Transcript for Episode 196. Can Good Developers Sway Companies From Evil? with Kara Swisher
[0:00:00.5] MN: Hello, and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developers podcast, living large in New York. I'm your host, Michael Nunez, our co-host today.
[0:00:08.0] DA: Dave Anderson.
[0:00:08.7] MN: And our producer.
[0:00:09.7] WJ: William Jeffries.
[0:00:11.6] MN: Today, we have the question, can good developers sway companies from evil? That's what we're trying to answer today. Dave?
[0:00:19.0] DA: What even is evil though? It's hard to say these days.
[0:00:22.4] MN: It's robot controlling, animals, I’m thinking Sonic the Hedgehog right now, maybe, I'm not sure. But we're going to dive right into what that means and if us normies, I would say, software engineers can sway companies altogether. We have a special guest with us today. We have Kara Swisher. Hey, Kara, how's it going?
[0:00:39.4] KS: Hey, how are you doing?
[0:00:40.6] MN: I'm doing fine. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
[0:00:42.7] KS: Well, I'm just a journalist. I've been covering technology for about 30 years, which is forever, I think, I'm the oldest living tech reporter around. And I've been discovering the from the birth of the internet, really, more than technology, I've been covering the internet. So, I was there when all these companies were founded. I was writing for first The Washington Post, and then the Wall Street Journal, and then my own stuff. And then at different companies, I formed, media companies, and then ended up with Fox media. And then also the New York Times now where I write about, I'm a contributing opinion writer now, so I have a podcast that are called Sway, which is, I sort of broadened out from tech. But I had a podcast at Fox and I do a lot of things.
[0:01:22.8] MN: You might have seen some evil in the space, maybe?
[0:01:26.2] KS: Well, I was there when they decided to write that don't be evil thing. In fact, one of the founders called me and said, “Will you help me write this essay? We're going public.” And “Could you help me write it?” I was like, “No.” That is a fair point. He got some other reporter to help him, I understood, but depends on what you're defining. I think you can define evil. That's not true. I think the word is so loaded like evil, it's sort of brings to mind, you've got to go full Voldemort or, you know.
[0:01:55.3] DA: Is it rude and like a fantasy or a biblical sense?
[0:01:59.6] KS: Yeah, it creates this kind of thing. So, you can't have a discussion of morality, you can't make a discussion of maybe making good decisions based on consequences. And so, everything these days is so rooted in reductiveness. I think it has to do with sort of, not just Twitter, but the whole scheme is like everything gets dunked on. Some of the dunks are funny, some of them has this quick reaction, it's twitchy, it's reductive. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's mean. I think nobody can have as thoughtful discussion about what the problems are, and if you criticize people on things that are justifiable, like consequences of creation of inventions, things developers make, they take it personally.
You never have this issue. Say you have a plane and nobody when – did you see this plane, you see it all over Twitter, actually, this plane on fire, this one thing with the picture of the engine on fire?
[0:02:51.4] MN: And everyone, there's no one screaming or going crazy.
[0:02:53.8] KS: No one’s going. I can't believe you're against that engine. You're like, that engine sucks. You want to know what what happened to it and everyone has a civil discussion, wow, besides going, “Whoa, that was something.” Like especially when it landed in someone's yard and didn't kill him, which was great. You don't get into these moral things. And so, when Facebook makes mistakes, or Twitter makes mistakes, or any of these tech companies makes mistakes, it's as if we're arguing about the entire fate of the human race, when we're just saying the stuff you make is sloppy and shitty, and can you make it safer for women or safer for people of color? Can you not like have liars? And people who are breaking the rules continue to run roughshod over it. I don't know. It's just like we allow or someone was like, “You can't tell me what to say.” I said, “If you go in a restaurant and you vomit in someone's plate, you get kicked out. That's what you do.”
[0:03:41.6] MN: Yes, I mean, I hold that person in tech right now.
[0:03:45.1] KS: You do. And they are sort of like, “That’s not the same thing.” I said, “It's exactly the same thing. You're vomiting on everybody. You’re kicking plates up.” I just know why we can’t make it the same thing.
[0:03:54.2] DA: I felt like I have been vomited on from November 1 through January.
[0:04:01.6] KS: Yes, it's true, like that election fraud stuff. And then they said, “Well, it's free speech.” It's like, “No, it's not. It's not. And also, you're not the government.” There are some things like when you read this election fraud stuff, it's not true. We don't let it anywhere else in our society, and yet on the internet, it sometimes becomes this magical thing that nobody pays attention to what free speech actually means. If I have free speech, I'm like, you don't actually. You know what you have, the government can't. You have the first amendment that allows the government not to make rules about it and it has other implications, of course. It's more complex than that. But in general, any of these platforms can do whatever they want. It's their platforms. Then it gets into this evil thing.
[0:04:45.8] WJ: What do you think is an is an example of a tech company doing evil, classic evil?
[0:04:53.8] KS: No one beats chemical companies for that. They like poisoned the entire West Virginia town. [Crosstalk 0:05:00.2]. Those are very clear-cut examples of evil or you know, you make an engine and then you know there's a mistake and you let it go, stuff like that. I tend to say evil –
[0:05:13.4] WJ: So, it seems like maybe that's a different class of problem?
[0:05:16.6] KS: That case, it's sort of venal and terrible, like I save evil for like, I don't know, Hitler. Evil is like a high bar for me.
[0:05:26.0] DA: I mean, I like that thing that you said earlier, where it's like, “Just don't be sloppy.” Because even you spilled some chemicals in the river, That’s sloppy.
[0:05:34.1] KS: So, in that case, they are sometimes evil. [Crosstalk 0:05:35.8] It’s often not thinking of consequences, like, “We'll just bury it here, and everyone will be just fine.”
[0:05:45.3] DA: I think that's the implication that's in my head, where it's like, [crosstalk 0:05:47.3].
[0:05:48.5] KS: When they find out, they think it's bad, then they cover it up, then you're moving into evil territory, right? So, when you actually have lawyers going low, what can we do to hide this? Because people are dying.
[0:05:58.6] WJ: Okay. What about causing harm? Is that maybe a better way of phrasing it?
[0:06:02.4] KS: Yes, causing harm. So, say in Myanmar, with Facebook a long time ago, it was very clear the way they design that app, the WhatsApp thing, that they allowed too many people to organize on it, and it was causing problems, and it was because all kinds of management reasons, they didn't have enough native speakers. They allowed more people. So, it was just like, it was a design error. It's like anything else, a designer error. And so, instead of like taking responsibility for it and saying, “Oh, we really didn't manage that really well.” And it led to death, they're sort of like, they argue the point with you when you shouldn't be just like, “Just fix it.” And and admit error. I don't know what they're doing because they have no liability, right? Because we have section 230, so it’s hard to sue them in many ways, although in that case, I'm not sure if that would – anyway, they don't have that much liability.
So, it's sort of like, I don't know quite why they act like such victims when they're putting all this stuff on.
[0:06:59.0] WJ: Well, what’s happening internally? Are they internally having discussion about it better? Because it might just be a PR thing.
