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The Lost Boys of Big Tech

The Lost Boys of Big Tech


The original “Burn Book” from Mean Girls was used to spread rumors and gossip about other girls (and some boys) at North Shore High School. Kara Swisher’s new memoir, Burn Book, tells true stories about men (and some women) who ruled Silicon Valley. In the 1990s, Swisher was a political reporter in Washington, but tuned into the dot-com revolution early and moved to California to cover it. As a handful of tech titans grew in fame and power, so did she, styling herself as “the best-connected of the tough reporters, and the toughest of the insiders,” writes the Atlantic staff writer Helen Lewis. Swisher became an innovator herself, starting a famous tech conference, launching several successful podcasts, and building a small media empire along the way. Her book collects those decades of stories and insights.

On this week’s Radio Atlantic, Swisher recounts some of the most cringey moments of the early dot-com boom, including strange antics at parties she never really wanted to go to. (“I’ll admit I’m not that much fun.”) But mostly she traces how the idiosyncrasies, blind spots, and enthusiasms of the tech leaders she reported on have created our world. “It’s like Edison’s living right now, so I felt it was really important for you to understand how they got here and who they have become.”

Listen to the conversation here:


The following is a transcript of the episode:

[Music]

Hanna Rosin: Kara, I finished your book. It is surprisingly dishy. You called it the Burn Book after Mean Girls. So this is supposed to be what you really think about everyone—like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, all of them.

Kara Swisher: That’s right.

[Music]

Rosin: I’m Hanna Rosin. This is Radio Atlantic, and Kara is Kara Swisher. The most straightforward way to describe her is “veteran technology journalist.” But the bigger truth is that she was put on this Earth to cover the rise of Silicon Valley.

From the minute that Kara got a giant, prototype cell phone in her hand, she knew that she had to move west.

So there she was, at the beginning of the dot-com era, in the makeshift garage-offices where everyone coded all night, and at the parties where they drank and then told her things. And as they became more famous, she became more famous for being both incredibly well connected and a journalistic bulldog. Not sure how those two things held together but they did, and she kept it up for years.

And at this point, when it’s way, way harder to get access to these tech titans, Kara Swisher is one of the only journalists who can say that she knew them—and many of their parents—way back when, which explains the book’s dishy vibe.

And P.S. There will be cursing.

[Music]

Rosin: It’s not about, like, people’s dating lives. That’s not what you mean. You’re talking about their actual personalities, right?

Swisher: Yes, exactly. I want you to understand how they got from one place to another. What happened to Elon Musk? Like, how did he go from being a relatively quirky, odd billionaire, with a bunch of negative characteristics that were small, to a massive asshole? Right? How did that happen?

Rosin: Why do I care if he’s an asshole?

Swisher: Well, you should, because he’s very powerful. That’s why. He’s not just a little powerful. I’m like, literally, he’s running space, and he is involved in the Ukraine thing, and he runs one of the biggest social-media platforms on the planet. This is not a little person. He’s had an enormous influence on the world.

Rosin: Right. So it’s, like, gossip we should enormously care about because these guys’ personalities essentially make our world.

Swisher: Yeah, but I’m not going like: “Elon’s fat.” There was famous pictures of him looking very fat, right? I don’t care if he’s fat. I pushed back on gossip, but this is what they’re like. I’m telling you. I was there. I saw it.

I don’t know if that’s gossip, because I’m not talking about their dating lives, unless it’s pertinent, by the way, and which it usually isn’t. Sometimes it is. Certainly, you know, you’ve just seen the series of stories in The Wall Street Journal about, in his case, drug use, right? Is it affecting him? And I think it’s pertinent in this case.

Rosin: Right, right. It’s just odd because we, as people who live in this world, are subject to the incredible idiosyncrasies and particularities of these people’s personalities. I mean, that’s the impression I got from your book. I mean, you essentially write that there’s this pattern: These are powerful men. Most of them are men. They go from being idealistic strivers to these compromised, insulated rich people, and we live in their world.

