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Full transcript: founding editor Elizabeth Spiers on Recode Media

“There have been so many incarnations of Gawker, and if you read it when I was writing it, it wasn't really negative.”

Courtesy Elizabeth Spiers

On a recent episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, former editor Elizabeth Spiers gave the site a preemptive eulogy, speaking shortly before the site officially shut down.

You can read some of the highlights from his interview with Peter at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

Transcript by Celia Fogel.

Peter Kafka: I’m here with Elizabeth Spiers, who has had many cool jobs — we'll talk about several of them. The one I want to start off talking about is your first job in New York — was it your first job in New York? Founding editor?

Elizabeth Spiers: No.

No, of course not, you had a job. We're here with Elizabeth Spiers who among other things was the founding editor at Gawker. Welcome, Elizabeth.

Oh, thank you for having me.

She's also my neighbor, so this fulfills every sort of stereotype of Brooklyn media people hanging out. The caveat: We haven't seen each other for years. So that destroys the stereotype a little bit.

Yeah, I think we used to run into each more in Manhattan than we do living four or five blocks away, so … Yeah. In deep Bay Ridge, too, so that's sort of the Brooklyn stereotype that doesn't hold up.

Hello again. Thank you for joining us. When people hear this, Gawker Media will have a new owner via bankruptcy court auction. Later tonight, I'll see you at a New York media party that Gawker's having — it's a wake for Gawker. I want to ask you about where you think the company will go. But start off by explaining how you got that job. How did you become the founding editor of Gawker?

I met Nick Denton at a MetaFilter meetup in 2000, and we were introduced by Anil Dash. I met Choire Sicha there, too.

Explain to people who are not steeped in the New York blog world what a MetaFilter party is.

MetaFilter was ... is still around, it's a group blog founded by a guy named Matt Haughey in 2000 or so. I don't think a lot of people were blogging categorically, so if you knew about MetaFilter, you were probably part of an early web community, or just kind of an outlier. I mean, people who are blogging at that point were blogging about technology or politics, and almost nothing in between.

Blogging wasn't a job, right? It was something you did for giggles.

No, it was a hobby, and it was fairly obscure. You know, the New York Times was still having to explain what a blog was, and anytime they wrote about it they were still spelling it capital "Web log." So I went to a New York meetup for MetaFilter, and I kind of ... you know, there were several of us who had blogs, and we were reading each other's. So I was reading Nick's blog, he was reading mine. We were both reading Anil Dash, and I was reading the Morning News, and Choire was writing there.

My perception is that all you guys lived on the Lower East Side, or the East Village. or at least were like ...

Kind of. I think we all lived downtown at the time. Nick had just moved to New York, so he'd been there for two weeks.

Nick had built and sold a couple of businesses ...

Yes. He started a company called First Tuesday with three other entrepreneurs in London, sold it, moved to San Francisco with a childhood friend of his, David Galbraith, and a third friend, and they started Moreover in San Francisco. They had an exit — I think Nick left the company before they had an exit — but he moved to New York to do a new software company that he was calling the Lafayette Project. And over several years it morphed into Kinja.

Which was sort of a white whale for a long time ... technology platform.


So you meet him at this party, you're blogging for giggles on the side ... what are you doing to pay the bills at this point?

I was a buy-side tech equity analyst for a little Long Island hedge fund.

You had a job on Wall Street, except it was on Long Island.

Yeah. And I was getting paid $50,000 a year. So I didn't have the job on Wall Street in the sense that …

But you had a job.

Yeah, that's true. I was employed.

And you're talking to Nick, and he says, "Hey, wanna create a snarky site about media and eventually get sued by Hulk Hogan?"

Not exactly. That didn't happen for a year. What happened was Nick and I started hanging out socially a lot, and I started dating his best friend. And then the best friend dumped me, but I kept Nick [laughs]. But we would talk about blogging every now and then, and at some point we went to lunch, and he had talked about starting a commercial blog but not as a primary business, almost as marketing for what was going to be Kinja. And he hired Pete Rojas to write Gizmodo part time — this was August of 2002, when Gizmodo launched. And a few months later, we went to lunch and he said, "You know, I want to get your thoughts on something. I'm thinking of doing a New York blog." And I thought …

Oh, so Gizmodo, the gadget blog, preceded Gawker.