[0:07:03.4] KS: Well, you see all these memos, there was a really interesting story about Alex Jones, and I have a little bit of knowledge about this, because I did a pretty famous interview with Mark Zuckerberg where he said, “Holocaust deniers don't mean to lie.” Do you remember that one? I'm not sure how that came out of his mouth. But that did. So, it's more complex than that, but he made a mistake. Mistakes were made in that interview by him. One of the things that was interesting is it started off as a discussion of Alex Jones, because at the time, if you remember that he was doing all that stuff around the school, the kids were crisis actors.
[0:07:35.8] WJ: And he got banned for it, right?
[0:07:37.4] KS: Yes, but he didn't at first. At first, all the platforms were saying free speech, free speech, whatever. And we have a secret formula violation of law. It was crazy. I found out it was six, you have to have six hits. I was like, “Why six?” And they're like – [crosstalk 0:07:52.6].
I was like, “Well, don't they figure it out by five and then stop and then do something else?” And it was ridiculous. “But it's six, don't tell anyone, Kara.” I was like, “Oh, I’m going to tell everybody.”
[0:08:06.4] DA: Well, now I can go back to Facebook. [Crosstalk 0:08:11.0].
[0:08:11.2] KS: So, anyway, so he was violating the thing. And I kept pointing it out and kept saying, “Why don't you take them off?” And they're like, “Well, free speech.” I was like, “But he's violating your rules that are stated that you throw other people off for. So, if you're going to have random enforcement, I don't understand. Is he high profile? Is it right to get mad at you? What do you worry? Tell me what the problem is here.” And because it doesn't make any sense, given what you've done before on other issues. None of it made any internal sense.
So, anyway, when I interviewed Mark Zuckerberg, he was like, “I'm not taking Alex Jones off.” And I was like, “Yeah, you are. But okay, maybe not today, but two weeks from now you will.” And they actually ended up doing like two or three weeks later, when Apple did it. And the minute Apple did it, [crosstalk 0:08:46.3].
It happened again with the parlor, it happens like that, all the time. So, I don't take responsibility for that, but I kind of do. So, I did a very bad interview with – no, I did a great interview. The CEO Parlor didn't do a very good interview. So, when he was saying that, I was like, you are going to do it, why don't you just do it for now. And he had all kinds of reasons that didn't make any sense. So, just the other day, it turned out that the reason they didn't do it was internally, the civic engagement team was like, “This guy is breaking our rules. He's causing all kinds of problems. It's cascading into conspiracy theories. We need to get them off because once we remove him, he's like the abscess. As soon as we get rid of the abscess, everything will clear up. You know what I mean?” And Marsha over wrote it, because he didn’t think he was a hate monger. So, he decided. One single person decided that.
So, you sort of look at these things and understand that just one person who has this much power can make a decision even though lots of people internally, were very upset by it. Why do you think they leaked all the memos like, “Here, we wrote them. Here, we wrote them.” And this guy, Joel Kaplan, he's the lawyer making decisions at same time, Glad handing the Trump administration. You know what I mean? So, why is he getting to make decisions because his job is to be on good terms of the Trump administration. So, he shouldn't be making content decisions, content policy.
Anyway, there is a lot of internal combustion within the companies where people are like, we're killing people, or we're hurting people, and we have to stop. And then other people said, “Well, define killing and hurting people?”
[0:10:24.5] DA: Where are my incentives in this situation?
[0:10:27.6] KS: Right, but there are people inside. You can see them pop up a lot, sometimes they’re developers, sometimes they’re product managers, and you're seeing it increasingly, because you're seeing increasing leakage to reporters on these memos and things like that. And you're also seeing protests within companies like Google or Amazon or Facebook a little bit. They're not as protesty over there. But you see a little bit of people speaking up, like when they leave the company, they write angry memos, saying, “I told you this was terrible, and I'm embarrassed by this capital insurrection.” And then they huff off after having no effect within the company.
[0:11:00.3] DA: Into the sunset. I mean, if you see something like that, you want to talk to people within the company and like, it may just be watercooler talk or maybe you'll go as far as like organizing a union like Google did.
[0:11:17.0] KS: Or speak up at one of those – I know some of this fascinating companies, where they had all these pressure valves. I used to think of them in this way. Remember when Larry and Sergey would meet in the cafeteria and let everybody yell at them. It was a Friday, whatever. What do they call it? They have a name for it.
Anyway, it was just a company came in and yelled in. And usually was about the salad. You know what I mean? “We aren't getting enough bean sprouts”, which is, of course, the biggest concern among some of these engineers, or “The kombucha is not fresh, as promised us.” But they would have those and they would have these meme areas, and then they would have these message boards where things would get up and down. There were always these pressure valves so that they didn't really have to take pressure, right? So, they let people say their piece or get mad and then nothing happens, so people can complain, but nothing ever changes.
[0:12:05.4] DA: Right and when you're in your day to day, like if you're writing an if statement, your if statement has not directly caused harm, maybe to other people, but maybe like the feature when it comes out, like has knock on effects, like second and third order consequences.
[0:12:19.4] KS: Yes. Consequences. Yeah. Or anticipating consequences. That's a really interesting thing. Because one time I got so frustrated with – I think it was Facebook people, I was like, “Can you just imagine your product is a Black Mirror episode, and then don't make it? Or think what could happen, what's the worst application of this product, and make it not happen that way? Figure out what you can do, not that you can protect everything. A car is going to get in a car crash no matter what you do, eventually. But you can put seatbelts, you can run the engines not fall out, you can make sure the brakes work. You don't want to be kind of this mama state, but at the same time, you should make your products and so there's a shutoff valve or an escape valve or you can cut people off really quickly. If you start to see, say conspiracy theories around say QAnon coming, you just shut them down before they get dangerous.”
[0:13:10.7] MN: But do the engineers at Facebook, for example, feel empowered to pump the brakes on these kinds of features that roll out? Because I mean, I mentioned before but like Parlor, for example, like are all Parlor developers like part of this free speech QAnon like for this movement? Or are they in a different kind of spectrum where they believe in free speech? Air quotes and that, like –
[0:13:37.0] KS: I don't know. I don't know. You're right. There's a lot of people who are like, “Let live and let live. Let's just let it go.” I don’t think it’s a paycheck thing. I think they really do have a deep feeling that anything goes, but I think, if literally, if you walked it down into their real world, they would not like it. I'm sorry, someone shot you. “But you know what? We got to let guns, and have guns. Murder trials, you know, you got in their way.” I think use the thing of like tainted meat, like you don't walk into a butcher, I don't think there's butcher stores anymore. But you walk into –
[0:14:07.3] DA: There’s one around the corner.
[0:14:09.9] KS: Okay, okay. If you're in Brooklyn, here in Brooklyn, there's got to be a butcher store. There's a guy with a beard like yours who is sitting there, looking like [crosstalk 0:14:16.1]. At the 1880s, remember, those chocolate guys are turned out to making shitty chocolate?
[0:14:20.5] DA: Or that scotch from Portlandia were like, during the ‘90s, it’s live in Portland. [Crosstalk 0:14:28.1].
