This week on Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode's Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode count down the 10 most important tech stories of 2017. Hint: No. 1 rhymes with “goober.”
You can read some of the highlights from the discussion here or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: I’m Lauren Goode, senior technology editor at The Verge.
You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is the show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
It could be anything at all, like which CEOs Kara is going to get fired in 2018.
There’s so many. It’s gonna be a banner year, I think.
I have nothing to say to that.
All right, well. Send us your questions. Find us on Twitter or tweet them to @recode or myself, or to Lauren with the #tooembarrassed.
We also have an email address. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. No, it’s email@example.com. A friendly reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed. You seem very confident about that, by the way.
I feel like it’s gonna be a ...
It’s gonna be a banner year.
A big reckoning for everybody; for sexual harassers, for bad CEOs. It’s a reckoning year for the Republicans for their behavior, stuff like that.
Well, that’s going to be one of the topics we’re going to get into, we are, in our countdown episode.
That’s a good word. That’s a good word to return to our lexicon, I think.
All right. 2018: The Reckoning.
The Reckoning. Right. Sounds like “The Purge” a little bit.
It sounds like a horror movie.
It does, it does.
Well, that’s kind of what 2017 has felt like.
I’m sure it was a horror movie, “The Reckoning.””
Yeah. All right. So today on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we’re doing something a little differently. Instead of having a guest on the show to talk about a specific consumer product or service, we’re looking back on the biggest stories of 2017. And we’re going to ask, are those stories really over? And what happens next?
Yes. There’s so much to talk about. And since we like to talk, we’re going to be doing ... We have no guests this week.
No guests. Just Kara and I.
So let’s just start. There’s so many things to talk about. This has been a news-filled year on so many ... It just seems like every week. If I would get in the shower, I would be worried that something happened while I was ...
That you would miss it.
Yes, that I would miss it.
Yeah. Well you know, I just took five days off of Twitter. I cheated a couple days where I just checked it really quickly, but I didn’t tweet anything and I was really not ...
How’d you feel?
I felt great. I felt very present in my life.
Me too. I wasn’t on it as much in the past few days.
You know, around the holidays, and spending time with family and friends. But I also think ... I wasn’t measuring this in any real quantified way, but I also felt like my stress levels went down a little bit because I wasn’t seeing the news constantly.
I would agree.
Or making the news constantly, for that matter.
Yeah. We had a “no Trump talk” rule during the holidays. It was great.
How did that go?
Yeah. I was going to say, not many of those issues came up around the holidays at my place either.
Yeah. I’m sure they will ...
I’m sure they will, and they normally do. But in this case, it was just a lot ... and everything felt very frenetic but focused on the holiday.
Yeah. Well, we will talk about Trump and Twitter in social media.
Yeah, that’s one of our topics.
But let’s start already. Are we jumping straight into Uber, which I think is the most important?
No. We’re going to get there, but we’re going to start with the stories that were big but not the biggest, and then work our way up to the No. 1 top story of the year, which you’ve probably already guessed what it is.
Yes. And along the way, we’re going to be reading some of the messages and tweets you sent us about what you thought were the biggest tech stories of 2017; Lauren asked on Twitter and other social media sites. So here we go.
So let’s start on a positive note, because honestly, the rest of the podcast is going to be filled with drama, as I like to say. Lots of drama.
Story No. 10 is the big product launches of the year. There were some pretty significant product launches this year, and while we’re still not at the point where robots are doing all of our housework and self-driving cars are handling our commutes, we’re getting closer to that.
Yes we are.
Let’s go over quickly some of the biggest launches. iPhone X.
Yeah. I got one.
That’s a big one.
It is. I gotta say, I’ve had some glitchiness with it. I’ve had some problems. I had to send one back already.
Yeah, because of the camera. The face thing froze. And I don’t think facial recognition works that much. I’m often putting my number in.
Steve Dowling is calling in three ...
I know. I’ve called Steve Dowling about ...
... two ...
But I mean, I like it a lot better because it’s bigger. My kid got the iPhone 8. I upgraded him because we’re on that iPhone upgrade program. And I grabbed them from the kids last night at dinner because I wanted to talk during dinner, and they love to look at their phones. And so I was noticing, I hadn’t seen them together, and his is enormous. He has the Plus and I have the X. And I have a bigger screen and his is a lot smaller, so I was kind of ... I hadn’t really noticed them next to each other before, which was interesting. So I like the size. I like a lot of parts about it and I’m getting used to the various things about how you get rid of screens and things like that. It’s a learning experience. But I gotta say, it hasn’t been the easiest transition.
No, I wrote a piece for The Verge a couple weeks ago about the five things that still ... basically that still annoy me about the iPhone X, which I’ve been using, I borrowed from Deiter for the past few weeks. And I think I might go back to the 8. I might, you know?
I was thinking of it. But then I saw the size of it, and I’m like, ugh. That’s a big phone.
It is big. For Apple, though, the iPhone X was a big thing. It marked 10 years of iPhones. It was the first OLED-display iPhone. It was the first buttonless iPhone. It has face ID, which is this new era of biometric authentication. So it was a big phone, it was a big phone for Apple, and I’d say one of the biggest launches, product launches, of the year. Tesla also. We talk about Tesla.
How did it sell? How did it sell, Lauren from The Verge?
The iPhone X? I don’t know off the top of my head.
Yeah. It’d be interesting to see those numbers when they come out.
I know that when the iPhone 8 launched that Tim Cook said, I think it was the fastest-selling ... You know what? I’m not going to ... I’m going to get the quote wrong.
I have noticed a lot of people getting the 8 and not the X.
The fastest-selling launch weekend?
A lot of people I know, which I’m surprised, didn’t get the X. They stuck with the 8 and want the 8, and normal people want the 8. They like the button. They like the button.
Yeah. There’s a learning curve for all of these things.
But I think they like the button.
Early adopters that paid for the iPhone X and got the iPhone X and are really excited about it, they have to be excited about it because they have to justify that they got it. They’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s totally fine. I’m totally used to these interactions without a button.” But for most people, they’re still getting used to the button.
I got to say that I don’t love it yet. And interestingly, a lot of people ... like Nellie was getting the 8, not the X. It’s after watching my struggles ... Anyway, it’s interesting. It’s interesting.
Yeah. Let’s talk about Tesla quickly, because we had an entire podcast earlier this year with Tamara Warren, our transportation editor, about the Tesla Semi launch. But Tesla Model 3. I don’t know if we can officially say the Model 3 launched, because it launched to employees. I went to that event in Fremont at the factory. But they also unveiled the Semi, a giant truck.
Were you deeply in love with Elon Musk during that event? Did you want to throw yourself at the stage and dance with him?
No. You know what happened? This is not altogether surprising, but there was a press pen and there were where all the employees were.
Whoa. Was he like Trump or something?
And we were kept in the press pen.
This is like Trumpian. Did people throw things at you?
He could do that. If he said, “Turn around and kill them,” they would probably do it.
I’m just saying.
We’re going into some really dark places.
I’m just saying. These pens for press, I don’t like pens for press.
Yeah, it was a press pen. No, you know, no, I didn’t fall in love.
Oh. Did you like his coat, though?
He always wears good coats.
Yeah. You liked his coat. You talked about his coat a lot.
Yeah. You know ... Well, I was going to say I don’t remember what jacket he wore to that one. But then at the Semi event, which I was not at, but people were talking about that jacket.
Oh, the coat. That was where the coat ...
He’s worn velvet jackets.
Tamara was talking about the coat.
Yeah, right. Yeah, I don’t know.
I don’t know. Anyway, interesting.
I mean, he’s a remarkable entrepreneur.
Amazon and Google. You know, it’s funny because I don’t think of one product that jumps out at me this year, but I went to both of their events, and they just threw everything at the wall. Like, Amazon released six hardware products in one single event. Google had everything from mini Smart Home speakers to earbuds, this little Clips camera that was supposed to capture, plus the Pixel 2 of course, which was their flagship ...
A lot of advertising I noticed this holiday season, looking at the TV.
For the Pixel?
Yeah, the Pixel. So much advertising. I saw 12 or 13 ads, maybe in San Francisco or something.
Maybe that’s what you should get.
No. I’m not going to get it. But good ads, by the way, Lorraine. Very nice job. Laureen. Laureen.
All right. SpaceX launched a reusable — back to Elon Musk — launched a reusable rocket. That was a big product launch. Samsung launched a phone that did not explode!
Oh that’s really not an achievement, Lauren, not to explode.
It launched two phones. The Note phone that didn’t explode.
Don’t give people kudos.
And then there was Snapchat. We’ll get to Snapchat.
Yes, we will get to Snapchat. Although, I’m sorry, I’m not going to go slam Snapchat. I think they’re still so creative. Again, my kids use them all the time. They’re fun to use.
The app or the Spectacles?
Not the Spectacles, obviously. We’ll get to that.