I didn't realize.

So when we had lunch, I thought Nick was just asking me what I thought of the idea on a business basis, and I was in analyst mode. We had an entire lunch where I didn't realize he was pitching me to write it until I left. And at the time, he used to do this thing where if he was making somebody an offer, if they said no he would have plausible deniability that the offer was ever made. But I'm a little oblivious, so I didn't realize that that's what was happening until the guy that dumped me sort of emailed and said, "Why didn't you take that job Nick offered you?" And I said, "Did he offer me a job?" [laughs]

What was the job? It was create a media-Manhattan-centric publication ...

Yeah, he had the idea that we would do a sort of insidery guide to New York. And I think his original conception of it would have been that it would be sophisticated but, you know, not pretentious. There was going to be a heavy service component, which it never really had. And he didn't really have any structured idea of what it was going to look like editorially, but I think we both liked each other's writing, and he was like, "Well, you're just going to do 12 posts a day about things that are New York-related." And he felt very strongly that media should be covered at the time, and that personalities in media should be covered. And that was new territory for me. He had to explain to me who Tina Brown was.

So you were in blogging world, but you weren't someone who was aspiring to get a job at Conde Nast or move up the ranks?

No, but there was one coincidental thing, which is that I was getting bored with equity analysis, so I started looking for business journalism jobs, because I wanted to write, and I ended up interviewing with Jason Calacanis to be a deputy editor on Silicon Alley Reporter or Venture Reporter or one of those publications. And Nick and I had already decided we were going to do Gawker, so I remember meeting Jason for a last-round interview and saying that there's just this one thing … I'm going to do this side project with a friend of mine, and I feel like I should disclose it because it would be public. And this was before I had any concept of how much time Gawker was going to take up. And Jason was like, "Oh, that's fine." But then he didn't hire me, so ... [laughs]

And then, for the folks who aren't deeply steeped in this stuff, Jason Calacanis and Nick Denton were rivals for quite a long time, with Gadget and Gizmodo. When Gawker popped up, I was in media at a mid-level/low-level job at Forbes, and it felt like you were writing the site for me, right? It was gossipy, and it had really a snarky edge to it, which I really liked. It was also fairly disposable, and then you'd do occasional stunts, like you got yourself into the Conde Nast cafeteria, which is a big deal. You interviewed a coke dealer who served Wall Street, that was a ton of fun. And it seemed ... like it was hard to imagine that something like that hadn't existed before. Did you have a model you were using?

Yeah, I was a fan of Spy Magazine. It was a little bit before my time, but I sort of discovered it after its heyday, and became a little bit obsessed with it. I also liked The Observer during that period.

The New York Observer.

Peter Kaplan heydey. And was a model.

These are all my favorite things, so this makes sense. You wrote this for me. And then for a while, it seemed like that voice that you worked on — because Gawker eventually became a much bigger thing and spread to other sites — became the sort of default way a certain kind of web person spoke, wrote to each other, typed at each other. Do you ever think about sort of that legacy that you created there?

I'm not sure I created it. If you look at the places I just mentioned, Suck, Spy, The Observer, it was there. The difference is, The Observer at the time was sort of stubbornly refusing to put any of their stuff online, Spy existed before the online era, Suck had folded. So there was nothing in the market, in digital media, that looked like it at the time. But there was certainly comparables.

And then if we fast-forward all the way until the modern era, one of the things that people talk about when they talk about the success of a site like BuzzFeed is, it's not like Gawker. It's much more positive and friendly, it's designed to be shared on Facebook, and people share positive things on Facebook. Do you think we'll sort of cycle, or the pendulum will swing back to snarkier, meaner things again on the web?

I don't know. There have been so many incarnations of Gawker, and if you read it when I was writing it, it wasn't really negative. It was sort of gleefully laughing at the sort of insidery New York notion that the entire world revolves around New York. So the kind of alter-ego voice that I was using was a persona that had no self-awareness. And that was part of the fun of it. You know, you could write in this voice, a typical oblivious New Yorker who thinks the entire world stops outside of Manhattan. And this is before Brooklyn was a brand in and of itself. So it was easy to sort of talk about …

Right, when you had to convince a cab driver to take you to Brooklyn.