[0:14:29.1] KS: Anyway, so you don't go to butcher store and the guy go, “Most of this meat is good, but some of it isn't. I don't know which one.” It’s like you’re walking out into any aspect of life and it would be like, “No.” And they don't mind having rules around that. And so, it's just funny. It's such a funny thing that they tend to – they don't have a very good argument once you start poking at it. And I think the idea that they didn't know is one of these things, like we didn't know it would happen. We couldn't anticipate it. Who knows? Like it's pretty easy to anticipate a lot of things and not shut down innovation. That's one of the arguments, a lot of engineers. We don't want to not be innovative. I'm like, “I think you can be innovative and still understand consequences.” They seem to think you can't, but I think that's just bullshit.
[0:15:16.7] DA: I do love the idea that like, you can have a like cohesive development team where you have developers, product engineers, designers, and a writer for Black Mirror, who's just listening to all of your conversation and is like, “Oh, no, you can't do that, because I’m taking that.”
[0:15:32.7] KS: That would solve all problem. You have a write Black Mirror and you go, “No, because they'll suck your brains out and put in chips inside. So, we can’t do this.”
[0:15:44.2] DA: It’s perfect.
[0:15:43.8] KS: Oh, my God, that writers of Black Mirror are so clever, aren't they?
[0:15:48.2] WJ: Kara? If you could, like give a message to all of the engineers in these companies, what would you tell them?
[0:15:53.9] KS: I tell them to read my column, for example. Because listen, let me just say, this is what I wrote. I'm not going to tell you when I wrote it. But let me just read this to you. Okay, I wrote this. It's so happens, I live in DC now, and I've been spending a lot of time with regulators talking about these issues. It so happens that in recent weeks, including at a fancy pants Washington dinner party this past weekend, I had been testing my companions with a hypothetical scenario. My premise has been that to ask what Twitter management should do if Mr. Trump loses the 2020 election and tweets inaccurately the next day and for weeks after that, that there has been widespread election fraud, and moreover, that people should rise up in insurrection to keep him in office.
Most people I posed this question, do you have the same response, throw Mr. Trump off Twitter for inciting violence. Very few have said he should only be temporarily suspended to quell any unrest. Very few said he should be allowed to continue to use the service without repercussions if he was no longer the president. One high level government official asked me what I would do. My answer, I would never let it get this bad to begin with. Like I wrote this in 2019, in mid-2019. I'm nostra-freaking-damus here. But I’m not.
I started to watch a lot of these conspiracy. I'm like, “They're going to try to win on bad premises. And if they don't win, they're going to try to incite violence.” It was just so obvious what was going to happen.
[0:17:12.3] DA: There was a slow-motion train wreck. I wasn’t paying that much attention.
[0:17:16.4] KS: I was because I live right near the Capitol and on January 6, the day before I was like, “I think they're going to try to stop the certification. They're going to go up there and try to physically.” And I was like, “Kara, you're being silly.” I'm like, “Well, that’s what I would do if I was crazy. If I was reading this stuff.”
[0:17:33.0] MN: Yeah, if you thought you were more, your president lost to voter fraud, then you have to fight for your country.
[0:17:38.7] KS: Of course, you’d do that. I was like, “Can't you think like a crazy person, and they’re not even crazy.”
[0:17:46.2] DA: It’s a great resume, bullet point. Able to think like a crazy person.
[0:17:48.3] KS: But not a crazy person, someone who's been steeped in persistent propaganda and lies and misinformation and disinformation forever, for like months. That's where you go. It doesn't take like a CIA analyst to sort of be like, “Ah, that's going to happen.”
[0:18:02.8] DA: Going back to the quote from Mark Zuckerberg where he's like, “They're not actually thinking that.” Okay, well, they're just like in the soup. And like, that just happened to them. They're in the soup.
[0:18:14.7] WJ: So, if engineers start listening to your podcast and reading the column, and I guess being more informed about the media's perspective on these issues, and the investigative reporting that's been done, how do you think that would improve the industry?
[0:18:29.0] KS: I think what they do is they going to any one clubhouse. It’s mostly the venture capitalists who can like, “Go suck it, as far as I'm concerned.” But they're mostly victimized, like, how dare you question my intelligence? It's really weird. I get that the press gets it wrong. Look, I'm saying not listen to press. Use your own brain, use your own intelligence, to think about consequences. Just go on these pages and see what they're saying, you can read. Sometimes when I'm looking at some companies sometimes, and I say, “This isn't really going to work out.” And someone says, “Well, how do you know that?” I said, “I can do math. I can do math. Math doesn't lie.”
So, read the pages and see what they're saying and don't assume they're crazy. Assume this is what they believe. And so, don't believe me. Don't believe me. Don't believe the press. If you think I have it out for you, don't believe me, just go and look what they're doing. Look where these conspiracies – get away from politics. Go to vaccination. His antivac stuff is pernicious and it's full of lies.
[0:19:29.2] WJ: So, is this really just about like the big platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or are we talking about regular tech companies? Because most people don’t work at those companies. Most engineers are working at smaller, like small to medium size tech companies.
[0:19:41.0] KS: You’re going to someday be, one of you is going to be that. I think a lot of the newer companies, I have to say are more thoughtful about not just their impact on social or politics, but the environment. I think a lot of people are thinking of that. I do think they are. I actually talked to a lot of young entrepreneurs and they're trying to design their companies in ways that are much more – I don’t know, I think was a green friendly, but carbon neutral kind of stuff. So, you see a lot of people thinking about that. Just all kinds of things. You see people thinking about work flow and where people work from. I hear a lot more of that. You see them thinking a little bit more about diversity from the beginning, not later, when you have like, you’d hire a chief diversity.
Once they've hired the chief diversity officer, it's over. I'm like, “Oh, too late.” And it should be from the beginning and how do you intentionally do that? I get a lot of young offers. How do you think I should start this? And especially young students, I'm like, “Well, just that you're asking the question is very good.” And the thing is, you have to stick with it because when you're making a startup, or you're moving so quickly, it is easier just to grab for whatever is easiest, right? It makes sense. I think about that in my own work. I'm not always successful at this, but one of my employees didn't work for me. One of the people on the staff – that’s why we put together the diversity of the people we've had on so far. And we've only been on like almost a year. But I got charts. I'm like, “Okay, we're doing pretty good on this.” But it was visual, and I see the data and I go, “Okay.” And I'm not going to be like, “Oh, I want to pick one of these and one of these.” But I want to be aware of who I'm asking. I had a list of who we asked and who said no, and who said yes. So, I'll tell you one data point, white guys always say yes.
[0:21:20.0] MN: It’s just confidence.
[0:21:22.7] KS: I don’t know. I have two sons, so I get it. I didn't need that piece of – I have my two sons and they're always like, “I did great.” I'm like, “No, you didn’t.” [Crosstalk 0:21:32.4].
[0:21:33.0] MN: You did your best.
[0:21:33.7] KS: My son the other day was like, he always tells him he didn't do good. I said, “When you didn't do good.” Like when you did good, I was like, “Great job.” What do you want?