Well, so that was the crap launch of 2017.
It was, but I like the try. I like the try. It was interesting and innovative. I like the try. I like him. I like him. I got to say, he’s full of good ideas. I don’t like every part of him, but you know, I’m just saying.
We’re going to get to Snapchat a little bit later.
Look, Kara being nice to someone, to a bro entrepreneur. I’m telling you. It’s a total enjoyment talking to him, I have to say. I spent a little time with ...
He didn’t do a lot of press, right?
I know. Well, this was a little meeting we had. It was lovely. In Venice.
When was this? Was this on the record?
Recently. No, we were just chatting.
You can tell us all about it here. No one’s listening.
Well, it was great. He was great. He was great. I just find it totally ... There’s a couple people I really enjoy talking to, and he’s one of them. I like talking to Kevin Systrom. There’s a couple entrepreneurs that I really have a great and interesting ... I do like talking to Sheryl Sandberg. We mostly argue about various things, but it’s an interesting discussion every time. So there you go.
All right. Well, we will be getting to Snapchat later on in the show.
Yes we will.
Very quickly, from one of our readers, David Linsley, who writes in a lot. Thank you for following us this year, David. He says, “I think one of the biggest stories was the introduction of mesh Wi-Fi systems, which provide wonderful coverage of the entire house.”
I got one.
I don’t think those are new. They’re not new. They’ve been around for at least a couple years now, but ...
Now they’re working.
... we did talk to Eero earlier on this year.
Eero. I have an Eero. After our show, I bought a set.
And there’s Google’s version of it.
It works great. After a couple visits by Eero, it worked great. There’s issues with Comcast. Of course, that’s always the blame. But it was. And then I had the Comcast people in, and they were like, “We should sell this. These are great.” The Comcast people love the Eero stuff.
I think in 2018 we should make it a goal to mention Comcast once in every podcast.
Well I’m saying, it was an interesting installation process.
Not always in a favorable way.
Yeah, but I love my Eero. I love it. It can also throw people off my network, which I like. And I can know what people are doing and what devices they’re on, and I can give a guest network. That’s what I like, when guests come.
Yeah, the ability to just look and see that you have 32 devices attached to your network, and by the way, a few of them you don’t recognize.
And figuring out what they are.
And you know your neighbors are on it or ...
Or I know my neighbor, Bob. Bob, get off my network.
I’m going to kick you off.
I want to interview Bob for this podcast and find out what it’s like to be Kara Swisher’s neighbor.
You know what? Great. It’s fantastic.
Bob, come on Too Embarrassed to Ask.
We’re very good friends. We’re having dinner tonight, in fact. I’ll see you later.
Do you ever bring that up, though? Do you ever say, “I see that you’re on my Wi-Fi”?
No, I let them do it. I don’t care. I allow it. I allow it.
You just allow it.
I allow it. But I like the guest network thing, that people can be on my guest network. I like the whole thing. I like the whole thing. I’m very pleased with that product, after a very bumpy installation process.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems. Sleeper hit of 2017. Story No. 9. Want to go for it?
Yes. Amazon eating the world. It’s delicious. I’d have Pepto Bismol if I was eating the world. Anyway, in Amazon’s world now means organic, fresh, obscure, like emu eggs or exotic juices. Yes, we’re talking about Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, which was announced in June. This was a huge deal because it not only signaled Amazon was really, really serious about the fresh food business, but also because it was Amazon’s biggest acquisition ever. $14 billion.
I know, that’s a lot of money for all of that overpriced food. In some ways, it was bad news for smaller grocery chains, twee ones especially, and other fresh food startups who’ve been working on logistics of delivering fresh food to people. But in case you haven’t heard, Amazon does logistics pretty well. I actually visited one of Amazon’s latest fulfillment centers and I was blown away by it. At one point I was sort of exhilarated by it, and then terrified. Terrified for jobs, terrified for all kinds of things. But I really thought it was so innovative. Another incredibly innovative company.
Was this around food, the fulfillment center?
This was everything. This was everything.
So packaging, putting stuff in boxes.
Yeah, they were using the Kiva systems.
Oh, the Kiva robots.
Yeah. It was really fantastic.
Where was this?
In Seattle. I went up with Peter Kafka. Even Peter Kafka was blown away, and he doesn’t get blown away by anything.
That’s really interesting.
Yeah, it was.
Did you see any humans working there?
Yes, yes. The packers are astonishing. They’re astonishing people and they’re very fast. I just couldn’t help thinking that everything could be robotized, made into robots. But you know, it was a beautiful facility and there were tons and tons of workers, and bigger than ever. Their argument is that because they have so much demand, they will hire more people, you know? And so then I kept thinking, well what about the other stores that aren’t as good? It does underscore the point that other stores aren’t that good. They really aren’t. The retail experience is really bad.
No, Amazon has figured out a way to ...
And Amazon’s is a tremendous retail experience.
Right. Did you happen to see that they’ve now virtualized the dash buttons? You know those physical ...
I don’t use those.
They’re physical plastic things that you stick around your house.
I didn’t do that.
And then they would have a brand attached to it, like Glad garbage bags.
Yeah, I think those are stupid
Or Clorox bleach wipes or whatever it is. And then you would press one, and then you would automatically get a reorder. Now they just exist virtually on Amazon’s website.
That’s the correct way to do it.
And I use the crazy Echo show thing, which is one of the Echos, the voice controlled Echos, but it has a big screen. I use it in my kitchen.
Yeah, I have ...
And I use it to reorder stuff, I wouldn’t say all the time, but regularly. I literally walk up to it and I say, “Reorder the cat food that I like.” And it knows the last time I ordered it. It asks for a PIN code, and then it’s done. It’s done. I mean, Amazon has really pioneered all of this frictionless shopping.
It is. It’s very efficient.
And we’re now getting it to the next phase of that on voice.
I’ve turned off all my Echos and Google Homes. They’re off all the time until I turn them on.
Well that’s because you’re, you know ...
I unplugged them.
You’re secretly a tinfoil hat type. Not to be outdone, though, Walmart also made some really interesting e-commerce acquisitions this year. Jason Del Rey from Recode has covered all of these, including Bonobos, ModCloth, Moosejaw. There are others. But the big, big story was really Amazon Whole Foods this year for Amazon.
Yep. I think Walmart’s their biggest competitor in that regard, in terms of waking up and understanding. It’s going to be hard, because even though Doug McMillon, who’s the CEO of Walmart, is incredibly smart and has been in that particular company since he was ... I think he did produce for them in one of the stores. It’s also very hard to compete with Jeff Bezos.
And they’re also taking very different approaches. I mean, Walmart, I think the overwhelming majority of Walmart’s business is still in-store, versus Amazon obviously being online.
Yeah, although it’s changing. It’s changing pretty drastically.
It’s changing, but Walmart’s purchase is interesting because they’re doing all these vertically integrated acquisitions. They’re buying very specific brands, very specific niche brands.
It’s still the world versus Jeff Bezos, and he’s pretty ... I’m betting on Bezos in a lot of ways, and his team. That’s been a team that’s been together. You can’t underscore how long that team has been together. Now that said, Amazon had some real blips this year, especially around sexual harassment with Roy Price and Amazon Studios. And you know, there’s definitely a sense that he’s ... I mean, Jason wrote this great story about the all-male, essentially, team.
Yeah, there’s one woman, I mean on his executive team.
There’s one woman on the executive team. And he had some excuses that were somewhat lame. I think, you know, the fact that Roy Price had ... it took a while to get rid of him, and they didn’t get rid of him in the first place after ... The complaints underscore the problem with teams that are together too long, for one, which is a good thing sometimes because they’re cohesive, and at the same time, don’t have a viewpoint that maybe they should’ve done something about it. I don’t have to say that women have to be the ones to say it in the room, but none of the men did. And so you have to think about cohesion on your team. At the same time, you have to think about diversity of thought, diversity of experience.
In workplace culture in general.
Yes, exactly. I think that was a real fail for Amazon, and a big fail. A big fail. And you know, it’s been an area that’s important to them. Can’t do everything, but you know, he should think harder on those things, I think.
Yeah. They should fix that.
They should fix that.
All right. We’ll get to that topic, but go ahead.
Story No. 8. The eighth-most important story of the year. Fake news, the president on Twitter. Can we lump these two together?
2017 was President Donald Trump’s first year of presidency, and fake news, of course, is not a new term at all, but it became an oft-used term over the past several months as he criticized anything in the mainstream media that he basically didn’t like. In fact, just the other day, a New York University Master’s student in journalism just put together this spreadsheet where she — and I believe it was a team of people — tracked every tweet that they categorized as in some way debasing the media.
True, but he called it fake. Right. Oh, it’s gotten worse.
No, it was actually targeted at the media. And there were nearly 1,000 tweets. I think they looked at a two-year period.
Oh, it’s insane. He’s now after the FBI of course.
990 tweets in which he outwardly criticized the mainstream media.