Yeah. And you could talk about gentrification through the lens of class warfare, but it wasn't the same kind of ... Gawker has gone through periods with certain writers where there was this kind of viciousness that I don't think I ever had. Unless it was something where I just really felt that ... I get that kind of anger when I think about Donald Trump right now, but I would have never gone after somebody just gratuitously, or just because I didn't like them. I didn't have that impulse. I don't think I have that impulse now.

And for better or worse, people remember, or will remember Gawker for its extreme posts. Both the positive ones and the negative ones. But it's always easier to think about the negative ones.

Right. I mean prior to the Hogan trial, a year ago, really, Gawker had gone through this — it goes through periodically a giant convulsion — because they had outed a publishing executive. I think a really reprehensible story ... and the story was taken down, a lot of the writers who were on staff were upset about that happening, not that it was published, that it was taken down. And then you heard commentary from Gawker alumni saying, "What are you talking about? This is the kind of Gawker media post we would always do." I don't think that's true. I can't think of another comparable that would have been ...

I was astonished that it seemed like not only was the existing staff thinking this was a good thing to have done, but there were people saying, "This represents Gawker Media." And I was wondering if there was throughline that I missed there.

I don't think so. I think maybe the two people who said that are kind of anomalies in and of themselves. Because my impression, and granted I don't work there, but from people that I talk to there, is that everyone, pretty much universally, except the people directly responsible for that story, was appalled by it. And, you know it's significant that they did take it down, not because they removed it from the internet and it's gone, but because that's unprecedented for Gawker history, and he felt strongly enough that that was such a horrible story that even if just symbolically, to convey to staff and convey externally that it's not what Gawker is supposed to be doing. And we all understand that.

So, like I said, Gawker will have a new owner, maybe Ziff Davis; maybe somebody else. In whatever condition, whoever buys it, do you think there's any way that sort of the DNA that Nick has built up, and the kind of stuff that Gawker and the other blogs do, will be able to continue with a new owner? Or do you think it eventually gets absorbed into whatever borg acquires it?

I don't know. I mean, I think the bigger the company that absorbs it, the more that all of it gets toned down just because of more liability-oriented legal oversight, which I think happens in any big media company. It makes it more difficult to do your risky stories. And on some level, that might be a good thing for Gawker. Somebody asked me the other day, "How did that Conde Nast story or CFO story even get published?" And I said, "You know, Gawker has hundreds of people working for it. The notion that Nick Denton would see every post before it went up is ludicrous for a company that size." But I also think that at some level a little more bureaucracy would be useful.

Right, there aren't a ton of layers at that company.

You don't have to worry about something slipping through one crack and then being a giant disaster.

We're going to take a quick break here for one second.

We're back with Elizabeth Spiers, who has been very gracious to sit in a very humid studio with me — I appreciate it. We just went through Gawker's past and present. I want to hear a little bit more about some of the things you've done in New York. You've had a million different jobs. You were at Mediabistro ... does Mediabistro still exist?

Yeah, it got bought by Alan Meckler bought it. I feel like it's mostly an education job board company now.

Yeah, that seems right. New York Magazine, you've consulted for lots of folks, you now have your own property. I want to ask you about your tenure at The New York Observer, that's timely, as well. You worked for Jared Kushner, who now is Donald Trump's son-in-law. And I think people have been asking you about this for a period, and then you eventually blogged about it and explained your relationship with Jared, and it seems like you got along with him reasonably well.

[Laughs] I got along with him better than any of my predecessors. And I think some of it was that he knew that I had an entrepreneurial streak, and so he could talk about the business side. And I a) wasn't afraid of it, and b) was actively interested in it.

He was married in the Trump family when you were working for him, right?


So what was your perception of his relationship with that family at the time?

I mean, he loves Donald Trump. They have a good relationship. I think maybe partly because their families have similar histories. Their both dynastic, commercial real estate people. The fathers on both sides have their share of notoriety for different reasons. I think that's also probably part of the reason Jared and Ivanka bonded. And Trump has always been, I think, good to him. They have a good relationship, and it doesn't surprise me. I think Ivanka's very close to her father, and that's a factor, too.