[0:21:43.3] MN: It’s positive reinforcement.
[0:21:43.9] KS: That is one data point I’ve just -- I'm not going to tell the other data points. But that is one clear, resounding data point is white guys say yes. Anyway, so I’m just saying I think of it too, am I giving as many voices as I can? I'm not doing it just to have voices. I'm just not trying hard enough to think widely. You know what I mean? Do I have to go to the easiest –
[0:22:05.7] DA: Just thinking of it more broadly or thinking of more options –
[0:22:10.0] KS: Look harder because they’re there. Look harder and whenever we’re doing anything, I'm like, “We're looking everywhere. They're all on the same level, we're not trying to get a lesser just to be fitting in and being politically correct.” We're like, “Have we looked across the whole spectrum here and we haven't? Are we doing one on space now?” We could have gone a number of ways that are easy and well known. And then I was like, “Let's look a little harder.” And we found 50 different choices. I was like, “Okay, good.” That's the kind of thing you have to do. But when you're moving fast doing a company, and you're into this sort of hustle porn, like we got to do it fast, we got to be up all night.
[0:22:45.8] DA: I think there’s something you might said for the social justice movements that are going on right now, where people are like, considering what those knock on effects in society are. And like, also, even if you are in a hostile place, and you need to make a quick decision, taking a moment to acknowledge that you're in that place, and that there are alternatives that you're giving up.
[0:23:11.5] WJ: So, what is an example of like an engineer, rank and file engineer who you think did this well? Who was able to affect change from within, who lived up to their responsibility, not just as an engineer and an employee, but you know, as a citizen?
[0:23:23.7] KS: I'll tell you someone I really like, he's not an engineer, he’s a designer, but he's the CEO of Airbnb. A lot of errors there around city stuff. Remember when there was like no rentals and the the impact of Airbnb in some cities he was going through, there were all kinds – there was an orgy at one point, if you recall, and they didn't have correct insurance in place. He wasn't anticipating all the problems that he should have, because as he said, when I interviewed him, while there's been orgies going on in hotels for centuries, but he didn't anticipate all the problems. He didn't anticipate people having cameras in homes. The safety issues. He did some of them, but not all of them. I didn't think he could have thought about it. But there is some history to people renting.
So, there would have been some idea of what could happen and so, he's very thoughtful when it happens. He owns up. He tends to, not all the time, tends to own up to it. This is a good example. In the capital rights, he did this before in the Charlottesville situation. He just turned off Airbnb in Charlottesville. He's like, “Nobody's staying anywhere with us, because a lot of the white supremacists wanted to use Airbnb.”
[0:24:26.2] MN: And it's and it gets across the board, right? Like whether you want to have a good time or you were going –
[0:24:33.9] KSL I think had signals of who was white supremacist. They had some sense of where it was. And then he did it in the Capitol on January 6, this is before anything happened. He anticipated what happened and he said, “We're not going to let anybody stay anywhere. We're turning it off.” And I thought that was a really interesting – I don't think many people do that. It was a small hit to him. It was a good thing. It didn't stop anything, but it certainly – he was aware of the use of his tools, it's not his fault people came for the rally. It's not his fault that people rallied. It’s not his fault that the ralliers then attack the capitol. None of it is his fault. And you really couldn't say, “Well, they stayed in Airbnb, and that caused the riot at all.” But he did like his part. And I thought he did his part just in a tiny way, and it may not have changed the thing. But he did change his behavior. I thought that was very easy lift for him to do and it was the correct lift and it's what he had at his disposal. Some of the people at Facebook, they cut off political ads, but they did it grudgingly. [Crosstalk 0:25:39.3].
[0:25:43.0] MN: Twitter had done it and then we have to.
[0:25:44.7] KS: They never lead. They lead from the back of the parade, essentially. And so that really bugged me.
[0:25:51.9] WJ: What if you're not the CEO? Can you have an impact? Or maybe you can, so maybe if you're a rank and file engineer, you're absolved.
[0:25:59.0] KS: No, you're not absolved. Because I think engineers in Silicon Valley, like you're not like a Chipotle employee that is like, “Something's wrong with the rice.” You know what I mean? You have enormous power within your organizations. There are lots of workers that do not have power. And so, I just feel like they have – you have a lot more power, wherever you are on the food chain in engineering. You know, you've been to these companies, engineers are like the little lords and ladies of the realm.
[0:26:26.7] DA: But I guess, part of it is like recognizing that you do have power. And it's not just over fresh kombucha, like you can think about the bigger picture.
[0:26:36.7] KS: A 100%, and I think they have those. I remember when I went to Silicon Valley, and they had the dry cleaning, the haircuts and this –
[0:26:43.4] MN: And the sleep pods, Oh, man, I heard –
[0:26:45.2] KS: The sleep pods, and I was like, “What are they all toddlers?” But then I thought, “No, this is what they're doing. They're making them comfortable. They're overpaying them, paying them a lot, and then they don't complain.” That's what happens.
[0:26:58.6] MN: They don’t leave. You don't need to leave for lunch, because we got lunch for you. You need that haircut, go to the barbershop. We’ll clean your clothes, just stay until nine o’clock.
[0:27:06.0] KS: Right. So, I think you take your responsibility in society larger and they tend to keep people that are attracted to tech tend to be apolitical, I don't know how you can be apolitical in the world. You can't be. Everything affects you. And then they get into these ridiculous debates. And you know, the one going on now about use of different words, right? I like, “Why would you use a word that hurts people just so you could use it?” You want to make that point, sure, that makes you an asshole. I shouldn't have the right too. I'm like, “Why? Why do you want that right? Why do you want that right precisely?” Because it's about this and that, or a lot of these things. I'm always like, “Do you really want to die on that hill?” I don't think Patrick Henry was talking about this.
[0:27:46.1] DA: Kombucha hill. Die on the kombucha hill.
[0:27:47.7] KS: I feel like, up your game a little bit on the stuff you're going to fight for, because this is not that. The ability of white people to do whatever they want is not something that we should be fighting for. I'm sorry, you just shouldn't. I mean, you can, but, whatever.
[0:28:03.7] WJ: Are there some other industries that you think the tech industry could learn from that handles this better? The second and third order consequences of the platform that you operate or the tools that you make?
[0:28:13.6] KS: I don't. I mean, some people tell me the banking industry is now a lot nicer. I don't know, I don't cover it. So, I can't say that they put in a lot of place a lot of things after a lot of abuses. But then you read a story. And then there it is, again. I wouldn't say politics, because every five minutes, there's some like horrible story today. It's in Governor Cuomo. Saying dirty things to girls.
[0:28:32.9] DA: We already covered the chemical companies.
[0:28:36.4] KS: I don't know, I'm trying to think what industry. Everybody has their issues. I mean, they get better. There are more women in power in Hollywood than ever before. But it doesn't mean there's enough or people of color. You're seeing a resurgence of that. that's due to like Netflix, deciding to be global and deciding to be diversified with their content. That's been an advantage for them, right? Because they don't have to, like virtue signal. Look at all the global diversified content we have. It's just good for business, as it turned out, that they do that.