Swisher: And we do, right? What companies have been more important over the last two decades than tech companies? They’re also currently still the richest—not just the richest people, but the most powerful companies. And we’re poised to yet another wrinkle in the tech space around generative AI.

They’re laying waste to major entertainment companies. They’ll lay waste to insurance companies. They’re starting to dabble in healthcare. They’re in space. They’re in cars. And it’s the same group of people, and so don’t you want to know?

It’s kind of like Edison’s living right now. So is Carnegie. We’re living with those people right now, and so I felt it was really important for you to understand how they got here and who they’ve become. That was my goal.

Rosin: So let’s focus on the “become,” because truly we cannot remember them as evolving humans anymore.

Swisher: Right. They’re cartoons.

Rosin: They’re cartoons now, and one advantage you have is that you actually can. So if you can go back to your younger self, I mean, you recognized something in them really early on.

Like you could have been a political reporter. You could have done lots of other things, and you defied a lot of people and said, No, I’m doing this. Why? What was there at the beginning?

Swisher: Well, you know, I was at The Washington Post, to put that in context. And the game at The Washington Post was to cover the White House at the time. That was the big, hot thing.

But the minute I started covering the internet, I was like, Politics doesn’t matter, because these people are going to own everything. Like, They’re going to own politics. They’re going to change politics.

You know, I studied propaganda when I was at the foreign service school, and then later at Columbia, when I went to the journalism school. But I was interested in the uses of propaganda, always—Nazism, in China, even in the United States, how we use propaganda to move civilizations, right? And convince people.

And, obviously, everyone focuses on Nazism because they were, unfortunately, effective at it. And in their case, they used radio, right? Radio was very important. If you ever watch the films of Leni Riefenstahl, you saw the movies.

And so when I saw the internet for the first time, it reminded me of that kind of technological shift—whether it was for the printing press, for radio, for television, which obviously had a big impact politically. And when I looked at this, I was like, Oh, this is even bigger. Like, it was so easy to understand what it was. It was like them but bigger. I could immediately see what the tools could be used for. And I think a lot of people didn’t.

Rosin: But did you think it was cool, amazing, going to change the world?

Swisher: Both. Yes. You know, there’s the Paul Virilio quote, “When you invent the ship, you [also] invent the shipwreck.” Right? Every technological change is a tool or a weapon, like nuclear fission, right?

And I like the tools, and I definitely see the possibilities, but I’m also like, Oh, wait. Look what you could do here.

Rosin: Right. Right. You could see the seeds of danger, but also there was genuine passion and openness and pride, and all of these things were all there at once.

Swisher: They were proud of what they’d done. They should be.

Rosin: And then when does it start to turn? Like, I’m looking at page 57 in your book, and you write about lines that they gave you: “It’s not about the money.” “It’s not about the fame.”

Swisher: When that happened, I wrote kind of a silly article about it. It was one of my first articles when I started covering stuff there, because I was like, You’re fucking kidding me. Like, You’re not children. And I wrote a funny story about it. Like, they say it’s not, but in fact it is.

Or the way they dressed, you know: I’m just dressed in a hoodie. I’m harmless. I’m like, You’re not harmless—you’re just dressed in a hoodie. You know, it’s no different than Gordon Gekko in the beautiful suit and the town car. It’s not that different, just ’cause you’re riding around on a bicycle—you’re still dangerous.

I was really fascinated by their attempts to affect childishness or childlike—I found it childish, but childlike wonder was one of their little PR things. And they were sort of like that. Their foods were always soft, and their clothes were always soft, and it was very much a Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Like, Let’s eat food all night. You know, Let’s eat Twinkies all night. Let’s play video games. They had sort of had this arrested development that was really fascinating to me.

Rosin: I see. But initially you just didn’t know. Like, it seemed interesting, intriguing, full of wonder, but it didn’t seem terrible yet.

Swisher: I was a little worried about some of it, because it was people that were in their 20s, some of whom were in their 30s—Bezos was a little older—who were just continuing to act like they were children. Like, they were sort of trying to abrogate responsibility and not act like adults, right? Because ultimately this was adult stuff.