So now, by all accounts, Jared is intimately involved in the campaign, offering advice. Did it surprise you that he would get himself that immersed into the workings of Donald Trump's presidential aspirations? Or did you figure, "All right, if that's what the father's doing, that's what he'll be doing?"

No, it's doesn't surprise me. I mean, you know I think Jared's always been interested in politics, and had very strong political viewpoints. Like any newspaper owner, he was on the editorial board. So when you look at The Observer's editorial page, you're seeing viewpoints that reflect the owner's. He didn't have any involvement in the rest of the paper on any material basis, but if you want to understand his politics, you could look at the edit page of The Observer, and you would see that.

So, The Observer, as we were talking about earlier, was for a long time sort of the successor to Spy magazine, at least to New York. Very snarky, very insidery and media-centric, created many many people who have gone on to great success in the media world. It was kind of a graduate school for media, and a money-losing one. And then Kushner bought it, and then went through a succession of editors. When he brought you on, what was his ambition? What did he want that Observer to be?

I think he didn't know. He knew that it wasn't working. My immediate predecessor had a plan to turn it into kind of a competitor to Cranes. I liked the guy who was my predecessor, but thought ...

That's a string of local business publications.

Yeah, I thought that was strange. You know, it wasn't really what The Observer did. And so initially I starting talking to Jared. We had met earlier, right after he'd bought the paper, and we were talking about maybe doing a partnership between Dealbreaker, a Wall Street site that I'd started, and The Observer. And subsequently The Observer tried to buy Dealbreaker, and the deal didn't come together. But he asked me to come in to talk about maybe consulting for them, figure out what the editorial strategy should be, and in particular what the digital strategy would be. And when I came in, I frankly was overbooked, and I wasn't that terribly interested in consulting for The Observer, because I knew that they don't really have a budget. And I didn't think that the problem was the look and feel of the website, which is what they approached me about.

They wanted a new website.

Yeah. And I said, "You know, the problem with The Observer isn't the website, it's that it's not The Observer anymore, and if you want it to have the influence that it had during its heyday, it has really got to talk about power elites in New York and it's gotta cover that." And when I came in they were doing these features ... they had a feature that particularly infuriated me, called "The Player," and it was just a profile of like a junior real estate broker. And it was just painful to read. And I told Jared, I said, "If you go back to when The Observer really had a lot of power, it was because it didn't pull any punches, and it talked realistically about what power structures in New York look like."

This is who's really running New York, this is who really matters ...

Yeah. And you wouldn't see these kind of blowjobby pieces about junior people just because ... And I think Jared was still trying to figure out what it meant to be the owner. And I think when he bought the paper, he thought it meant that he suddenly had a media property that would be a PR vehicle for all of his interests.

And you had to disabuse him of that notion?


And how did that go?

Uhh, mixed results. We had some thorny conversations, but we somehow managed to end up in the right place most of the time. I do know at least one of my predecessors’ reaction to those kinds of conversation was to just avoid Jared, and I don't think that's ever really a good policy [laughs]. I'm reserved, but I'm not afraid of having those conversations, and they don't intimidate me. So the best thing I could do is kind of explain to Jared, and as much as he was willing to listen or see it demonstrated that the paper would have no credibility if it didn't do these things.

And I think you've written that he basically gave you a lot of room to operate.

Yeah, especially in the beginning. Like, I think for the first couple of months, he sort of said, "We'll do whatever you think you need to do." Unfortunately for me, six weeks in, Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency.

It was 2012, right?

Yeah. And then, thankfully, he sort of dropped out shortly thereafter, because we had a lot of arguments about that. And I think if he'd stayed in the race, I wouldn't have lasted very long there at all.

Because you would have wanted to cover Trump, and cover his campaign or non-campaign ...

Yeah, I think we would have just hit these untenable walls where if Donald Trump's getting up and saying insane things and he is the front-runner, you know, it's very difficult for a paper to be in that position. Historically, one of its strengths is that it covers New York politics, and in this case, you have two New York politicians who are the front-runners in a major presidential contest, and one of them is very vocal and keeps saying the kind of things that The Observer would normally latch onto. And for a while, because Jared knew that I admired Peter Kaplan, he would. And this is a Trump technique, I feel like …

That's the former Observer editor.