[0:29:09.6] DA: The algorithm is forcing them towards something.
[0:29:11.8] KS: Well, they are. They could have easily gone the same – listen, I love a Marvel comic universe like anybody else, but you see so much variance on that platform, and they're really successful. So, you're like, “Well, maybe it actually does work.” You don't have to do the same stupid formulas. So, sometimes like in Netflix, I think is really interesting from a business perspective. I think, trying to think of companies – here’s a good example. Apple really leaning into the privacy thing. So, it's a good business thing for them to do. The cynical people and especially people Facebook were like, “Well, they’re doing it because of business.” I'm like, “So, what?”
[0:29:46.1] DA: It’s still good.
[0:29:46.3] KS: It's a good differentiator. We don't we don't suck up all your information. That seems like, I don't know, I'm kind of good with that. And so, I think they do it absolutely for their own brand and everything else, but I'm kind of like, I think it's an interesting thing to be thinking about how it would be good for your business to be a certain way. I don't know why they want to resist. I guess everything's working just fine and they’re as rich as hell.
[0:30:09.9] WJ: So, I have an example from the media industry that I think might be sort of analogous. I mean, like, on preface is, I'm not bashing the New York Times here.
[0:30:18.4] KS: Please do.
[0:30:19.5] WJ: I’m a New York Times subscriber.
[0:30:22.0] KS: I’m not an employee. So, I don't know what to tell you. I have no sweat –
[0:30:26.5] WJ: I think that opinion pages online with the same branding is cancer. I think readers cannot tell the difference. It undermines the otherwise very high journalistic standards when Bret Stevens embraces eugenics on the New York Times opinion brand. And I think it's the greatest self-inflicted wound in online journalism. It’s like when cable news introduced a 24-hour news coverage, it was terrible for their own industry. And it's just like, it's bad for journalism, it's bad for the country, and it's good for profits. And that's the only reason I can think of is it’s 25% of New York Times profits come from opinion.
[0:31:03.5] KS: Oh, they do? I don't know. I don't know that to be true. I don't know. If you say so. I don't know. I honestly don't know. So, I’m not arguing with you.
[0:31:10.9] WJ: To me, this seems like this is a second and third order consequence, right? Like we have an opinion page, because 100 years ago, if you wanted to share an opinion, you kind of had to do with the newspaper. But now, we have a million places you can go to share your opinion. So, using the New York Times brand, or the Washington Post brand, or all of these newspapers, you know, they say, “Democracy dies in darkness. We're standing up for the truth.” And then you get these opinion pages that are not factual at all. Its opinion. That’s what it’s supposed to be.
[0:31:40.4] KS: I think we could go more. I think the Tom Cotton one was the one. I wrote a big column on that. I said, the issue I have is not Tom Cotton is awful, is that Tom Cotton is inaccurate. And my whole premise with that one, and I think that's more what you're talking about. Bret Stevens is a staffer there. And I think at the New York Times, as far as I know, and again, I have no particular insight, is they've been trying to cast a wider net for conservatives and liberals. And I have a different opinion about that. I'm like, just be liberal, because they're liberal-ish, or centrist, because that's what you are.
I think that's a difficult thing when they're trying to do that, because they're trying to be a little broader. It's hard, because for the most part, we all know that it's more – I would say centrist, even the New York Times or The Washington Post, same thing. I don't think they're hard left, I think they're left-ish, you know, kind of thing. But in the case of Tom Cotton, that's a really interesting thing. And my issue was, I would definitely talk about whether we should give someone a platform like this. That's what you're talking about, right?
My issue with Tom Cotton is that it was inaccurate, because on Twitter, he's just a cretin. He says cretinous things. And then in the page of the New York Times, and I wrote this, he cleaned it up. So, over here, he can make a mess and be evil. And over here, he looks somewhat less evil, I guess, more reasonable. And I was like, “Just let him say what he said over here, over here.” And then, if you want to publish that, that's your choice. In that case, he was allowed to be two different faces in two different places and else, it was full of little factual errors, which annoyed me.
[0:33:12.7] WJ: So, there's one thing about, like, who you choose to give the platform to as the opinion. I think that's sort of a separate issue. To me, the bigger issue is, why are you using the same brand for opinion, when you know, and there are studies that demonstrate readers cannot tell the difference. They see an article, it's right there on the front page of the New York Times and it happens to be in the opinion section, but it looks like regular news. People will click on that and they think, “Oh, this is what the New York Times News is, and this is somebody who disagrees with me. And so, I can't trust this whole newspaper.” And then you undermine mainstream press, and then why is it a surprise when people use that evidence to justify why you can’t trust the mainstream paper.
[0:33:53.8] KS: Yeah, but opinion pages have been around. Columnists are not a new fresh thing for most educated readers. I guess if you're having readers who don't have literacy.
[0:34:01.9] WJ: Absolutely, for sure. The vast majority. Okay, let's just do a quick poll. Raise your hand if you can explain the difference between op-ed, opinion and news?
[0:34:13.3] KS: I can.
[0:34:15.2] WJ: Nobody on the podcast can explain the difference. That’s what actual standard people, we don't know. You go to the New York Times, you cannot tell the difference between those three sections. Vast majority of people cannot tell.
[0:34:27.6] KS: Is that because news pages have gotten more opinionated or because opinion pages look the same? I'm not sure.
[0:34:33.3] WJ: It's because it went online. [Crosstalk 0:34:35.1]. When they were printed, it’s fine. It's a separate section.
[0:34:39.9] DA: Are you saying that like maybe as newyorktimes.com. Are you saying that maybe the website should look different so that it doesn't – like you know that it's affiliated with the New York Times as an opinion, but it looks different? Because as you're mentioning, right, like, someone writes an article that's opinionated, that has their opinions that may be false, like you said, Kara. But the fact that they're under this newspaper that is reputable, do we change it so that we can then know where we're getting our news to know better? I'll have to google to see what the if I opened up the New York Times, and then opinion page to see what it looks like, but I don't know the difference between the three.
[0:35:21.7] KS: Let me let me try something on you then. I think at some point, there's got to be media literacy among people of what they're reading, right? I think that's one of the issues. But I see what you mean about that. Listen, I'm writing about social media companies like all these companies began with a gauzy credo to change the world. But they have done these things in ways they did not imagine by weaponizing pretty much everything it could be weaponized. They have mutated human communication to the connecting people, has too often become about pitting them against one another and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume.
They have weaponized social media. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civil discourse. And they have weaponized most of all politics. I think that's pretty opinionated. You have to have media literacy to know that's not a factual. It’s my opinion. So, I think –
[0:36:05.8] WJ: But if it shows up in your newsfeed, and it just says, “The New York Times article about this.” Most people, people in media don't see this because they live –
[0:36:05.8] KS: Because they aren’t in the physical, they're opening to the last pages. You mean –
[0:36:19.6] WJ: The vast majority of people, if you if you click on a link on Facebook, and it says, “New York Times” in big letters, and then in tiny letters, somewhere hidden on the page, it says, “Opinion”, especially if you grew up in a digital age, and you never were reading newspapers that had a much clearer division between those two sections. You see that and you think, “Oh, this is what the New York Times thinks.” This is what they think is news. This is what they want me to read. This is why I can't trust them.