The FBI is this week. It’s a ridiculous abuse of that platform in terms of ... I don’t know if you know this, but I studied propaganda at journalism school at Columbia, and this is classic. It’s classic, of repeating a lie so many times that it becomes ... it gets on par with the truth. And it’s a technique. He may be doing it not knowing he’s ... I think he knows exactly what he was doing.
But it was interesting because my kids were in here for the holidays and I got in a debate with my kid. And he goes, “Well he says we have to listen to it.” And I’m like, “No, but you don’t.” And this kid is not a pro-Trump person. But it was a really interesting thing, is that you ... I think most people tend to try to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I think that’s what happens when you repeat a lie enough times, that it becomes that. And so social media, first it amplifies it, and then it weaponizes it. And the attacks on the media, it’s not being ... You know, I get so many ... carrier or libtard or whatever the hell the terms are. But it is dangerous to do this.
It is dangerous. I mean, free press is one of the fundamental pillars of a democracy. I feel like 2017 has been the year of repeating the obvious, but it is one of the fundamental pillars of a free society, a democracy. And being able to just read the news that is uncensored, that is not paid for.
We’re not Russia. We’re not in Russia.
Right. I was going to say not subsidized by the government or some type of state-run media. We’re supposed to be free and open media.
Yeah. And also, it’s not that the media gets everything right all the time at all.
No, we make errors. We’re human beings. And you may not agree with everything ...
And has a point of view too, which is fine. But I think one of the things that’s super dangerous is that people are starting to use the techniques. Now, I do think they become tired after a while and nobody believes anything, and I think that’s the point, is don’t believe anything. And that’s a really bad place to be. There’s certain fundamental issues that we have to start believing in this, or else it becomes sort of this ridiculous free fall. I think that is really the point.
I think the technique of lying and lying and continuing to lie is ... some of the main [people] of the Trump administration just do that. They just lie and lie and lie, and they double down on lying, just like Roy Moore in Alabama. So much great reporting by Alabama media outlets, national media outlets, people there. Lying works, unfortunately. And that’s what it’s proven. And then lying on social media works even better, because then you have to have a debate around it, and then it becomes noisy and then it ... If you could take one term I would like removed from the lexicon, it is fake news. I would take it away completely.
Yeah, because I think in some way the more you say it, the more you normalize it, and people just say it in passing. People say it as a joke now.
Oh, my kids say it. When I say, “Clean your room,” my son goes, “Fake news.”
I was like, “Clean your fucking room.”
Well and then, you know, then other debates sort of emerge, especially in the latter half of the year about the president’s tweets and whether or not Twitter as a platform had any responsibility to basically be not just a platform but a content moderator in some way. And that’s one of the big themes that emerged, and we’ll also get to a little bit later in the show, this idea of social media companies becoming so big and so influential and so subject, it seems, to foreign interference, that the idea of whether or not they should be content moderating more has really been a big topic. Some people believe that President Trump should not be able to tweet some of the things that he has tweeted because it could be considered inciting violence. Some people say that that’s not Twitter’s role to regulate that.
Yeah, except they do regulate it in certain people. It’s very haphazard, is the problem, is that they either have to not do it at all or do it, and do their job. But it’s hard because it creates a whole firestorm. It just does. And what happens is a small group of people are very noise. It’s not most people, but it’s a small group of people. And then the media follows it ridiculously. And so the whole thing.
I mean, I think one of the things I’d like to create at Recode is not doing any more stories on whatever stupid thing Trump tweeted that week, you know what I mean? Unless it’s really significant. But even then, we have to stop writing stories about the tweets. It’s his medium of communication is what it is, and that’s why we do it. But we should just talk about the communication, not where it is. Stuff like that.
Yeah. I think about it a lot.
I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop thinking about it in 2018. I hate to be the bearer of bad news.
No one’s going to use it. I’m not using it. There. I’m done.
Never using it again.
Good luck getting Kara back, Jack.
No, I’m using Twitter. Are you kidding?
I’m not using the word “fake news.”
Oh. I thought you said you weren’t using Twitter.
Oh no, I’m using Twitter. I like to use it. I’m quite good at it.
Okay. Just kidding, Jack.
Story No. 7. The seventh top story of the year.
Seventh. Go ahead.
Tech IPOs. We don’t really cover a lot of financials on this show, but these are worth noting. Snapchat, Blue Apron, Roku and Stitch Fix I think were the four ...
Not that many, though. Not that many, though.
No, not that many.
And there’s not that many to come either.
Some have definitely done better than others.
Yeah. So there’s some notable IPOs. We have definitely covered them on the Recode site, and the same on The Verge. In the not-so-well category, there was Snap and Blue Apron. Snap went public in March of 2017, trading at $24 a share. Since then, Snap’s price has been dropping. It’s around $15 now. And it’s super-hyped launch of Spectacles seems to have been a bust.
And on Blue Apron, that’s been a mess. It dropped the price just before the IPO and had layoffs after the IPO. There have been key executive departures. And as of early November, we wrote in Recode it was the worst performing major IPO in the U.S. this year.
Poor Blue Apron.
I still subscribe.
I do. I like Plated better, but anyway.
I’ve thought about unsubscribing because I think some of their meals have gotten too complicated and rich, and they take too long to make. So I’ve reduced it. They tried to roll out more options now. You can just get two meals per week if you want, rather than three, and you can ...
Yeah. I like the category. I have to say, I’ve cooked some delicious things in all of them. I mean, it does work for some reason. I’m a good cook using those services, and a bad cook all on my own.
Well, and it makes you try things, too, that you wouldn’t normally try.
Yeah. But yeah, tough year for Blue Apron for sure. And I’m sure, once again, Amazon getting deeper in to fresh food and potentially fresh food delivery isn’t going to be a good thing for Blue Apron.
But on the upside, set-top box maker Roku. You know Roku’s been around since 2002?
Yes, I know, I remember writing about it when it first got ...
And it finally went public this year. Stock has consistently gone up since it IPO’d this fall. Now I think it’s at about $54 per share. It’s a $5 billion company. Stitch Fix, it’s a little too soon to tell how it’s going to do long term since it just went public in November. But as Jason Del Rey wrote for Recode, it was a milestone for female founders in the tech industry. Because as a female CEO, Katrina Lake, she built a nearly $1 billion revenue business in less than six years. And this is kind of an iconic photo, she had her baby with her at the podium when she rang the bell when the company went public.
Yeah. Wasn’t that a movie, “The Intern,” with Anne Hathaway? That was about her.
It was, yeah.
It was about a clothes delivery service and a baby.
Was it about a clothes delivery service?
Yes it was.
I remember that movie.
Yes it was.
It was with Robert De Niro, and he was her intern.
Yes it was. It was a clothes delivery service.
But I don’t think she had a baby in that one.
She had children, yes.
Oh she did. I don’t remember that.
Yeah. And a husband.
I like Stitch Fix, I have to say. I haven’t used it in a while.
I like it.
I remember writing about clothing companies like Stitch Fix and Le Tote, and one of those bra companies, several years ago.
I like the concept of it. I like it. It’s like Amazon. It’s very efficient. I find it very efficient. They haven’t gotten me yet. I keep getting way too hipster things for Kara Swisher, but if they just sent me t-shirts and old mom jeans, that’d be great. But they moved into men’s. I think they’re moving into children’s. I don’t know if they’re already in children’s. The whole conceptual idea of that, I like it. It’s very easy and convenient. They do a beautiful job. It’s easy to return. I like it. I’m still using it. We’ll see if they can get ... They’ve gotten me two or three things that I like. I like the concept of it very much because I don’t like go to stores.
I don’t like going to stores either. I find the whole concept of spending time shopping in stores just not appealing. And as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten less appealing. And just having it show up in a box is really nice.
It’s not really a sport for me. It’s a sport for some people, but I never liked it. But I like the concept and I think if they ... you can do it with a lot more things where if you could return them, and they’re very easy to return.
Except for box-mageddon, which I hate. I wish all of them would come up with something where you could take the box and return things in the same box. They give you a bag and I’m like, why can’t I return it in the box? I understand the price stuff, but I really wish someone — Amazon, Stitch Fix, all these things, Plated, Blue Apron — can figure out the box problem. Because I have box-mageddon. I spent at least two days of my holiday ...
Yeah, that’s one of the biggest complaints people have about Blue Apron, is the amount of waste it generates.
Yeah, waste. Yeah. That’s interesting. But I like the concept. I like that there’d be something that would be a locker at my house or something. I don’t know. I just think they could do that. I also think there’s lots of things where they can have efficiencies that you just see. I know why they’re doing it for costs.
I think lockers are going to become a thing because of package theft. I think those are going to be huge.
Oh yeah, I had several packages stolen this year.
Yeah. I still have a video that went viral.
