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Hello, and welcome back to plain English.
Today’s guest is New York Times, Tech columnist.
He is here to tell us why text.
Most famous Founders are acting so bizarrely these days and why I am wrong about remote work, but first, Kevin, and I had a great long conversation about Time magazine’s person of the year, Elon Musk Elon Musk is a lot and I thought that there’s really no good way to introduce all of his accomplishments outside of a bayou.
So I thought that we began this podcast with a reminder of where Elon Musk came from and what he is achieving right now, Elon Musk was born in South Africa.
He moved to the u.s.
To finish college and in the mid-1990s moved to Silicon Valley.
He is a brief stint at a Ph.D program.
He drops out, and he pretty much immediately starts building things in 1985.
He found zip to, which is sort of a digital map, Yellow Pages for newspaper publishers.
Four years later. 1999.
It is acquired by Compaq.
And Shout Out compact, r.i.p.
Made my first desktop computer and musk Nets, 22 million dollars in the sale.
Now, it’s 1999.
We are near the top of the first.com, bubble and musk founds x.com, a kind of early digital bank and payments company.
You can think of it like an early PayPal.
In fact, you should think of it as an early PayPal because x.com was acquired by a company that eventually It became PayPal.
So now it’s 2001 and musk is a millionaire through his work on zip to x.com PayPal, but he’s about to Pivot into Hardware.
He becomes involved with the Mars society, which is a loose group of people interested in.
Going to Mars to look around, do some science, eventually create some settlements.
He becomes convinced that the best way to get to Mars is to build cheaper more.
More effective, more reusable rockets in 2002.
He founds space, Explorations technology, Corp AKA SpaceX over the last 20 years.
SpaceX is basically lapped, NASA, the entire US government, and arguably the rest of the world in building the most advanced rocket technology company on the planet.
Two years after he found SpaceX musk joins, the board of directors at a car start up called Tesla after the financial.
So crisis of 2007-2008.
He assumes leadership of the company and installs himself, as CEO, Tesla releases, a series of extremely popular electric vehicles that push the entire car industry to accelerate their plans to build electric and 13 years later.
Tesla is the most valuable car company in the world.
So I don’t have time to tell you about everything else that musk is working on.
But in addition to going to space and electrifying Vehicles, his companies, build solar panels and rechargeable.
Lithium-ion batteries his boring company, that is boring as a synonym for digging.
As, in not exciting, builds giant Tunnels for the expansion of a technology called the hyperloop.
A sort of futuristic Superfast.
He has co-founded open AI, which is doing some of the most fascinating work.
In artificial intelligence.
He co-founded neurolink a sort of still evolving technology that could one day supercharge, our brain power by hooking us.
To a computer if you are into that sort of thing.
So it’s important here.
I think to be very clear about a point.
Some of this stuff is very real and some of that is not very real.
If you buy a Tesla that is a real car that works.
If you wish to ride around in a hyper loop with a neuro-link strapped to your head.
You’re going to have to wait a long time.
There’s another important distinction to make for musk and his portfolio of achievements, not just real rich is unreal, but Ants versus Behavior.
I don’t know, Elon Musk.
I have never met him.
I’ve never interviewed him, but I’ve read as tweets, and I’ve read reports about his management style and it’s a lot he mocks and needles liberal Senators online.
He is reportedly a very difficult boss.
The working conditions that his companies are the subject of routine - expose has.
He is Infamous for heiping, his company’s performance.
Before the numbers match the hype.
He doesn’t stand up to China.
I could go on.
But the thing is that an early theme of this podcast is everything is not purely, good or bad.
In fact, almost everything is neither.
Elon Musk is so many different things that he is motivated by this outsized ambition to bring Humanity to the stars and settle on other planets.
That’s his goal.
My question for this episode is a bit humbler.
What is Elon Musk really done for the planet?
We’re already on.
I’m Derrick Thompson.
This is plain English.
Kevin ruse, first guest on the podcast, first return, guest on the podcast.
Hey, dude, welcome back.
I must have done something, right?