I think, The New York Times, Washington Post, all these big newspapers, if they wanted to personally help in the fight against fake news, they would spin off and rebrand their opinion pages.
[0:36:59.5] KS: Interesting. That's an interesting question. I don't know, if in a digital environment you can't have that in a regular news organization, I do think it's a question of media literacy. I'm sorry. I think it's just a new way of reading.
[0:37:10.4] WJ: Why do we need it at all? Why is New York Times have to have an opinion page? How does that help? [Crosstalk 0:37:15.7].
[0:37:18.0] KS: There's also been more opinion in news, I think, right? I think there's been more – I am myself to blame, because one of the things we did at Recode was not just – what we did is, I would say was reported opinion, sometimes. Like Peter Coughlin was really good at this, he would find a scoop and find out what they were doing. And then he'd say, “Hey, everyone, this is why they're doing it. Let me just give you the skinny.” And it was his analysis of it, I would say, that we did that a lot.
So, I think news has become more analysis based, hopefully most of the time based on reported work, their actual gumshoe reporting or whatever. I think some things are just pure news, like this happened yesterday. I’m just trying to think the Trump tax returns story. They never said this is bad, because it was just bad. It's just obviously bad from the reporting. But it's an interesting question. I hadn't really thought of it that way, because you you can't open a page and no, it says opinion, nobody physically opens the page. So, what do you do when you do this? I'm not sure this is the most pressing issue around content. I think what it is, actually, is people putting out false content, and then using things. It's a real issue on Facebook. They use like New York Times font and they do stories that aren't from them. That's really where you get into confusion, is they dress up a lot of fake content that they just generate as real, kind of.
So, the noise that people are getting, they don't quite know how to read or what's real anymore is definitely a problem. I'm not sure it's because the New York Times has an opinion section or a news section, it’s that people –
[0:38:45.4] DA: It’s tough. If you want to have like context and direction and order, as a shortcut to like actually doing all of the work, consuming all of it.
[0:38:57.6] KS: There's a new thing that a lot of academics are talking about. It's called sift, stop. I forget what it was, sift. I had to look it up. But it’s a way to read like, how do we teach people to read it's called sift. I’ll look it up. Hold on.
[0:39:09.6] MN: Sift. I mean, stop, investigate, find and trace.
[0:39:14.3] KS: That’s what everybody wants to do every day. But one of the things they were talking about within that is called lateral reading, which is getting people to read a lot of things, like as many people know, because I've written about it because I did deal with my mom and Coronavirus and Fox News, which was we were actively pulling her out of like crazy land in terms of the flu and stuff like that. And then people have more serious things than my mom, my mom is irritating. But one of the things that we did was we gave her more reading so she wouldn't feel – saying she's just stupid didn't work and saying like this, my brother is a doctor saying you will be dying of this virus didn’t work. And it's not a flu. It's not liked the flu. And by the way, get a flu shot also because you could die that easily. And what we did is we started to get her lateral reading, and not like stuff that she immediately said liberal. We were like, “Read this and read this.”
One of the things that happened a lot last year, which was interesting was, “Oh, wait, I didn't know that like.” “Oh, I wasn't aware of that.” “Oh, really?” And it was really interesting to watch the shift. And so, I get your point about you physically can't tell the difference between things. But at some point [crosstalk 0:40:24.1].
[0:40:26.4] WJ: Okay, so if you agree with that, let's talk about what is your responsibility as a writer for The New York Times opinion, right? Is that sort of analogous to my responsibility as an engineer working for a tech company, right?
[0:40:38.4] KS: Well, after the Tom Cotton thing, I wrote quite an odd thing saying, “This is not.” I write, I talk about –
[0:40:42.9] WJ: But that’s about who you give a platform to, right? That's not about making it. I mean, according to the American Press Institute, 57% of Americans reported that they could not tell the difference between opinion in news on social media.
[0:40:57.9] KS: Okay, you want a spun off? That's interesting. I hadn’t thought of that.
[0:41:01.0] WJ: I would imagine that there are a lot of people who were saying –
[0:41:03.4] KS: I get that, but I'm more worried about –
[0:41:05.5] WJ: – that they can tell the difference who can.
[0:41:06.9] KS: I get that. But again, it's focusing on something that's actually, you're talking about high quality content versus shitty content. I'm more interested in the shitty content that comes out, that is false, that is generated by malevolent players, and I am about whether people can figure out that Bret Stevens is different than Peter Baker. I don’t think it’s like the national crisis –
[0:41:27.2] DA: I do like the idea of the diverse media diet too, and I kind of like figuring it out.
[0:41:31.9] KS: It’s interesting if you should spin it off. That would be – what would you call it, though?
[0:41:36.4] WJ: That’s the thing. That’s the problem, is that I think, like the New York, having the newspaper brand is a major, major competitive advantage.
[0:41:45.4] KS: Right. Would you say spin off the comments?
[0:41:47.6] WJ: If you rebrand it, which would be good for journalism, and for –
[0:41:50.7] KS: Well, would it? Is that the best? I'm just saying, Is this the most pressing issue we face today that someone can't tell the difference between Bret Stevens and Peter Baker? I'm not sure that's the case?
[0:41:58.7] WJ: I think it's probably the easiest thing that the media industry could fix.
[0:42:02.4] KS: Well, then, I agree. [Crosstalk 0:42:02.4].
I think where it's better is when you get into broadcast. I think that's where you're really seeing the differentiation you have. Let me just take Fox News. Their reporters during the day are pretty good. They have a rightward slant, but they're pretty good reporters, they do good news job. And then you get into the night, and they’re insane. Nobody differentiates between Tucker Carlson and the very good news reporters. The Fox News, and you’re right, people don’t –
[0:42:33.4] DA: I was in shock, watching OAN broadcast news, and then watching like a special, there was like some hints of sanity. And I was like, “Oh, wow. Okay. All right. Holy crap.”
[0:42:45.6] MN: It went downhill from there.
[0:42:47.7] KS: Well, it's interesting, because the cable news, it's very easy to see something happens at six o'clock that everyone loses their mind. That’s really interesting.
[0:42:54.0] DA: The sun goes down.
[0:42:56.4] KS: That’s the same at CNN, too. Except for Brian Williams, who I think does a very good job. Although lately, he's just been like, “I fucking had it.” I don’t know if you watch him, but he’s funny.
[0:43:06.6] DA: I feel that way.
[0:43:08.2] KS: But he has not gone over the [crosstalk 0:43:10.6]. I think on broadcast, it's more problematic, I would say.
[0:43:15.4] MN: Kara, 5, 10 years down the line, do you think that we're moving away from bad practices in tech or engineering? And are companies being more conscience towards data and how we're using it and the features that are coming out that could potentially be harmful to people, to countries, to places around the world? Are we moving in a better direction now than we have in the past 5, 10 years? Have you noticed?