Now we’re really just going off on a tangent. But I saw this video that went viral earlier this week with a woman who ... she’d had about half a dozen packages stolen off her front porch, so she put kitty litter in the boxes and then the people who were stealing it ... and she caught them on camera, and the people who were stealing it were stealing poop, essentially.
Well done. Well done.
Thanks for helping with the kitty litter.
Last one for this section.
Yes, before we take a break.
Yeah, big story.
Story No. 6 is ...
Russia, Russia, Russia.
Russia, Russia, Russian.
Zdravstvuyte (“hello”). How to hijack an election. It’s inspired some tweets that we received from our loyal listeners, like this one from Kevin Lam. “Definitely the Russian interference in the election and net neutrality.” Okay, those are two different things.
Yeah. I would say those were the biggest stories.
Yeah. But Russia was the emerging story this year. Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service, according to companies and prepared remarks from the companies retained by the New York Times — which were given to them, just so you know. Give you a little tip here. But here’s the problem. We don’t even know if that’s the amount. I mean, that’s just what they were reporting, and they kept changing that. So it’s much more massive than that, and in ways we don’t understand and will never understand.
Yeah, absolutely. There are tools that you can use now to go see if you saw posts that were made by the ... I think it’s called the Internet Research Agency, which is this shadowy Russian company that’s used to influence people online essentially. I mean, it’s really hard to know the fallout from this. It’s hard to know exactly.
We won’t. We never will.
It’s like an episode of Homeland or Scandal or something like that. We just will not understand the extent of it. I think the companies, I don’t think they’re necessarily being disingenuous. I think they don’t know, and then they keep tripping over themselves.
It’s interesting because I got called from some Facebook people saying I was too mean to them this year, but I don’t think they have control over that. I don’t think they really can get to the depth of it, and they’re trying to ferret it out. I think they do feel awful about it, but they should’ve had better control of their platforms, or understood, or somehow anticipated the abuse of these platforms.
Yep. And more recently, we’ve talked about the rollback of net neutrality with the FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, and she talked about the fake comments that were being posted during the public comment period of that and how many of them were coming from Russian addresses. So this was just a few weeks ago, but this was before the net neutrality vote. You can go listen to that podcast if you want to hear more about it.
But once again, Russia just keeps coming up. Inevitably now it’s like when you hear about something being manipulated or something untoward happening online, you can look to the root of it and there are often examples of things coming from Russian IPA addresses or foreign entities like the Internet Research Agency.
You know, they lost everywhere else. They really did lose in terms of creating the military fight that went on with the U.S. and the escalation. They lost ... I visited there several times to Russia and you know, you do see sort of this society that was worn out from the Cold War and everything. And they have found a way to infiltrate our country in a way that’s really effective, you know? They always were very good in this area, and it’s something that maybe our country is doing there or elsewhere in the world.
But the fact of the matter is they found a really great way. Our country is hopped up on the internet. And it’s a way to manipulate people’s opinions, and it’s right in their wheelhouse in terms of doing that propaganda and the uses of propaganda tools. And that’s not just Russia. Other countries too, in terms of hacking. I think that’s one of the things we’re going to see. We’ve got to think really hard about the manipulation of all our technology here, because we’re becoming so reliant on it that it’s something that’s a real weak point for this country in a way that I don’t think other things are. That and trans fat. No, but we’re exporting that to the world.
North Korea and gluten: Everyone’s biggest fears on the West Coast.
No, but there was a great story in the New York Times about India eating fast food. They’re trying to do something about it. We’ve exported fast food and crappy food.
Right, there was a father who was lobbying against fast food in our schools.
We may win by getting everyone fat and having heart attacks. It’s interesting. The irony is that the U.S. did not invent the internet. I know I’ve said this and people have ... A lot of the leading companies have come from the U.S. that are running the show essentially. And the fact that it’s been turned around on this country is really fascinating. It’s a really interesting thing.
It really is.
Anyway, when we get back, we have five more of the tech stories to break and we’re going to continue down to our No. 1. It’s like Casey Kasem. Remember that?
I do remember Casey Kasem.
Going down to No. 1. The No. 1 is ... And then they ... Anyway. We have lots to discuss, but we’re going to take a quick break now to hear a word from our sponsor. Lauren?
Well, my New Year’s resolution is to come up with something new to say instead of “ka-ching” but we’re not quite there yet, so ka-ching.
How about pa-chow?
I don’t know. We’ll think of something.
We’ll think of something.
We’ll be back.
And we’re back, talking about the most important tech stories of 2017.
One of our listeners, Bridget McGraw, wrote in and said we should put Kara Swisher running for mayor of San Francisco on that list.
Yeah, I can neither confirm nor deny. Actually, tragically, the mayor of San Francisco died recently, so things are being moved forward rather quickly and I do not have the time to do this.
So you’re not running for mayor as an interim mayor.
Not for this round. I cannot. There’s a lot of qualified ...
Well there is an interim mayor now.
And then they would have to have some type of special election, right?
Yes. There’s all kinds of complexity, and I have other things I’m doing in 2018 so I can’t really focus on that. But I think about it a lot. I walk around the city all the time and I was just doing it today. I walk rather than drive, and things like that. And we’ve got so many intractable problems. We were just talking about the ... it sounds stupid, but the trash is so indicative of sort of what has happened to San Francisco in terms of ... And as you were saying coming here, the encampments of the homeless have become out of control. It’s just tragic for the people living on the street.
It’s really sad.
It’s tragic for people living in the city, you know? I mean, it’s tragic for the entire community. The fighting over development still continues to be. And in this city, which is so wealthy, to see this happening ... and it’s not just being a bleeding heart about it because some of the solutions are not good. People should not be living on the street in tents. I get the problem, but there’s got to be better solutions.
There should be housing for them.
There should be housing. There should be better solutions.
The economy grew dramatically, especially in the tech sector, during the time that Ed Lee was mayor. And I think in general, he was a very, very beloved and well liked mayor. He was responsible for bringing some of big tech companies into parts of San Francisco ... they might not have considered otherwise ... through tax breaks. A lot of jobs were created during the time that he was mayor. But as a result, there’s also been this pushback against building, and especially building affordable housing. And so as a result, we have just too many people here. It’s an unsustainable problem that we have here.
And it’s a very partisan situation. Here you have the left and the middle essentially. There’s no right wing here in San Francisco. But it doesn’t do anybody any good. I was watching a kid go by a homeless encampment where two people were shooting up. And it’s like, this is not ... No. For this kid, it’s bad. For the people on the streets, it’s bad. And we have to really start to be honest with ourselves on what we’re creating and the kind of messages we’re putting out to our kids and everything else. Just the trash alone is really ... And I sound like a crazy anti-litterbug person, but it says something about the civic city when there’s no part of San Francisco that’s not filthy, just filthy.
But you’re not availing yourself to us in 2018 as mayor.
I cannot. I don’t know what I would do. I would make everyone pick up or fine them. I think about it when I walk. I’m like, what would you do? What would be the solution?
Right, what’s the solution?
But it’s an extraordinarily complex problem that needs really hard thinking, and it’s the way to start, deal with the homeless and drug problem and then move through our education issues, policing, all kinds of things.
Housing. It does seem impossible.
You read these stories sometimes. The New York Times has covered this quite well, but you do read stories about these crazy commutes that people have now. And it’s somewhat anecdotal, but some of the city’s workers, people who are vital to the city running every day, it does ... teachers and all kinds, authorities. And they’re commuting from two hours away.
Yes, on these buses and stuff like that.
And it’s crazy.
And you know what’s interesting is that it’s not just in San Francisco. This is going to be a problem for all cities. Some of these tech stories, self-driving cars and things like that, will have a really interesting impact. I think one of the things I was thinking about, and I debated this again with my kids, is what if you made the entire center of San Francisco car-free? What if you just declared it? I mean, it would be interesting. That’s what kind of a mayor has to do going forward. Pick something where you just say, this is what we’re going to do. This is our goal. Anyway, just an interesting concept. Anyway, let’s get to the stories.
So when could you run for mayor? Would it be 2020? 2024?
I’m not sure. I’m going to live a long time, Lauren. We’ll see. All right, next.
Story No. 5. We touched on this a little bit earlier, but net neutrality. This was a huge story just a couple weeks ago and a lot bigger than most people probably realize, because unfortunately the phrase “net neutrality” just has a way of putting everybody to sleep.
Yes, I’m asleep right now.
Yeah, what an unfortunate phrase, right? But basically the new chairman of the FCC had set forth a proposal to roll back net neutrality laws that were established in 2015. These were laws that basically regulated the internet like it was a telecommunications service and not an information service. Basically it said the internet is a utility, it’s not something that can be manipulated through business interests. You can’t have your ISP prioritizing or throttling content just because they feel like it. It’s a protected utility in our country. But he set forth — this is Ajit Pati — he set forth a proposal to roll all these back, these laws. And then after a vote, it was repealed unfortunately 3 to 2.