Whenever I would do something that he didn't like, he would go, "Peter Kaplan would have never done that." Like, really? Peter Kaplan would have never covered Donald Trump? Can I point you to the six times he was on the cover?

As you say, Trump is saying insane things, it seems like it might actually be having an effect. It's mid-August as we're taping this. Things could change, but it looks right now as if he's going to get destroyed in the election. Again, who knows. Assuming that Trump loses, do you think Jared's ambitions, politically, are done, or do you think he wants to remain in that orbit?

I don't know that he would run for office, but I do think this whole process has probably whetted his appetite for being more politically involved.

You think he likes it.

Yeah. Well. I think he historically ... You know, he's not the kind of person who really likes keeping a low profile. I mean, he would say otherwise, but at some point I remember he bid on the Dodgers while I was at The Observer, and we were doing a CIA story that the CIA didn't like, and so they were calling and trying to find Jared. And at some point their spokesperson called and said, "You know, Leon Panetta wants to talk to Jared, and can't find him." And I said, "Really, the CIA can't find Jared Kushner? I mean, he's married to Ivanka Trump and just bid on the Dodgers, he's not living in a mountain somewhere." [laughs]

He's not laying low.


He has this sort of patrician effect, as if he's not and he doesn't — you won't seem him being interviewed on ... "Crossfire" doesn't exist. Whatever replaced "Crossfire" on CNN.

He doesn't have the same appetite for attention that Donald Trump has, but I think he wants to be ... I mean, like everyone, respected. And I think he believes that having influence and power is a direct root to that. And I would imagine that being behind the scenes on the Trump campaign at the level he is has probably, you know, given him a little bit of an education about how you do that, in a way that is not operating in a teeny-tiny industry in New York that's mostly dynastic and small.

You were super savvy about New York and power and media and what people who run things want out of life. But you weren't born into this milieu, right?

No, I grew up in small-town Alabama. My dad was a local lineman for Alabama Power.

Did you want to be in this world? A lot of folks, like the classic, "I want to be in New York. I want to work at a magazine. I want to work in media."

Uh, no. I knew that I was probably going to move out of Alabama, but I didn't ... I think it was more that I just read a lot as a kid, and I think whenever you do that, your cognitive landscape is just a lot broader. Like, you don't take it for granted that you're still going to be in the same place in 20 years; you see opportunities available to you that would not be obvious, I think, if you didn't develop that inner landscape and learn about what the rest of the world is like. But no, I didn't ... when I was growing up, I knew that I wanted a career of some sort, but for a while I thought that meant I was going to work in foreign policy or be a lawyer. And it could have gone that way. I feel like there were so many things that have happened in my career where if I had just not gone to this one event or met this one person, my life would be totally different.

Occasionally, I'll read some of the posts you put up, and they talk specifically about the fact that you've got a perspective that a lot of people you talk to and live with and work with don't. Which is, you don't come from New York or sort of blue-state world. You came from middle-class/working-class background. Religious background. Is that sort of in your head all the time, that you're not of this group? Or are you in the group now?

It's kind of both. I mean, I've been in New York for 17 years now, so I think I've probably been brainwashed into New Yorkerishness by now. But I still — especially in an election environment like the one we're in right now — it's hard not to look at the way that I think people are in New York who haven't been outside of New York look at the rest of America. And they're surprised that Donald Trump is getting the traction that he has.

Right. And there's lots of earnest and well-meaning …

And I don't think that's really surprising to those of us who have spent time in those areas, or grew up in conservative areas. It's not as shocking.

I think there's a lot of well-meaning people who say, "Well, I don't get it. What are these people like?" You have to read about them. What do these people want? There's good stuff passed around about that. Let me ask you about what you're doing now. The Insurrection is ... you've done a lot of consulting, and sort of started things and moved on, but this is your own company.


And so The Insurrection is what?

It's an agency and research firm, and we have a focus on virtual reality.

So, agency and research firm, meaning people come to you and say, "I want to create something in VR, help me do that"?

Yeah, a lot of that. And then in some cases, like, we just did a research project a couple of months ago for a company called Room Scale that does pop-up VR arcades. And we were just doing qualitative surveying for them. Longer-term, we're working on developing an analytics product that works in VR environments. And I'm in the middle of a fundraising round for that.