Because I got invited back.
So this is very exciting.
I am so excited to have you back.
Okay, let’s talk Elon Musk.
Elon Musk is Time, magazine’s person of the year.
Elon Musk is Financial Times person of the year.
He is the richest person in the world.
He is the CEO of the world’s most valuable car company.
The CEO of the world’s most advanced rocket company and he enjoys an illustrious side career as an online shit.
For example, once tweeting at the senior senator from Oregon Ron Wyden, that his Twitter photo resembled and I’m paraphrasing here.
Delicately a man near orgasm Kevin where should our Isis of this High variance individual begin.
First of all technicality, but I think his tweet to Senator Wyden actually said that.
He looked like someone who had just had an orgasm.
It’s fact checks are so important thing.
Just want to be very very much journalistic accuracy here.
So so I mean so you you told me that we would be talking about Elon Musk today and I went back and I tried to figure out like I think I’ve basically never written about Elon Musk, which is tremendously. beard and I don’t know why except that I’m not really like a car guy and I also don’t, you know, cover things like spaceships, all that often, but I think it’s seems obviously true to me that Elon Musk is the one of the most important people living people on Earth today, you know, just the wealth alone, but then also, you know, the many different projects, the Space exploration, the, you know, the popularization of electric vehicles.
Like, it seems very obvious to me that people a hundred years from now will be will know who you’ll on musk is in a way that I don’t think could be said of like a lot of other CEOs that are, you know, running big companies now, so I think in that sense, like Elon Musk is a, is a, you know, sort of obvious pick for something like this.
I will say, like I do a lot of things about Elon Musk that I don’t like, like, I think you, Personally, I find his the whole internet Persona, very strange like this Cult of Personality that follows him everywhere is like, very strange.
I don’t like how he goes after journalists or, you know, how he like, you know, puts self driving features in Tesla’s before their Road ready and like put people in danger.
Like I think there are a lot of knits that one could pick with Elon Musk, but at the same time, like my other thought about Elon Musk is that I think from a utilitarian perspective.
It’s probably good that he Is not like you no more sort of sympathetic character and I’ll explain what I mean by that because I think it’s something that I’ve come to in the last couple of years, which is like, I remember when electric cars first came out, they were like, you know, I was living in the Bay Area.
I was living in Berkeley actually and like they were a big signal of partisan affiliation like everyone, driving electric cars.
You could assume that they were a pro.
Massive that they were environmentalist.
That this was like an issue.
That was very Salient to them and Birkenstock wearing Patagonia shopping Ben & Jerry’s, eating lib, totally totaled.
That’s what having a Prius meant in the early days of Priuses.
And I think Elon Musk almost single-handedly like changed the coating.
The cultural coating on electric vehicles.
Such that like now, like, a lot of Republicans are driving them and like the for Word electric F-150 like can’t keep up with demand.
Like they can’t make enough of these like electric pickup trucks that you know, people want to buy so many of them.
And so I think like if you know the Tesla, the guy who had come out with a Tesla had been like a, you know, Berkeley Environmental Studies Professor with a ponytail.
Like I just I don’t think they would have the kind of mass adoption that they haven’t.
So I think there’s an argument to be made that in the grand scheme of things.
If you think that the electrification of vehicles is like going to be part of the Be for dealing with climate change.
It’s probably good to have someone at, you know, being a figurehead for the movement who is not like, you know, token Progressive.
Does that make sense?
It totally makes sense.
We are in a race against old dirty technology emissions from Cars account for 30%, of America’s carbon footprint.
So anything that we can do to move away from gas-powered cars is a mitzvah for the world and for all the Mean Tweets, and they are mean, you’re not going to convince me that any one.
Ooh, has been more of a cultural accelerant for electric vehicles.
Then, Elon Musk.
The math, could not be more straightforward.
Out of every three electric vehicles purchased in the US to our Tesla’s, two of three, the top two electric vehicles by popularity.
They’re both Tesla’s.