There was one scene where the guys who founded Excite, which nobody remembers now, but it was one of their competitors. You know, it was so calculated. They had a garage as a door, right? We started in a garage, but here it is. I’m like, Why do you need it now? You know, Okay, sure. I’ll go through your garage door, whatever.

But they had a slide between the second and first floors—you know, one of those big children’s slides. And they were like, Get on the slide, Kara! I’m like, I’m not fucking getting on the slide. I’m 35 years old, or whatever. I was like, No. And they’re like, Everybody slides down the slide, and I was like, I didn’t like it when I was four. I’m not doing it now. Like, What are you talking about? I’m old. Like, No, I won’t do it.

But they love to sort of have that harmless, you know—they’re wearing fleece and comfortable shoes and flip flops, as if they are different than anyone else who’s making money. But you could see little bits of it, whether they were sort of lifting other people’s content without a care in the world. And then you started to see the money mattering.

Rosin: Right. Right. Did you say they eat soft food?

Swisher: Yeah, it was all, like, pudding. There’s a lot of pudding. You know, a lot of pudding. I was fascinated by their food choices. You got free food all the time, and a lot of it was sweets, right?

You know, one place who were like, We’re charging for food, was Apple. I started to walk away. They’re like, Hey, you got to pay for your food. I was like, Oh, right. Forgot. You’re adults.

You know what I mean? Because they would give away food. But all of it was soft, soft food. Pudding is how I think of it. Pudding. A lot of pudding.

Rosin: A lot of pudding. Can you tell the story about the diaper-onesie party that you write about? Because, truly, I found that really hard to believe.

Swisher: For me too, when I got there. So I was used to going to these ridiculous parties, right? And they were good places to source. I didn’t enjoy them—I’m not a big party person, as you know. So I went to this baby shower for Sergey Brin, who was one of the co-founders of Google. And, you know, everybody was there, so I’m going because they tend to say things when they’re drinking. And they want you to like them, so they tend to—it’s a great place for sourcing. It just is.

And so, I went. It was a warehouse kind of thing. And when you walked in, hanging from the ceiling in the entryway are their baby pictures. And I thought, That was cute. That’s cute. Cute, cute, cute.

But then when you walked in, they wanted you to wear an outfit. They loved outfits. These people loved costumes. And so, I’m trying to be open-minded. But they had onesies that you could put on—onesies, giant adult onesies, you know—and then they gave you a sucker. And the food was, like, all baby food type of stuff, with baby food spoons. And so she’s like, Which one do you want? And I was like, None of the above. I shall not be wearing a diaper, for fucking sure. I would not do it.

Rosin: I can’t believe they didn’t realize the optics.

Swisher: Oh, it was crazy. I was like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Like, Oh, no, no, no. But the onesies were even more interesting because, where do you get adult onesies, right? And I was like, They just had an idea and they went with it. They just decided, We’re going with this.

And when you walked in, literally—I’ll get to the ice sculpture in a second—but they had a jumpy, one of those jumpies, which I do like by the way. But adults were jumping in a jumpy because they’re fun. They had roller skates. Sergey Brin was on roller skates. They had all manner of balloons. It was all kids’ toys, right? It was like a wonderland. If you were a toddler, you’d have been thrilled to be there, except these were adults.

And so everyone was dressed up like that, except for Gavin Newsom, who was wearing one of his fantastic suits. I was like, Both of us have dignity, obviously. And he was like, You’d have taken my picture. I was like, I absolutely would have taken your picture if you were in a diaper right now. And, There’s no question, and you’d deserve it if you did. If you put on a diaper or a onesie, you’d have deserved every bit of political fallout from that, and I would be thrilled to kill you.

But there was an ice sculpture, too, because the food was elaborate. But this is a giant ice sculpture of a woman, and it was a white Russian coming out of her boob, so it’s milk. And so you put your glass up to it—

Rosin: Oh my—

Swisher: And got the white Russian. And I was like, What the fuck?

Rosin: So it’s weirdly infantilizing and sexist and all the things.