How did you pick VR as a focus? I don't know you that well, but it seems it's such a sort of futuristic ... it's sort of an untethered place to be.

I've always been interested in futuristic stuff. I mean, before Gawker I was a buy-side tech equity analyst. But, you know, I sort of had some success in media, and I think I just kept doing that because it was fun and I know how to do it reasonably well. But my intellectual interests, I think, are a little broader. So I was interested in biometrics and analytics and data, and I kind of fell backward into VR because I was thinking about doing an analytics product around VR. So I went and did some, you know, heavy immersion VR and I think had an experience that when you talk to people that are into VR, everybody had, which is the first time you do a real immersion experience, you come out of it …

And a real immersion experience is what?

Like fully enclosed …

Putting on a real …

HMD, some haptics, a controller.

This is like the Facebook Oculus.

I would say Oculus, maybe not Gear VR, which is a little bit lower-level VR, but you get a sense for what the possibilities are, even if it's a little clunky right now.

So you're saying, if I can summarize it, when you use the state-of-the-art VR tech that's available — really to only a handful of people right now, as opposed to the Google Cardboard that The New York Times is sending out, and people have played with a little bit — it's a radically different thing, and until you experience, that you don't really understand what people are talking about.

Yeah. I mean, I think anybody would see Google cardboard and go, "Oh, that's cool, but it's not anything remotely ..." Google cardboard versus a full-immersion experience is the difference between looking at a 2-D cartoon and looking at a Pixar movie. And so I came out of full-immersion experience, and just thought, "I get the hype." And historically I think I'm kind of skeptical about those things, in part because of the analyst background. I tend to be a little dismissive. And I told somebody a few weeks ago, and I keep saying this, like I haven't been this excited about a technology since I saw my first browser in college.

We were talking before we started recording, and I said, "This sort of reminds me of 2005." What you're doing, right? Where people understood that the web was a thing, but they didn't know how to use it. So they paid people a lot of money to build sort of rudimentary websites. And that could be a very good business for you for a while. The contra to that is, in 2005, anyone who wanted to could get online in some capacity, it wasn't a hard thing to do. And if you wanted to type something and publish it, it was a little bit harder, but it wasn't really restrictive. It seems like VR and augmented reality are technically and financially hard for most people to get into. Either to experience or to create something for it. Am I getting that right?

They are right now. So I think the analogy isn't 2005-era web development. I think it's 1995 on the web. But that's changing pretty quickly, just because the development tools are getting better. People are making lighter development tools for amateurs. And, frankly, if you want to learn Unity, which is one of the largest gaming platforms for VR right now, it's not that difficult. You can do entry-level things in Unity without very much training. 360 video, and as much as anyone considers that VR …

That's the kind of stuff you might have experienced via YouTube, via Google Cardboard.

Yeah, the costs of producing that is coming down really rapidly. But I think of VR as having promise, not just because the content-creation tools are going to be ubiquitous, it's just I think VR is going to be ubiquitous because right now I think of use cases as being primarily, you know, people think of VR as elite gamer technology.

Right, you strap on the goggles, you've already got a very expensive gaming set, and now you've paid hundreds of dollars more to buy, to invest even more on this.

Yeah, and it is elite gamer technology. But it's also a lot more than that. If you look at where the investment money is going into VR, you can kind of get a sense of where capital markets think the promise is. And there's a lot of money going into VR or RND and military applications, health-care applications, retail. We think about gaming because it seems to be the obvious high-end consumer use case right now. But there's a reason why also a lot of the gaming companies are putting forth these VR simulations that don't look like gaming. So you have these high-concept kind of absurd things like Fantastic Contraption, which is a game where you just ... or it's not even really, I mean calling it a game might even be like incorrect usage, because it's more like an environment that you can play in and build things. Or Google Tilt Brush is one of the best entry-level ...

I've seen pictures of it, I haven't been able to play it. You actually get to go and sort of create these amazing 3-D sculptures.

Yeah. And I think that some of the smarter companies in the VR space are creating experiences like that for VR users, so that it's clear that the applications are not solely or even primarily for gaming.