Yeah. It’s a very complicated issue. It’s fundamental for this country for an open, free internet. And a lot of people, except the internet service providers, think net neutrality is a good thing. But it is more complicated than that. I was with a Comcast executive and she goes, “Right now we aren’t terrible. Right now if you felt like it, you could stream ‘The Crown.’” I was like, yes, but ... It was just, they were using an example ... It was very funny. But it’s similar in place.
But there will be lawsuits, so this is going to on and on. I think it gets to the heart of the idea of who owns the internet and who should provide it. Is it a business or is it a utility? Or should it be free? I mean, it’s very obviously lucrative for a lot of companies. Companies have been built on the backs of these networks. Netflix wouldn’t exist without Comcast. If you think of that for example here. It’s a complicated issue and the question is, is it something that should ... It’s going to go on, let’s just say. It’s not going to stop.
Yes. This is going to be many, many months.
But this will change with each administration, so we have to really think hard about what these ... as they develop even further, what should be free and what should not be free, and what should be paid by the government and what should not be paid. It’s going to be an intractable issue for years to come.
I think in the short term, people probably looked at things like these zero-rating schemes and said, “Well that’s not so terrible. If I have T-Mobile and I’m able to stream my Netflix for free or whatever it is without going against my data cap, that doesn’t sound so terrible.” I think a lot of the ISPs, at least in the short term, have committed to saying nothing’s going to change.
In fact, Jake Kastrenakes from The Verge team went and asked 10 ISPs what their stance is now that the law has been repealed and net neutrality, and they all said nothing’s going to change. But a lot of the language was present tense. A lot of it wasn’t, nothing will change in the future, or we will never do X or whatever it is. And so I think it potentially could be a slippery slope into an internet that is just a different experience from what we’ve had.
Yep. It’ll go on forever and we’ll come up with a new name next year.
Yeah, what should we call it?
I don’t know. I can’t even think of one.
Free, open internet.
It’s a lot of words that are so loaded. They’re all so loaded, and this one’s loaded in the way to make you bored.
Story four: Bitcoin.
I was just opening Coinbase to look at the price of bitcoin.
Do you own bitcoin?
I do. I’ve lost it. I own 10 bitcoin somewhere. I’m very wealthy in bitcoin, apparently. I bought some many, many years ago, way back in the day when it was $500. It got up to $19,000, which was a high.
I think it was nearly at $20,000 wasn’t it?
2005. It was 2004, 2005. So $19,000 is ...
On the Friday before Christmas it was low.
Yes, yes, yes.
It was $12,000, I think.
Yeah, it went low and now it’s ... Let me look. Let me do one week.
So then people were saying, oh the bubble has burst.
Let’s do one month. Let’s do one month. Yeah, so it went up to $19,810 was the high, it looks like. And then it’s been down. Now it’s ... bitcoin price is $15,200. So that went down quite a bit. But it’s still up $5,600.
I’m surprised you’re allowed to own bitcoin.
I bought it a long time ago. I don’t own it. Literally it was in 19 ... Let’s see, all. When was it around? It was back in ... Oh, I don’t know when this is. This is, like, 2002. Whenever it started, I did a story on it and in order to do it, I had to buy it. And it was cheap, and so I did. And then I don’t know where it is. That’s the thing. I have it somewhere.
That’s the problem with bitcoin. I know where my money in my ... If I had gold, I’d know where I put it. Or maybe I wouldn’t. But it’s like gold. Actually it’s a very similar kind of situation. And so I’ve lost it. I’ve lost my bitcoin. It may have been stolen from me. I just tried it, and it was so inexpensive at the time, I didn’t think about it. I think I bought two or three or five. I can’t ... could be 10.
You’re talking about the difference of tens of thousands of dollars.
I know, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not worth anything to me because I bought it for ... I expensed it at the time. It was $400 or some ... Whenever it started, I had a meeting with Wences Casares, who runs Xapo, and he said you should try it. And I don’t know if I put it on Bitpoint or Xapo. I’ve figured out my accounts and it’s not in Coinbase. I just don’t know where it is.
I’ve never bought a bitcoin. I would’ve as an experiment a while ago, but then it got really expensive, and then we basically established editorially that we shouldn’t own it because we’re writing about it.
Well essentially I don’t own it anymore at all because I can’t find it. It could be on a little thing. I’m just saying. When I find it, I’m going to throw a big ol’ party.
Paying for Louie’s college education.
I could. I could.
I don’t know, it depends on where he goes to school, but at least a year maybe.
Yeah, I could pay for one year.
I don’t know. By the way, we did get some tweets when I asked people, “What do you think the biggest story of the year was?” Grady Locklear wrote in, said, “bitcoin #cryptomania.” Trey Ditto: “Bitcoin is not a bubble. People don’t understand what a bubble means. Bitcoin not even mainstream. Bubble is when last people get in, like real estate.” Do you think this is a bubble?
Here’s the problem. There was one very smart tweet about it. It said when the internet, it felt like a bubble at the time it started, but people were using it.
Most people don’t use bitcoin. There’s all these stories about people buying a pizza with a bitcoin and now it’s 15,000 ... Whatever. Those are such typical media stories, idiotic media stories. I think the question is, I don’t know if it’s going to be bitcoin, and it’s not used widely. I always wonder. It feels like gold, like owning gold, that kind of thing. So in that way, why is gold worth what it’s worth?
Well, do you think it’s different? Gold is a physical, tangible thing.
Yes, but it’s just a thing. But why that? Why not water?
I think the appeal of bitcoin is exactly what it’s described as: Because it’s decentralized, it’s unregulated, it’s deflationary.
I get why if you’re in a country where that’s a problem. It’s just a question, how much will governments really let this go? Because there is some control over it by governments. But it isn’t. It’s uncontrolled.
Secondly, what’s the use of it? To me, it reminds me of gold. That’s all it does. It’s a thing that’s just decided to be worth it, and therefore it is. If you think about gold, there’s no reason why it’s gold over silver. Because there’s less of it, I guess. It’s harder to get. Or oil, or anything else. It feels like a commodity to me.
The second thing is, there is going to be a change in how we use currency. Because if you think about currency, it’s so crazy. Currency is just ... Why is that paper dollar in your wallet worth something? It’s just a paper. It’s crazy. You carry it around, it’s heavy. A lot of them, people steal them. The way we think about how we buy things has to fundamentally change in terms of wealth.
I see what you’re saying in not attaching, or not seeing the reason to attach such a value to a physical good, or at least place the importance on the fact that it is a physical good. But the fact that it’s a physical thing also means it’s limited quantity, whereas an entire digital currency ...
Right, but we’ve changed ...
So I think there are 21 million bitcoin out there, right? So there’s this fake ceiling on it, but that could change.
But it isn’t fake. It’s what everybody believes.
But it could change all the time.
There’s got to be a change in how we buy and sell things, and what currency we use. Whether it’s dollars or bitcoins or whatever, I think it’s a really ... We are not going to have currency in the future in coins, just real coins.
First of all, they’re going to be gone in whatever. We’re just not going to have them. It doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes any sense except that we all believe in it, right? If you really take it apart. And so I think the question is, how do we buy things? What sort of things? Right now, you have blank amount of money in your bank account. You ever really seen that money? It’s not like Gringotts in Harry Potter and there’s a safe and your little jewels are in there. It represents them, but you’ve never seen your money.
Yeah. They’re digital numbers on the bank statement, on my bank statement. Yeah.
It’s digital numbers. You don’t know that it’s there. You just have decided to believe in it, but it’s not ... We’ve all just agreed that it’s there. And so I think that’s the question. When does it become useful? When does an Amazon get into it? When do retailers accept it? When is it used for things?
It’s just that it’s not controlled by the government, and that’s what a lot of libertarians like. That’s what obviously drug dealers and others [like]. But I think in general, people like it because it’s not controlled by the government, and therefore is not necessarily subject to political manipulation.
So do you agree with one of our commenters that it can’t be a bubble because it’s not mainstream? That something has to be mainstream in order to have created a bubble effectively?
Yes. I do agree with that. I think you will have a different kind of currency. I think probably it will be the dollar for a long time. The dollar is de facto, the global currency right now really. So the question is, how do we do that? Everything’s going to be digital. There will be a currency system, and it makes sense that it would be away from the government, because governments have spent their lives manipulating currency against each other in political ways. To me, if I were in one area of finance, I would be looking at cryptocurrency, like how is that going to happen. Currency is crypto now. All currencies are.
Right. It is.
It’s an area I don’t know a lot about. It’s like health care. But I sense that something ... this is a really big area.
Does it alarm you at all that we’re not entirely sure where it came from?
There are conspiracy theories out there that I’ve heard people say to me. What if North Korea created bitcoin and millions of people are solving all of these hashes.
Well, does it matter? Oh, and then they’re going to crash it at some point when everyone’s on it?
I don’t know about that. I don’t know.
Like I said, conspiracy theory.