Swisher: Yes. Exactly. The whole thing. And they had no irony. Like, there was no, there’s not even, there wasn’t a—

You had Sergey running around on his roller skates. You know, I don’t know what—I was like, Did you not have enough time as a child? I just was like, What the—?

And look, maybe I’m not fun. I’ll admit I’m not that much fun. I really, really don’t like parties that much. But I was like, This is not what I would do if I had a billion dollars, right?

Rosin: I can see the temptation you are under constantly to psychoanalyze. Like, you write sentences like: “They all seemed achingly lonely.” And: “So much of what they project is performative and often born from a deep insecurity.”

Swisher: They were.

Rosin: And I’m thinking, Does she know that for sure? And what does that mean about our world today?

Swisher: I think we now treat them as heroes. Like, they’re real people.

And I think if you look a little bit at their parents or their backgrounds—like, Steve Jobs actually would talk about this. Larry Ellison, I had a long talk with him about his mom leaving him—left him with an aunt, and he didn’t know his father. He was very aware, the impact it had on him, you know, in many ways. I can’t believe I’m saying Larry Ellison’s totally mature, but he had a very cogent discussion, and I think some of it drives these people, right?

You can see that with Elon—you know, I got beaten up as a child and therefore I’m going to beat up the world, or something. You have to be able to pull from all their life experiences, in some fashion, or where they grew up and what shaped them for what they did, what happened to them.

A good person to look at, I think, is Travis Kalanick, because he had started a bunch of companies and he had gotten kind of screwed by various powerful people. And he was angry.

I was always looking for their motivation, and his was he had failures before Uber, and he was not going to lose this fucking time.

Rosin: Right. Right. Now, your relationship with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, goes way back. And you wrote that there were things about him that you admired, initially, that he was a little bit different than other people. Can you talk about those?

Swisher: I mean, look, he was a very awkward person. A lot of techies are well known for not having really good social cues, right? Just the way it is. And there’s a lot of them in tech, and you run into them a lot. And he was one of them—had a very hard time with social cues, but a very lovely guy.

And by the way, I met his mom. I met his dad. I met his sisters. Very lovely people. He had a very nice upbringing and a very supportive upbringing, it seemed. He was sort of the toast of the family. And he got supported in his interest in technology. He was nerdy, and they supported that, which was good, right? He was made to think it was a good thing.

And so, you know, a lot of his stuff at Harvard was rough, the way he took people’s information, and you could just see glimmers of what was going to happen later. That said, I think as he evolved later, he was trying very hard to learn very quickly stuff that he had missed in college, right? He was trying very hard to learn.

And compared to a lot of people, even though he was aggressive, I would say—like, Bill Gates could be just an asshole; he became better over time, by the way, and I believe in people improving their personalities—but Mark was always very polite and very earnest. Even though there’s elements of, you know, when you saw those texts where they say, Hey, trust me, dumb suckers, that was a teenager saying that, right? I didn’t think that was the basis of his personality.

Nothing he’s done in his life reflects that. He has a lovely wife. He seems to be a very good father. He’s very committed to his athletics, you know? And so, I was sort of like, What’s motivating this guy? Why does he feel the need to have so much dominance over everything? And so I was really trying to figure that out.

Rosin: And the central debate between the two of you seems to be accountability. Like, how would you characterize that? I feel like you guys have been having this conversation for decades. What are the two sides of it?

Swisher: I felt like he should understand how powerful he was, and he pretended he wasn’t. He always said “weandthe community,” like, We as a group will decide together. And I was like, If there’s a “we” here, why do you get to decide everything? Why do you have unassailable power at Facebook? From a technical point of view, I get it: You don’t want a [venture capitalist] to come in and screw you, Mark.

I think he was very aware of that. But he kept saying “we” a lot when in fact he was the one who made all the decisions. So I was interested in that dichotomy, and we debated that a lot. He also didn’t seem to see negativity in people, that they would take these tools and do something bad with them.