[0:43:40.2] KS: I think, you need tic tac, that employees have more influence than in other industries. That said, I don't blame the employees in most cases, I don't. I think it's the leadership that's been the issue in terms of the decision making, and especially because we have these charismatic founders. Elon Musk is going to do what Elan Musk wants to do. And that's it. That's the way it's going to go.
[0:44:01.6] DA: He just posted memes.
[0:44:02.4] KS: You see a difference. Look at Microsoft, people have been there a long time, but it's a very different Microsoft than it was under Gates, and he's even changed rather dramatically. And so, I think over time, that slowing down of their sort of aggressive rapaciousness did create an opening for other companies. And so, my hope is not so much to have regulatory regimes over these things, although you're going to see that in some cases, you're going to see different things, probably in the form of a data laws and privacy laws and some more guardrails around these things, fines, maybe some antitrust where it's not that much, I don't think you're going to see some shaming, you’re going to see some activity in Australia and Canada. And you know, you're going to see a lot more government getting in there and that's inevitable from any major industry. It's a long time coming from the tech industry.
But I do think I always rely on innovation to solve the problem like that there will be companies that will replace them with a different kind of ethos. And I do think, as I said, younger founders I talked to, seem to have an awareness of this. They don't want to do that. I think also that you have to really focus in on the people who are running these companies ultimately, and get them to move. And the problem is, I think if one thing is, so whatever you think of what happened with Donald Trump on Twitter, I think most people feel taking him off was long past due. And it’s very few people who are reasonable will be like – my mom's like, “Get him off.” He caused that riot.
So, when they did that, that was a good decision, by the leaders of those companies. The problem I had is that two people made that decision, and that was it. So, how do we get to a situation where there are more companies, there are more choices, there are more places for voices, and more points of view, and companies that have more points of view that will allow that. And so, when you have a coalescing of power in single areas, whether it's media, whether it's anywhere else, or what's in engineering, or tech companies, you tend to have problems, because there's not enough diversity of choices.
In that little moment when Microsoft was slowed down, and by the way, they were never broken up, they never were broken up. People always are like, “Antitrust.” I’m like, “They weren't broken up.” But in that slowing down, I think Casey Newton rather say, through the windows of this open space, a lot of companies ran into it. And then there was different companies like Google, and many others. So, I think slowing down these tech companies, not letting them buy up everything, letting some of these engineers who have great ideas create new companies. You see it in TV, once the networks went away, we're seeing a flowering of television programming. You really are. You're like, “Wow, look at all this stuff.”
[0:46:43.4] DA: It’s like more diffusion of the power. It’s more diverse.
[0:46:45.3] KS: Why is that? Because we don't have three networks, were 16 guys on the Upper West Side of New York to sign everything. You have people down in Los Angeles.
[0:46:53.0] DA: I guess, similarly with [inaudible 0:46:54.3] and what happened with like, we work where there was so much power behind one person –
[0:47:00.2] KS: Well, that was just some weirdness. I don't understand that wasn't a tech company, come on guys.
[0:47:06.3] DA: Different story, I guess.
[0:47:05.9] KS: Was that a tech company? Be honest. What was it?
[0:47:12.2] MN: It’s a relish wrapped in tech.
[0:47:11.9] DA: They had really good couches.
[0:47:15.5] MN: The fruit water. Oh, my god.
[0:47:17.6] KS: I'm in media wrapped in tech. Everything's wrapped in tech. Look, my lights are on and I have electricity. I just don't spend –
[0:47:23.1] DA: It’s wrapped in tech.
[0:47:25.1] KS: But I do think that there will be regulation, combined with a wholesale growing up of the industry with more diversity in the industry. And I don't mean diversity just of like race or gender. I mean, like, diversity, diversity of geography, diversity of purpose. And a lot of technology that's coming is much more serious. And if you think about it, it's not like just dating apps and social networks. It's AI, it's transportation, it's healthcare, it's climate change. These are really big issues. And I think that it's a lot easier to think about – one of the things I'm thinking about, because I'm going to do another code, I think, in October or something whenever we can. I want to think what's forward. I'm tired of yelling at Mark Zuckerberg. I've yelled enough. He gets my message. But I want to think about what's happening in spaceflight. What's happening in climate change tech, what's happening in autonomous.
You can really start to see the good things of tech again, how can we bring that back to that, and that's my hopefulness towards the industry. And then engineers are the fuel of that, like, really great engineers who are being thoughtful about the things they want to make. And when we were doing with changing the way we did media at Recode, a lot of my reporters when they came from other places, they were chasing a news story like something and because of the speed of media, like before we broke a story, we had that scoop for five seconds, as opposed to like a day before. So, they were always chasing scoops and I said, “You know what we're making? We're making hotdogs here and we make a delicious hotdog. But it's still a fucking hotdog.” You know what I mean? I was like, it's a better hotdog and I love a hotdog, and it's like a Chicago hotdog. I don't know. But it's still a fucking hotdog. So, let's make a hotdog. Let's make something else. And so, that's what I'm hoping for, make something better, like more interesting, not clubhouse, whatever. Make something great.
[0:49:17.5] DA: Diversity of domains and ideas and people and geography.
[0:49:24.3] KS: You can. Make something that will actually – you’re going to have children; do you want them to like die have no oxygen? Figure it out. I don't know.
[0:49:35.2] DA: They need more hotdogs.
[0:49:36.2] KS: Well, don’t make a fucking hotdog. That's my advice to everybody. Don't make f**king hotdogs.
[0:49:40.9] MN: Don’t make a fucking hotdog. You heard it here first.
[0:49:42.4] KS: But you know what, hotdogs are delicious. But you know hotdogs, every time you eat one, you’re like, “I shouldn’t do this.”
[0:49:47.7] MN: “I shouldn't have ate that.”
[0:49:51.1] KS: I have to say, getting old, you do that a lot. I was talking to a bunch of students near Chicago today, and we were just talking and they go, “What's your advice for how we do in the future?” I go, “This is going to sound weird, but you need to floss. You need to floss.” And they’re like, “What?” I was like, “When you get old, your gums go, and you if you floss, your gums aren't going to go. And if I tell you two things, sunscreen and floss.” And they were like, “What?” And I'm like, “Forget it.” [Crosstalk 0:49:51.1].
[0:50:23.0] DA: Hotdogs, floss, don’t be sloppy.
[0:50:29.4] KS: Don't be sloppy. Don’t be freaking sloppy. Anticipate consequences. You don't just do this, “Oops, I did it again” bullshit when you're 30 years old. That’s enough.
[0:50:35.6] MN: Hire a Black Mirror writer and put him on your team and they’ll know, like, “No, don’t do that. I will put that on Netflix and you don't build that feature.”
[0:50:44.5] KS: And really, I do take your thing to heart. I hadn't thought about it that way, the physical looking at it. It's really interesting that people can't. I wonder why they can't tell the difference, because if you read it, you actually can.
[0:50:55.9] MN: It’s really easy to hit that retweet, and hit that share on Facebook, and it just has the facade of what it looks like.