I think things are a lot more chaotic than organized, that’s all. Except for the Russians. No, but I think it’s a great story. It’s a great story, and it’ll be interesting. I think getting away from the numbers going up and down is the press story, but I think it’s much more interesting and profound. Sort of like Google Glass. Everyone’s like, oh it’s a ... I’m like, no, but it isn’t.
Well now everybody’s making AR glasses.
Right, exactly. Right when it failed, I’m like, no.
Magic Leap and ...
Of course we’re going to have something like this.
Anyway, third story. Let’s get to this.
Three more to go. On our countdown, we’re getting to No. 1! Which, guess what?
It rhymes with “noober.”
It rhymes with “goober.”
I was going to say another word, but the ...
Story No. 3 is really less of a story and more of a theme: The big tech backlash. This tweet from Liz Nasty Weeks about sums it up. She points out a few topics: Sexual harassment; Whole Foods’ acquisition, which we covered; tech funding newspapers, which is a good one; algorithms, the shift from being ... this is a good. Algorithms and the shifts from “being platforms” to “are you fucking kidding me, Silicon Valley?” And that last part is what we’re focused on for No. 3: The big tech backlash. Can I just say that I’d like to pause it, that this all kicked off with Juicero.
I say it kicked off with Kara Swisher, who was writing about this back in January and yelling at Dan Rose at the Facebook, at the DLD conference, the concept. Well, we can start with Juicero, but it’s the same ... Juicero’s just crazy.
Juicero is this $700 Wi-Fi juicer, juicing machine. We had Doug Evans, the then-CEO, on the show. He talked about it. At one point, Kara did say to him something like, “What if I just squeeze the packet with my hands?” Or something like that. You said it totally just off-handedly. We weren’t really focusing, and then we moved on from it. And we kept asking, well, why do you need this $700 machine? What’s the draw of this? And they had this whole plan for getting the juicer in grocery stores and having people make juice that way. They’re selling the packets. Listen, was Doug Evans the first CEO who was capitalizing on the health and wellness industry and espousing a certain lifestyle?
I think he really meant it. I think he does mean it.
He had experience in the juicing business before this.
Yeah, he had a very successful juicing chain.
He had a ... What was it called? The chain. The chain in New York City that ends up ...
Juice City. I don’t know. Something like that.
Yeah. Organic Planet? No, no, no. I don’t know. You guys can look it up. But ultimately, the company first slashed its price to $400 because no one was buying the darn thing. And then all of a sudden I think it was Bloomberg reporters who discovered that you could just take these packets and use your hands and squeeze the juice out of the packets, and you didn’t actually need the industrial grade juicing machine anyway.
You didn’t. I actually asked that question for a reason, because a very well known internet person showed me a video of them doing it earlier. It was someone, I’m not going to say who it was.
Oh, so someone had discovered this.
Someone had made a video and sent it around.
Yeah, and said you can just use your hands and squeeze the juice packets.
And then did it, did it on the video. So that’s why I asked that question. But it was a good story for Bloomberg to get to.
This is somewhat tongue in cheek when you compare it to some of the much, much bigger tech stories that have emerged this year. But there was this backlash to something like this.
Oh, well that’s because people like to be mad at juicing things. Who cares about the ...
What is wrong with Silicon Valley, right? I think that that theme carried on throughout.
Yeah, but there’s been a million of those. There’s been a million Juiceros.
Remember Vessyl, the smart cup from a few years ago?
Yeah, there’s been zillions. Yo, Peach, which we talked about. Silicon Valley has not .... The Cat, CueCat. Silicon Valley’s always had a dumb company.
Oh, CueCat was cool. I like the CueCat.
Has always had a dumb, overpriced company that maybe points the way to the future, but at the same time is just silly.
Yeah. Bodega. Bodega was another thing that happened this year that really had a lot of backlash. The backlash started to happen with some of the bigger companies, that these are platforms that we’re talking about.
Yes, but it was a very different thing, what was happening here.
Yes, these were very different.
And again, I’m going to be lecture, lecture, lecture, because I literally was writing about this the beginning of 2017. In December, I was writing about when they went to see President Trump without saying anything significant about immigration and things like that.
And this was Bezos and Elon and Sheryl.
They all went. And I had big arguments with all of them on this issue, is that they went to see Trump and did not bring up immigration. They did not bring up publicly ... They have all this power and they didn’t. So I wrote a series of columns sort of calling them sheeple and things like that. And it wasn’t so much to be anti-Trump as to be that these people are in positions of enormous power and they abrogate their responsibility. They pretend their platforms, which are astonishingly powerful, are benign. They are not benign.
They can be used for ill. That it was used, obviously used in the election. We interviewed Hillary Clinton at the Code Conference about this. Now, you can have your opinions on Hillary Clinton, but she’s dead right about the manipulation of the election, no matter what you think. Whether it had a huge impact or not, look, she definitely acknowledged she was a bad candidate. At the same time, why should there be any kind of manipulation whatsoever? That’s the real question. Let’s not focus on Hillary Clinton. Let’s focus on the manipulation.
And so I think these companies really have not taken the responsibility that they need to have. They’ve become billionaires, but there’s been manipulation of users, the fact that people increasingly feel like they need to disconnect from technology, the addictive qualities of it, the vague and sometimes not so vague feelings these companies are gathering your data for bad reasons. They are benefiting from you and in violating your privacy, and we have to think really hard about these issues in terms of using it.
And by the way, pretending that it’s libertarian and anyone can do what they want ... these are addictive platforms. And there’s been so many studies about video games, about Twitter, about everything else. I feel it. I know I’m ... I’ve never been addicted to a thing in my life, cigarettes or drinking or anything like that. I know I’m addicted to social media — or Twitter, at least. And I know they’re doing things to make me that way.
No, they’re designed ... a lot of the applications that we use are actually — I just made a video on this — are designed to offer us intermittent rewards. We know that there are going to be these rewards that come, but we don’t know when, and that’s how a lot of apps are designed. And so you keep checking and checking and checking. You keep logging in because you don’t know when you’re going to get that “Like” or that email or that notification or whatever it is. It is a problem. We started off joking about Juicero, and Juicero’s one of these ideas that ...
Nobody was addicted to Juicero.
There was a super-hyped product that ... It got a lot of venture capital funding and ended up going bust. And that’s sort of a classic Silicon Valley story in some ways. And then there is this interference or an influence of the most important platforms that we use. And then there is this idea of how can we as humans disassociate from technology when we need to.
I think that there are a lot of people who are going to continue to use Facebook and Twitter and Google products and whatever else, and they’re honestly not going to think twice about what they’re doing because they just aren’t thinking about it and it’s convenient to them, and it’s a free service and they’re okay with giving up their data in exchange for a free service.
But I personally feel that 2017 and into 2018 are the years, became the years when it’s really going to be impossible for people to disassociate the products we use from the companies and the people from which they sprung.
Right. And again, the addictiveness plays into what Russia did. It’s so easily manipulable because we’re addicted to it. And because our privacy is being violated, we can be even more manipulated. It reminds me ... it’s not cigarettes, but it’s right down that lane, you know? I think most people, every single person I know does not feel good after using social media. And I know that I can’t put my phone down. I know there’s something going on, and I’m very aware of it. And I think everyone is.
They do like to push this libertarian idea. If you didn’t want to use it, you wouldn’t use it. But why do they have so many engineers working on making you push that button? Why do they have so many people? It is like gambling. It’s like a slot machine. There’s something in the human brain, a dopamine rush. There should be studies of this to understand it, and then figure out how to maybe ... I call on Apple and Google to think about the home screen. Why not just put the useful apps visible and the others in files, you know? There’s way to assuage this.
Uber, I don’t check Uber all the time. I just use it. It’s a utility. I use an Uber or a Lyft and then I turn it off. That’s perfect in a lot of ways. It’s useful and at the same time, whatever you think of those car-driving programs ... But there’s certain things. Or you check the weather. You just check it. You don’t obsessively check it. And so what things should be on the home screen, I think Google and Apple should be at the forefront of thinking about and talking about these issues. First of all, Facebook doesn’t want to because their business is predicated on constant use. So I mean, that’s the problem.
Right. More and more of your data.
But Apple certainly isn’t, so why couldn’t Apple lead the way?
No, Apple, the relationship there is still fairly straightforward relative to other companies. You pay a premium for a product and you have the reasonable expectation that then you’re going to get an ad-free experience, no crummy malware, and that they’re not going to sell your data to advertisers and whoever else, hopefully not the Russians either. So yeah, that kind of straightforward experience with tech products these days is rare because in most cases you are giving something up about yourself, whether to Amazon or whether to Google or whoever it is, and Facebook.
I think a lot of early Facebookers were talking out about it, not just Sean Parker and others, because some of these people ...
I was going to say, Chamath Palihapitiya said something about it.