I just was like, Have you not read any history? Here’s Hannah Arendt. Like, Let’s give you a little—and I joke about it. Like, he didn’t finish college. And so, for some reason, he just didn’t see that it could turn out badly. And, you know, that’s a good part of entrepreneurs—like, I’m gonna keep going—but in this case, it had real-world implications.

So every decision he made was always good for him and bad for everybody else, necessarily. And they didn’t think that. He was like, I am giving you Facebook. And I was like, But you run it. You control it—you. And it, for some reason, that was really—and part of it was because he had socially awkward tendencies, but that’s not an excuse.

Rosin: So what did you learn about why he needs this dominance? Like, after these decades of debate, what is motivating him?

Swisher: You know, I haven’t talked to him in a while, since our last disastrous interview for him. But I don’t know. He’s just an aggressive young man, right? He’s not young anymore, but he’s—ultimately a lot of these people, they think they know better, without knowing, right? I’m like, You have no wisdom, but a lot of opinions, right? You haven’t gained wisdom over time.

If you look back at the quotes, it’s Jobs who actually had wisdom. Like, he predicted podcasting. He talked about privacy. He was reflective. He was a very reflective person, and as aggressive as he was—and let me just say, he was very aggressive—he read widely, he thought widely. And a lot of these people, very much like the platforms they created, they thought reductively.

Good or bad, black or white—like that kind of thing.

Rosin: I never thought about the anti-intellectualism of the Silicon Valley founders and how it affects—

Swisher: They really are.

Rosin: I didn’t really think about that. You’ve mentioned a couple of times they stop talking to you. So it seems like at some point, you know—like with the Zuckerberg motivation thing or Elon—they kind of get away from you. Like, you can’t quite guess their motivations and you can’t understand them. Like, they get out of your grasp.

Swisher: Yes. In Mark’s case, I agree with him—he shouldn’t talk to me. He’s had two disastrous interviews with me. And I kind of am like, Okay, I get it, sir. Like, you really—something with you and I. I don’t think he thinks I was unfair to him in that regard. I don’t believe that. I think he knows it was his fault.

Rosin: Hold on. I’m going too fast, because people don’t necessarily know this. What was the disaster with Mark Zuckerberg that you’re referring to?

Swisher: Well, there were two interviews I did with him. One he started with—Walt and I did one with him where we were asking about privacy. He started sweating so much, he looked like he was going to faint. It ricocheted all over the internet. It looked like we sweat him to death, essentially, during the interview. It was kind of a physical manifestation of nervousness. He said he had the flu. I think it was a panic attack. But nonetheless, it wasn’t good for him at that juncture in his career to look like he had a flop sweat, essentially. And the second one was, I think, more serious. He handled that one rather well. He was very cordial to us about it. He knew it was him, not us.

And in the second case, we were doing an interview in 2018, and I was really incensed about the Alex Jones decisions he made—Alex Jones, who was the person who said the Sandy Hook massacre was a false flag or whatever, just a heinous person. And I’m like, Do you have no responsibility to the heinousness this guy is putting out there?

And during that interview, he shifted it to anti-Semitism, which is pertinent now, of course. And, he said, As a Jew—you know, he essentially was doing that. I was like, Okay, don’t do this. Don’t go to Holocaust, because I actually know a thing or two about this, right? And about propaganda. And he essentially said Holocaust deniers don’t mean to lie.

And I was like, Oh my fucking God. You’re kidding me. You think that? Like you know, I was thinking, Oh, baby, baby. No, no, no, no, no. Don’t go here. But instead of saying, You’re an idiot, I let him talk. And then you heard him. You heard his thinking on it, which was very problematic and ill informed, and stupid, really. Stupid, is what it was.

But he was in charge of a huge platform that was making decisions. So that’s what I was trying to put out there. Like, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s flying the fucking plane. Right? Like, he owns the plane, he’s flying the plane, we’re all on the plane, and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And that’s what I was trying to get through.

And he got in a lot of trouble for that right away. And I knew he would. You know, me and the producer were like, Ooh, let’s get out of here and post this, because this is problematic. He apologized later, pretty quickly, saying he didn’t mean to say that, but he did say—that’s precisely what he said. And he then, it took him, you know, a lot of time to knock them off the platform. But during that time, oceans of anti-Semitism washed over Facebook and created all kinds of problems and really did rabbit hole a lot of people with that bile and those lies.

