his colleagues, his career, and he became a pariah in the community he’d spent decades as a part of.First, the drops were in my left ear, then behind my head, and then they moved around my head and back again. At the time, it felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to him.It was like surround sound inside my brain, and the experience was almost 3-dimensional… It was the most remarkable listening experience I’ve ever encountered. This one was a booming EDM song with throbbing bass, and even though I was sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle, when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was at a live show. Four years later, he says it may actually have been the best.I agreed, and over the course of our conversations, I realized he was right: His new story was far bigger and more interesting than the old one. It follows the stories of people like Justine Sacco, whose poorly worded joke on Twitter led to a massive pile-on and cost her her job in 2013, and Jonah Lehrer, the best-selling author and former contributor who, among other crimes, was busted making up Bob Dylan quotes.Sacco and Lehrer both apologized for their sins, but in neither case did it particularly help.