[0:51:01.6] DA: Get fired up and then just –
[0:51:05.3] WJ: I think it is one of the reasons why people who are sort of center right, often and distrusting mainstream media and getting pushed further right, is because they see stuff on social media, and they can't tell the difference between what's opinion and what the newspaper is putting forward is actual fact.
[0:51:23.6] KS: Yeah. That is also though, you have to acknowledge an indictment of our education system. We don't know how to critically think anymore. We just know how to react like a bunch of hamsters that keep hitting the thing. And so how do we get critical? How do we make our kids think critically about things? I did that a lot with my kids. I made them read a lot of stuff. And so, they would agree or not disagree, and I think that's because I happen to be an irritating parent, but there is a real lack of critical thinking. And engineers too, by the way, they're like, “Oh, I'm just an engineer.” I'm like, “You can't read history?” I think the way that we teach, like the way we do that is like there's no ethical courses, or there's one that you have to go to, and you all hate it. How do you incorporate –
[0:52:04.1] DA: If they read the history of Rome, you might have known.
[0:52:07.9] KS: Mark Cuban had talked about this with me. Liberal arts education, there's a good reason for it and take away the liberal because it goes, it makes everybody crazy. But the idea is that you educate yourself more broadly. I think engineers tend to pretend that they don't have to understand poetry, and English. And by the way, the English majors should be understanding math and business and technology just the same way. I think it’s probably my solution.
[0:52:30.6] WJ: So, my perspective on this isn't it very engineering focused perspective. I will tie this back in, but I want to talk about doors.
[0:52:40.7] KS: Okay, doors? Very quickly doors.
[0:52:44.0] WJ: So, very quickly, doors have affordances. And a lot of people will not pay attention to what affordance they're using when they install a door. And so, everybody who goes to open the door pushes instead of pulls, and then they put a label on it that’s like push or pull, or whatever you're supposed to do instead of fixing the affordance.
[0:53:01.9] KS: This is what? This is hinges?
[0:53:06.1] WJ: This is bad design. This is like, if you put a plate on a door, then people will push on the door. If you put a handle on the door, people will pull on the door. And then people will just intuit how to use the door properly. If you go around town, you can see which doors are designed well, and which ones are designed badly based on how often people have to switch, whether they instinctively pull or they instinctively push.
[0:53:27.9] KS: This is a far side comment.
[0:53:29.2] WJ: This is good design. So, to me, it's like if you see a problem everybody's misunderstanding whether news is opinion, or fact, that's a design problem. You're using the wrong affordance. We can say put a label on it and make everybody go through a better education. But the reality is that like, people are always going to be a little bit dumb when they're not paying attention. And if you just design it with good affordances, then they don't have to be smart. They can be paying attention about other things.
[0:53:58.9] KS: You know what will be funny, when you started reading it goes, “Hey, asshole. It’s an opinion.”
[0:54:06.6] WJ: I would say, just use a brand that communicates opinion if not fact.
[0:54:13.7] MN: I would say that, as an engineer, the hardest thing to do is to name things. And I'm sure that's probably why they haven't done it.
[0:54:18.8] KS: Because they've been doing it this way. Like it's like say take out the comics or like, “No.” Like, “Why not?” Let me just tell you newspaper is changing. I'll tell you one last story, when I was trying to do a blog for the Wall Street Journal, me and Walt Mossberg, they were like, “What's a blog? Doesn't it make mistakes?” They did all the stupid stuff. And I'm like, “You made 50 errors last week, so don't even begin to talk about mistakes.” But one of the things, we were in a room and I'm writing my memoirs, and I'm remembering these stories, but they were trying to get people to do a Saturday journal. They had at one of these focus groups like getting young people to read the newspaper. Do you remember that? They did a lot of those. Trust me. They were just so stupid. And I was like, it doesn't matter if they read the newspaper, they can read it any way they want and everyone's going to read on their phones eventually. This was very early in the smartphone days.
These are readers. This is like a Star Trek communicator. It's going to do a lot of things. And I was like, “Why are you forcing people to read a physical newspaper if they don't want to? You're going to have to think beyond that. If they want to eat salami, and read it in their gut, somehow, we should put it on salami and let them eat it. I don't care.” So, I was in this focus group with a bunch of people from the journal. And I was always saying something like, “It doesn't matter the format, but start to pick the format you want to do, and then do the best you can in that format. But don't do more print. Please, don't do more print, because I can see people are not going to be buying that.” You can just see it. And I was like, “These tablets are coming out, these things, you can see where it's going.”
So, they were like, “Kara, stop being difficult. And what is your suggestion for getting more young people to read the physical print newspaper?” And I said, “Well, why don't you tape a joint between every page because that'll get them there.” They were like, “Get out of this meeting.” And I was like, “What? That is smart. That will work.”
[0:56:02.1] DA: That will get them to read.
[0:56:03.4] KS: Not for long, not for long, but that'll work. And so, I do think, if the op-ed has been so much a part of media that pull a newspaper apart is a really interesting concept. But you sort of see it happening with Substack and some other things. You do see it happening, like the pulling apart of media. So, maybe you will see that. Maybe you will see it.
[0:56:28.4] WJ: I mean, we’re talking a lot about breaking the tech companies, maybe breaking up the different parts of media companies would be good. This is an issue for both of our industries, right? Because people have a bad information diet in this country, and it's partially because of media, and it's partially because of tech. Everybody is getting all of their information from tech platforms. So, we kind of have to work together to solve this. I think that making it clearer what's a vegetable, and what's a hamburger would improve people’s information diet, by making it easier to make up a choice.
[0:57:00.1] DA: I love it when you buy into it.
[0:57:00.3] KS: But the issue I have breaking up with tech is that one company should not dominate 99% of the market. That's it. There's no media company that does that, except maybe in Australia. Well, no, not even in Australia and Rupert Murdoch doesn't have full control over that market. Getting back to that, I still would pick Mark Zuckerberg for any day and twice on some days. So, I got to go.
[0:57:22.8] DA: Wrapping up. Do you have any plugs?
[0:57:25.7] KS: Oh, I just listened to sway. It's a really good podcast. When is this going? When is this going on? This thing? It’s going up when?
[0:57:32.0] MN: Next Tuesday.
[0:57:33.2] WJ: They drop on Tuesday.
[0:57:34.5] KS: All right, Tuesday. I have Sacha Baron Cohen on. Speaking of Facebook, you know he's attacked them rather vehemently. And he's coming up and I've got a whole bunch of people, of really great people. So, listen to Sway which is on the New York Times opinion page. It's very clear. I'm opinionated. If you listen to –
[0:57:49.6] WJ: It's a great podcast. I'm a subscriber, I will be listening to that episode.
[0:57:53.1] KS: Thank you, by the way, if you listen to it, I'm opinionated. And then the pivot, I'm really opinionated, like double opinionated with Scott Galloway and that's it, New York Media and we just hammer on, that's what we do. And it is so opinionated. If you don't know it, you're an idiot and should stop listening to it. That's my feel. I don’t know what to say.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:58:15.4] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole. Never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast.
On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries, and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson, and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.
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