And so my thing was this guy is making decisions for society that have huge implications. And I believe much of what’s going on now has a direct line to what decisions he made, because it was the biggest platform. And so I wanted to say: The person running the news doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he has enormous influence over when he decides to become educated about these things.

[Music]

Rosin: All right. We’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, Kara stops wondering about what motivates tech titans and talks about what we should do about them.

[Music]

Rosin: So at some point, you stop trying to understand what motivates them.

Swisher: They are rapacious information thieves, as Walt Mossberg called them. That’s what they are—they’re information thieves. But they don’t care about the wider society, and the impact.

Marc Benioff, the head of Salesforce, who they consider a class traitor, I think, he called them cigarette companies. And I think that was a perfect metaphor, actually. They’re doing all this damage, and we’re paying the price, right? We’re paying for deaths and the destruction. They don’t pay the price and they get all the profits. And so, I was like, When are we going to make them pay for what they’ve done?

It’s not their complete fault, but it’s certainly—you know, they’re always like, Fox News. I’m like, Okay, sure. They just paid, by the way, in Dominion. And they’re going to pay again with Smartmatic.

Rosin: I’m glad I got you in this mode because I want people to have the experience that I had reading the book.

Swisher: Of Kara Swisher.

Rosin: Which I wrote in the margins, “This is dark.” Like, you have a sentence which is like, LOL. Haha. Speaking of fucked, I’m sorry to say: We are. And that’s where I wrote, “This is dark.”

Swisher: It is, but it’s trying to be funny. It’s also, like, The Twilight Zone thing, “To Serve Man.” Do you remember? That was a classic episode where these aliens come down and fix all of humanity, and everyone’s like, Oh yay, aliens. They’re so good. They’ve solved all our problems.

And they find a book that the only thing they can translate is “to serve man.” And they think, Oh, it’s to help man, but actually it’s a cookbook. Right? I’m sorry to let that on, but it’s a cookbook. They sort of fatten people up to eat them, which I’m like, Okay, that’s what they’re here for.

And so I am always yelling, It’s a cookbook! It’s a fucking cookbook, everybody!

Rosin: You mean they’re coming to eat us?

Swisher: They are eating us. Yes. They’re not here to help us. They’re here to eat us. And it’s a cookbook, and you are being cooked by their stuff. You’re addicted to it. You’re dependent on it for your job and your life. Everything happens over it. They control it. And who the hell are they? You need to know who they are.

It’s unspeakable amounts of power. You’d think we had the robber barons back. You know, whether it was Carnegie or Rockefeller—you know, the people who laid the railroad, etcetera—they had enormous influence and sway over how our society developed. Well, guess what? This is that on steroids.

Rosin: Right, right. So that’s depressing. And you wrote: “As much as I tried to sound the alarms, I couldn’t stop them.” So, then you left Silicon Valley and moved to Washington. You left with that feeling of someone’s got to stop them. So who is that someone now?

Swisher: The government. The government hasn’t done nothing. Our legislators—you know, I wanted to meet a lot of the legislators. And I’ve never seen an industry so powerful have almost no regulation relating to them, except for old regulation, right? Old antitrust, old privacy laws.

And so I was sort of astonished. Like, can you imagine pharmaceutical companies without any strictures? Wall Street without any strictures?

Rosin: And is there anything in there that gives you hope? Like, what’s the thing that you’re most hopeful about?

Swisher: Well, there was an insurrection; they didn’t act, right?

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Swisher: It wasn’t totally their fault. Let’s blame Donald Trump, but they were handmaidens to sedition, as far as I’m concerned.

Rosin: So we’re still pessimistic.

Swisher: We’re still pessimistic. No, I just don’t know when we’re going to pass a national privacy law. It doesn’t look like we’re going to do one.

When are we going to pass an algorithmic transparency law? What are we doing on generative AI? What are the rules of the road we want them to—do we want killer drones? Probably not, right? This is a global issue too, by the way. Do we want them to concentrate power in this area?