And then he took it back. But you know what? He said it on our podcast a year ago, and he was down the right lane. What happens is he gets a call, like, “Hey, cut it out,” kind of stuff. Sorry, Chamath, but you did. You said it several hundred times on our podcast. I think a lot of early people are speaking out, not just Chamath but lots of people, like, “What have we done?”
And so we have to think hard about how we can ... not that these services aren’t great in lots of ways. It’s a great communications [tool], it’s great to share things. Twitter can be super fun. Some of the fun memes are great. I don’t know if you say Beyonce’s family dancing. There’s a million of them, like the dad rearranging the living room. They’re nice. They’re great little stories. It’s just regular media that is addictive, too. It can make you feel sick and bad and foam out all kinds of things, and it doesn’t play into humanity’s worst characteristics, I think.
Yep. I spoke to a doctor recently, Larry Rosen, who said it might be good for their business models but it might not be good for humanware.
Right. And humans always degenerate to bad things.
Humanware. I like that term. Everyone look out for their own humanware in 2018.
Yeah. Again with my kids, I can see it. I can see. You have to grab it out of their hands and throw it against the wall, which I did several times this holiday season. Anyway, second story.
Story No. 2.
And they are linked. Two and one are linked.
They are linked. Story No. 2 is #metoo, not just in tech but in everywhere. 2017 was really the year that the lid was blown open and all kinds of harassment issues, not just tech but media, across other industries, too. We had Niniane Wang and Joelle Emerson on our podcast earlier this year. Joelle runs a firm called Paradigm that looks to address biases in the workplace right at the get-go. Niniane Wang, of course, was one of the entrepreneurs who spoke out against a VC named Justin Caldbeck, who along with other women, she spoke out, who was harassed by him. He ended up getting fired.
Other people ... not to just do a laundry list here, but Dave McClure, another well known VC, stepped down from his role. Robert Scoble, the CEO of SoFi; Roy Price at Amazon Studios, you mentioned earlier. And of course not just in tech, there was the Harvey Weinstein story. There was the Matt Lauer story. There’s the Bill O’Reilly story.
It’s just every day. There’s so many.
There is so much going on right now.
And that’s, by the way, just a glimpse into the problems there.
And of course one of our own executives at Vox Media, Lock Steele also was fired as a result of misconduct. So this is the big theme of 2017, and there’s a good reason why Time magazine made all of these women who spoke out the face of the Time Person of the Year, which was well deserved. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s only going to get worse in 2018.
It’s not only going to get worse, it’s that these are stories ... Now here’s a place where social media is great. Here we are, these stories. You cannot push back the tide of these people’s stories. And I know people are like, “Oh people are using it too much.” No. This is exactly what’s great about social media, is that people are ... It happened in the ... what was that mom’s group on ... not mom’s group. I’m sorry. There was a group on Facebook that was about people telling stories. I think what’s great about the human race is telling stories, and I think this is exactly what’s had to happen, is that people ... Even if there is abuses of it, I think it’s fantastic that [people] begin to understand they’re not alone, that there is strength in numbers.
There’s several friends of mine who’ve been sexually harassed finally talking about it, finally doing something about it, finally calling and contacting HR people. For years I’ve been bugging a lot of people. I think I bugged you once when you got bothered at a thing. I remember you saying, and you were not just the only one, “Oh it’s no big deal.” And I was like, “Oh it’s a big deal.”
What was interesting is the courage to talk is born by people talking and people feeling safe in groups and feeling safe to tell their stories. And so I think social media is great for this. I think there’ll be many more stories because people are tired of this behavior. Someone just the other day was calling it a tax on women, a tax on people of color. It’s a tax. Why do they have to have this happen to them?
Right. It’s the victim’s burden too, because it happens to you and then you not only have figure out, to strategize around if you’re going to tell your story, how to tell your story. You deal with the emotional burden of the aftermath of all of that, and the price of your career.
And the price you pay for your career if you do.
It’s a really crummy thing.
Right, exactly. And it’s also good to hear points of view that you may not like, like Matt Damon talking about it. I mean, the reason I thought that was interesting is because he’s very typical. It’s like, you should thank the people who don’t harass you. I’m like, eh. And that got debated, which was great. Most people thought he was an idiot, which he was, but he definitely has a point of view that a lot of people think. Think of all the nice people. I’m like, let’s not think about all the nice people. Let’s think about the people who aren’t so nice.
Some people also make the partisan argument. They align themselves with one political party and so they’re more likely to say something about someone they know is a Dem versus a Fox News anchor, or vice versa. And it’s so wrong to make it a partisan issue because it happens to everybody.
Right, absolutely. And you look, it just happened with Corey Lweandowski slapping ... You know he did that. He just doesn’t feel bad about it. I don’t think he’ll ever feel bad about it, but the fact that a Trump supporter is the one that complained about it. Or the Roy Moore thing.
So I think what happens is that people feel people telling their stories is the critical part of it. And I think eventually there’s truth and then there’s reconciliation. And you shouldn’t necessarily have to get to reconciliation that quickly. I think women and people of color are always told, “Well yeah, it’s been a problem, but let’s move on.” That’s their favorite. That’s the favorite thing. “Let’s move on.” Let’s not move on for a little bit. Let’s keep telling the stories until people do feel tired and overwhelmed by them. And maybe it will sink into the good men and the good people to say, “Okay maybe I wasn’t thinking.” And it’s not that you don’t get to say what you want. It’s you don’t get to say certain things anymore because it’s ...
If you think of it like a tax on people’s jobs, that women have to carry a tax, and people of color have to carry a tax, that they have to pay more and make more effort to do a basic job. Well maybe that’s why it’s harder to do their jobs. If you think about it, I think that’s the most important part of the whole thing. It’s not a left wing or right wing thing. It’s that you shouldn’t have to go over and above to do your job really, to do a job. And then you can be judged fairly on the quality of your work. But it certainly is impacted by this stuff, 100 percent. I think there’s going to be a lot of stories, and I don’t care if some of them are minor, like microaggressions, and some of them are major, like very serious ... they’re all in the same ... some obviously are more difficult.
Right, some are criminal and some are not. However, even a toxic workplace culture is not a good thing. For a lot of women too, the more — I was saying this on the Vergecast a few weeks ago — none of this is fun for anybody. For women who are sitting back and opting not to tell their stories right now ...
That’s fine too.
... or just for whatever reason they’ve moved beyond it and they’ve come to their own resolution, to watch these stories coming out can be really harmful to them and difficult for them, even if they’re not actively participating in the conversation. And there are a lot of silent voices out there too that are ...
Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, even if it’s minor, don’t feel bad about saying something about it. I mean, if I literally get asked to smile more on television, I’m going to kill someone. I’m not going to smile more, everybody. I’ll smile when I fucking feel like it, all right? How about that? How about we do that?
2018: Kara Swisher is not smiling.
I’m not going to smile for you. No. I may, I may. But if it pleases me, I’ll smile, and maybe I will smile more. But maybe I won’t. But if I get one more tweet at me saying “smile more” ... now I’m going to get a ton of tweets about it, but I’m not smiling more. It’s not going to happen.
I can tell you right now she’s not smiling.
I’m not smiling at all.
No. 1. Right to it.
I’m shocked, simply shocked by this.
Not surprisingly, the No. 1 tech story of 2017 was the Uber saga.
Yeah. So indicative. So indicative.
Someone tweeted at us. Rita Ingabire wrote, “How is Uber not in this thread?” Well here you go, Rita. It’s right here. It all started with Susan Fowler’s blog post that was, I think, in February of this year.
Led to an executive shake-up. Recode, the New York Times, the Information, all kinds of news outlets ended up exposing Uber for a variety of issues, including Greyball, which was a code name for a software that was used to evade authorities.
We were like “The Avengers,” everyone did a different thing.
... in municipalities where Uber wasn’t supposed to be operating. Johana Bhuiyan from Recode wrote a story for BuzzFeed a while ago, actually. This was long before 2017.
Nobody was paying attention.
Where she discovered that Uber had been tracking her ride. She went to go meet with an Uber executive. And so we knew early on that they had access to that data.
And they were casual about it. They were casual about it. Like, oh so what?
So Uber’s had a whole host of problems. We can’t possibly encapsulate it at the end of this podcast, but if you’ve been following us at all, you know this is the big topic. I guess my question is for you, Kara: In 2018, do you think that Uber is going to bounce back?
You know, they’ve got some issues. Dara’s been a little slow about hiring. He’s the new CEO. Look, Uber’s still a great product. There’s lots of issues around regulation, around safety, around all kinds of stuff. But we all think it’s a useful product. I use it all the time. I use Lyft all the time. I don’t want to drive a car anymore. It solves a really good problem, and there’s issues.
There was a story today about whether it creates more congestion in cities and should people pay a tax on it. These are all things we’ll work out, but it’s obviously a product people like to use. So let’s get to the heart of it. And by the way, it’s a very good app. Uber’s a very good app. They innovate all the time. I’m always like, “Oh that’s interesting.” Every time they do something, I’ve always found it to be ... it works really well. There’s issues around drivers that absolutely need to be addressed. So it should. If they could get all the real problems aside.