Some people look at pictures of white guys wearing goggles — there's that famous picture of Zuckerberg walking through — and people they either laugh at it, or they get genuinely creeped out, and they say, "I don't like this. If this is the future, I don't want part of the future where we strap on goggles and we're cut off from our surroundings." How do you think about — I mean, do you think that is going to hinder adoption, or do you think people will just get used to that idea? Or VR becomes something else?

I think it becomes something else. I think, longer-term, the long game is really mixed reality. So you wouldn't be wearing anything that would be presentable as the current VR enclosed goggles, you would be wearing something that looks like a pair of Warby Parker glasses.

This is the vision of the future, the magic leap, is presented.


Augmented reality — mixed reality, I guess is the new term, right?

Yeah. There's an indie film called "Creative Control" that came out in March, it was backed by Amazon. And it's a black-and-white satire about yuppie New York now, and the lead character runs an agency in Williamsburg, and they’re repping an augmented-reality device called Augmenta. And the plotline is the protagonist seduces his best friend's girlfriend with the AR device. But if you look at the way they render the AR in that movie, it's completely seamless. So it almost doesn't feel like a sci-fi movie. And it's supposed to be near-future anyway, but the AR device really does look like pair of glasses, and it comes in a white box that looks like something Apple would produce, and I think that's the long-term scenario.

So you're not cut off from the world, you're adding to the world that you're living in.

Yeah. I mean, theoretically, there are going to be devices that can also maybe double as enclosed headsets, but I think, longer-term, it's going to be so seamless that you won't notice it. I mean, if you asked somebody 40 years ago, are we all going to be walking around with tiny little slabs of a computer and constantly looking at them and using them all the time, that would seem preposterous.

If VR and AR and mixed reality comes through, what industries do you think it fundamentally disrupts? Who loses if VR gets widespread adoption? We've seen what the web has done to music, newspapers and maybe movies so sooner or later …

For instance, desktop manufacturers. At that point you probably don't even need a laptop. You don't need a phone, really. So, if you look at consumer electronics, that's a big one. It's conceivable that eventually we have a master list. Maybe Google produces it. Where everything is operating in an AR environment. So anything now that feels a little bit segmented, you know needing multiple devices to be online in different contexts, I don't think, longer-term, that's going to be necessary. There are also applications that are not, I think, what people think of when they think of VR. Like you see people using VR in health care for stroke therapy. Or for pain management. And it's like, well, what is that disrupting? Well, a piece of the pharmaceutical industry, to be honest.

Which is a pretty big industry.


People like you, who know VR, are basically almost dismissive of what The Times is doing. Or maybe that's the wrong term. But you said, "That's not the real thing, you need to go experience the real thing." Since this stuff is expensive and you have to have the full-immersion experience to make it work, what's the best way for a regular person to get access to this stuff?

Right now, if you know anybody who has a full HMD Oculus or …

Find a friend, and ask them to put the headset on.

Yeah. If you're in New York, there's a company called The Void that does what they call VR amusement parks, and they have an implementation at Madame Tussaud's. It's expensive. You go and pay 50 bucks to basically run through a simulation that replicates the last scene of the movie "Ghostbusters," and you shoot ghosts and try to seduce Sigourney Weaver, or whatever happens in that movie.

was going to say, up until the Sigourney Weaver part it sounds great for either me or my kids. And it seems like this stuff is going to show up in amusement parks fairly soon.

Yeah, it already is. I mean if you look at the industries that are going to be disrupted, movie theaters, amusement parks, the point at which you have full-body haptics and you can experience a roller coaster just by sitting in a small space and putting on a headset, and it feels exactly the same to you, then there's not a lot of incentive for amusement parks to build super-expensive, high-risk …

How far are we from that?

I mean it already exists. Six Flags is putting a ton of money into it. And you can go to most of these chain amusement parks, and they have some kind of VR implementation.

Right. They're adding it to the mix, but it's not replacing a roller coaster yet.

Yeah, not yet. But when you look at particularly things like liability, it makes total sense to replace as much of it as you can.

No one's going to fall out of a pair of goggles.


So, if people want to ask you more about this, they find you on the web, they find you at ...

You still use email?


This is a super-humid room we are in right now, so I appreciate your time more than normal. Thanks again.

Thank you.

I'll see you tonight. Thanks.

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