Because it’s a very expensive thing. So a lot of these companies, even if there’s a lot of startups, like OpenAI—Microsoft’s backing OpenAI, Amazon’s backing Anthropic—it’s the same characters running the same show on a really important new technology. So do we really want them to own the future?

Do we? Maybe we do, but maybe we should talk about it as a society. And by the way, what I go back to is: Guess who invented the internet? Al Gore a little bit? But we did. Guess who paid for it? We did. Why are they getting all the benefits, and we’re getting all the costs? That’s all I want to say.

Guess who gave Elon Musk a loan that saved Tesla? We did.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Swisher: We gave him money. Maybe he’s helping us. Great. Great. Innovation. Innovation. So happy for it, but you should have some respect for the body politic, at some level.

And so, I would really like our government officials, who are elected—as flawed as they are, they’re elected, right? We can go on and on insulting our elected officials, but we picked them. So let’s demand that they pass laws that at least—not hinder innovation (that’s their argument), because I don’t love regulation either—but there are none. I like more than zero. I like more than zero. And so I would like to see a privacy bill. I would like—and believe me, at this point I don’t know if it’ll work.

We are selling ourselves out to them for a dating service, and I don’t think we should.

Rosin: In the meantime, because you’re a parent of four children—I’m gonna end on a personal note—what do you tell your kids? You’re on your phone all the time, just to be honest. I’ve seen you—you live with your phone.

Swisher: I do. I love my phone. I love technology. This is one thing: I don’t think you’ll find this an anti-technology book. I love technology. I love it.

I believe there could be real solutions around cancer, climate-change tech, longevity. Wow. All the good things we could do. I’m the Star Trek person. We could use technology for greatness, or we could use it for bad things, which is mostly what it’s been used for.

You know. I think a lot about the future for them, and what it could be used to help humanity survive—even going to Mars.

I mean, he’s right. We need to be a multi planetary species. It’s Elon Musk. Same thing with Jeff Bezos. They’re correct. We need to be a multi-planetary species or at least have the possibilities, given climate change is so drastic. So I embrace that. I embrace that. And for my kids, I want them to think for themselves and understand that they can be manipulated by this stuff.

They’re quite savvy. I’m not as worried about my kids as—you know, they don’t do dance videos and all that shit.

Rosin: Interesting, because I think most parents listening to the bulk of this conversation, they’ll come away thinking, Oh, the kids are being manipulated. This is a bad world. Get off your phones.

Swisher: They are being manipulated. By the way, adults are worse on this stuff than kids. You know, they go crazy on Twitter. You know, they yell at you. It’s such a canard to think young people don’t care about great information. They do. It’s just we have to start thinking, as media, of where they’re getting it. And that’s a very simple move. But that was—remember what a big argument that was? Put it on YouTube or not?

Rosin: Right.

Swisher: It got sorted out. And that’s where they are. So why don’t we go to where they are and stop arguing about how they’re getting it? If we put good-quality stuff, they’re open to good-quality stuff. I believe that in my heart of hearts. I really do.

Rosin: That’s the most hopeful thing you’ve said in this conversation, isn’t it?

Swisher: [Laughs.] I said it at the end. I said it at the end of the book too. I talk about—human creativity cannot be replaced. Everything else can. Everything else can. Everything can be digitized, but the human creativity, they cannot do it. They can’t. They will not do it. And that’s where we win. That’s ultimately—and that is the plot of Terminator, so there you have it.

Rosin: Okay, excellent. We’ll stop there. Kara, thank you so much.

Swisher: Hanna, thank you. It’s a delight to talk to you.

[Music]

Rosin: This episode of Radio Atlantic was produced by Kevin Townsend. It was edited by Claudine Ebeid, fact-checked by Stephanie Hayes and Sam Fentress, and engineered by Rob Smierciak. Claudine Ebeid is the executive producer of Atlantic audio, and Andrea Valdez is our managing editor. I’m Hanna Rosin. Thanks for listening.



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