The problems they shouldn’t have had to deal with is this rampant sexism at this company, which to me is the quintessence of Silicon Valley’s problems, this bro culture that really didn’t think ... this aggression that is just ridiculous and pointless. This need to constantly expand and not get the things while you’re doing them. I get that. I get the idea of ... but it’s not like Jeff Bezos’s expansion. It’s weird and aggressive expansion. Like, “Let’s do this, let’s try this, let’s not put these things into place.” And then say, “Oh well, we’ll clean it up later.” They can’t do that, obviously. They have to think about how they’re making money, clearly. I think that Dara, as I said before, he opens up a drawer and finds another dead body. Like, “Oh, whoa, this.”
I’m going to do something here that I don’t do. I’m going to compliment Travis Kalanick. He is a really interesting entrepreneur. I ran into him the other day. He by accident showed up at the Vox Media Christmas party.
He showed up at the Vox party?
Yeah, he thought it was another party and he ran into me.
He ran into me. He ran into me and I was like, “Hi! Happy holidays, merry Christmas.” I can say that now. (I was teasing. You can always say Merry Christmas.) Yeah, he did. I ran into him. I hadn’t seen him in a while and it was entirely awkward because we’ve done some tough reporting. It only would’ve helped if Mike Isaac was standing next to me and Jessica Lessin was on the other side.
But look, he’s a great entrepreneur and it wouldn’t ... His aggression, if it was channeled properly and not so toxic, could’ve been a really interesting character. You know what I mean? It’s clearly ... a lot of it is born of his creativity, 100 percent. But this stuff along the way is just unacceptable and that’s why he lost his job. The treatment of women, the way they created these ridiculous sneaky ... as if they were the Mossad or something and doing crazy sneaky spy stuff. It was just illegal. Some of this stuff around what they did with Google, that will be borne out this year, the Waymo lawsuit. It’s the same pattern of misbehavior that just gets in the way of what is good.
So we’ll see. We’ll see if they can put some people into place there and make it into a product that they can be proud of. We’ll see. I think it’s hard. It should work because it’s a great product, right? That’s the thing.
He unfortunately helped to breed a pretty toxic bro-like, frat-like party culture. I mean, that was obvious in some of the memos that whole thing exposed since then.
Oh, that memo I got? Yeah. Yeah. They were proud of that memo. “Don’t vomit off the roof!” What? What?
Right. That was the Miami event. And then there were stories about the event in Vegas that they had. You know, it’s funny because I used to think, “You’re a grown-up company now. You can’t do this anymore.” But the truth is that no matter how big or small your company is, you cannot create, establish, facilitate, encourage a terrible party frat-like culture and have everyone and expect that nothing’s going to go wrong and that everyone’s going to work comfortably. It just can’t.
Look, I enjoyed the movie “Office Christmas Party” too. I enjoyed that. I like Jennifer Aniston finally loosening up. I get that. But the fact of the matter is, it creates an atmosphere at work where you can’t do your work. And it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, you can’t occasionally make a stupid joke, you can’t occasionally have fun at work. But you don’t need to literally ... there’s no need for strippers. There’s just no need for strippers. And the fact that you get argument about that is sort of like ... I’m pretty certain there’s no need for escorts. I’m going to go out on a limb here. If you want to do that on your own, by the way, listen, I live in San Francisco. If you want to date a goat, date a goat. Go for it. But date a goat on your own time.
But don’t bring the goat strippers to the holiday party.
Don’t bring the goat strippers to holiday parties. Why do that? Again, you don’t want to be seen as the sex police of these people or the police of behavior, but there are some sensible ways to create ... And by the way, you get a better workplace for it. You just do, if you’re letting people do their very best. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you don’t do stupid things, because every company does stupid ... Recode has been full of stupid things, a lot of them. But it’s always in the sense of when someone objects, we think about it. We talk about it. We do stuff. There’s no reason Uber can’t come back.
And by the way, Dara is a terrific CEO. He’s going to be coming to Code, I think, and we’re going to talk about that. And Travis, if he cleaned himself up, I guess ... I mean, I don’t agree with Arianna about redemption of everybody. But certainly, understanding the impact of that is ...
So did you convince Travis to come on your podcast when you saw him?
No, I didn’t talk to him. It was so awkward. It was so awkward, and someone who was there was like, “Oh look! It’s the bane of your existence, Kara Swisher!” And of course he looked like he was going to vomit onto his shoes. But he didn’t. He was very polite. It was an odd and awkward encounter. But I’ll call him. What the heck.
Travis, come on the Recode show.
I was at dinner at Sue Decker’s house the other night and it was lovely, and I used to call her incompetent at one point. We’ll be having dinner in ... well, maybe 2020, something like that. But yes, they can. What do you think? What do you think, Lauren Goode?
Think Uber can redeem themselves?
As a product, yes. I think you’re absolutely right in that they have a very, very good product. I personally have been using Lyft a lot in the past year and I think Lyft is great. I was surprised by how easy it was just to switch over to Lyft after using Uber since the very ... I covered Uber in the very early days of it for the Wall Street Journal. I wrote this article about hailing a black car with your app. And it was this novelty at the time, right? But I do think they have an excellent product. I think from a product perspective there are going to be a lot of people out there. I think they have to improve the relations with and their treatment of drivers.
Yep. The whole thing.
The one thing I hear consistently — and this is very anecdotal — when I get into any type of ride-sharing service now is that you ask people, do you drive for both? Do you drive for all of them? Do you drive for Juno? Do you drive for Uber and Lyft and everything? And a lot of people say, “I have a really hard time getting in touch with Uber representatives. I don’t feel that they are paying us fairly.” I think that’s an economics problem. It’s a logistics problem that Uber could easily figure out with the right amount of data.
And no one’s going to be totally happy no matter what.
Right. But I think they need to improve that, and I think obviously ... I think the greatest challenge for them is just the corporate structure and the workplace environment.
Yeah, yeah. You definitely get a sense of, not everyone feels thrilled to be working for them when you talk to drivers. There’s a lot of griping.
Yeah, there is a lot of griping. Uber’s doing some of the right things they’re supposed to be doing. They replaced the CEO. They have a new CEO. They brought in Frances Frei, who’s coming in with an academic approach on how to make it a better workplace culture. They’ve done this investigation. They’ve done all these steps, but they still ... 2017 was a revelation of a lot of terrible things.
Yeah, it just went on and on and on. I think there’ll be more revelations.
The story about the medical records in India. I mean, that’s a really, really terrible thing.
It just was amazing. It’s amazing that I got pushback. “What’s wrong with that?” I’m like, who didn’t ... what part of you doesn’t understand? This was different executives that were doing this. But I think people did recognize it was a problem, you know what I mean?
I think from a product perspective they’re going to be fine.
Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.
And like I said, this is the year it’s going to be very difficult to disassociate the product you’re using from the company it’s coming from. That’s already shown in 2017 and I think it’s going to be the case in ’18.
Also, it does matter the person at the top. I think people forget that these companies are run by individuals. The people at Lyft, I was sitting next to Logan Green the other day and he said ... literally, and he’s with his high school sweetheart. It was such a different experience talking to him.
And it’s not just that. Do not forget these are human beings. Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Logan Green. They’re all people, and you don’t think of them as stars or celebrities of anything else. They have responsibilities, given their power, and we have to hold them to account for that, for that power and how they behave. We’re not trying to be judge and jury as the press. We’re trying to say, “Why don’t you think about this a little bit?”
And I think it’s worked out really well with Uber because I think the press has done a great job. And at the same time, we have to understand they’re human beings and they’re going to make mistakes. That was me being nice for 14 seconds.
I think that’s a good wrap-up to 2017.
Yes, absolutely. Thank God. Goodbye. I can’t wait for 2017 to be over. What about you?
I’d like to do one of those tests where it’s like, how much have you aged in the past 12 months? And just do a BuzzFeed list where I check off a bunch of boxes and it’s like, “You’ve aged 39 years.”
I think you look great. I think you look great. No, I think you look good. You look good.
Well, I’ve had a personally healthy year.
Yeah, me too.
2016 was tough because I had a knee surgery and I was ...
Oh. I didn’t ... Oh that’s right, I think I knew that.
Tiny violins. Yeah it was just tough for me physically, but 2017 I think ...
2017, the self-care thing. It sounds corny, but you have to do it. You have to like yourself.
And we’ll be talking about what’s coming.
And you have to take breaks from social media.
Yes. Yes. Anyway, take breaks, for sure. Even I’m saying that, and you know how I love the Twitter.
This has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. I’d like to thank my co-host, Lauren Goode, for making 2017 more bearable. I know I make jokes at your expense, and I’m going to continue doing so in 2018.
That’s okay. I kind of like it.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.