So the company right now is losing market share because so many other companies are building electric vehicles, and that’s not a great thing necessarily for Tesla’s stock, but for musk’s influence, It’s the greatest possible sign you can hope for it’s a sign that everyone else is taking a signal from Tesla.
To make electric cars.
If you want to know, in a weird way how influential musk is.
Don’t even look at Tesla.
Look at everything around it.
Ford can’t sell its electric pickups fast enough.
As you said Lexus says, they’re going to be 100% electric by 2030.
Toyota is all in on electric vehicles.
It’s like there’s a huge cannon ball that just dropped in the Water, but don’t look at the Cannonball.
Look at the ripples.
It’s the Ripple effects of musk’s cultural acceleration in V’s that really, really matters.
Here, totally and I have a question for you because at this is something I wonder about a lot, which is like, is Elon musk’s achievement sort of tied, in some way to his personality.
That is like, if you could snip out the part of his personality that like posts, you know, stolen memes from Reddit and like insult senators and, you know, just It post as you said, look, if you could just like, except excise that part and like put in a totally boring, like competent engineer and CEO in his position.
Like would he be where he is would Tesla be where it is?
Or do you think that is somehow integral to the whole project?
I don’t want to be in the position of suggesting that successful people have to be dicks like because they don’t, I know lots of extremely successful.
People that are really nice and they’re not assholes and I definitely don’t want to suggest that like Elon Musk could never have invented a better reusable rocket without being mean to Bernie Sanders online, or that like Elon Musk would only be a good leader for Tesla.
If he continued to be a jerk to Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden, you know, being me to Senators is not a core component of being a successful inventor at the same time.
Like it’s not lost on me that Elon is often compared with Thomas Edison in a way, they could almost version cliche, but I wrote a review of a new Edison biography two years ago and Edison was sort of astonishingly similar, like Muskie was a Showboat like musk.
He was sort of beloved by the Press but also famously Ask like, Elon.
There were a lot of stories about his sort of sort of casual, indifference to people around him.
He often achieved Fame by building on the breakthroughs of others, but also a kind of like musk in the final picture.
Edison was astonishing.
I mean, people know about the incandescent light bulb but like do people know, do people actually know that Thomas Edison invented recorded music like that.
He was maybe the first human being in our species to he Of music when he accidentally invented the phonograph like built.
The world’s first movie studio.
He invented the research lab.
He’s just an astonishingly brilliant polymath.
And, you know, this is not a direct answer to question because again, I don’t think you have to be a dick to be successful, but it is just notable.
I guess to me, the Thomas Edison had an Elan ish.
Sort of Personality know, you’re changing my mind a little bit because my thought had been like this is totally like evidence of how the Internet is like swallowing people’s brains.
We’re like Elon Musk a guy who’s you know, Wikipedia page would already be very impressive.
Like feels the need to just like spend all day on Twitter just like cultivated up a Persona and our brand and like it’s not enough for him to have done Tesla and SpaceX at neural link and whatever else like he also has to be like a shit poster and it’s, and it wants to be a successful one, but maybe that’s just, maybe that’s the inventors.
Like maybe Edison would have been popping off if Twitter hadn’t had, you know been around then, you know, maybe he would be releasing, you know, maybe he would be taking his company’s private at 420 a share or whatever like maybe that’s just maybe that’s just the personality type of a guy who you know invent stuff like that.
I don’t know.
I want to ask you about space.
I can’t tell you how divisive the issue of space is among my friends.
I have close friends who think that.
Space is just the coolest thing in the world and I have friends who think space is the most horrific anti humanitarian distraction from the problems of planet Earth.
Do you have a strong opinion about about space in the significance of elon’s Investments?
They’re not a strong one.
I would say that my strong opinion like weakly held is that there?
We have a lot of problems here on Earth that we should be fixing.
I get sort of confused when people talk about about becoming a multiplanetary species and setting up, you know, habitable cities on Mars and like, like Earth isn’t even that Pleasant to live on sometimes and like this, you know, we co-evolved with this ecosystem.
So, it is literally made for us in some ways.
And, you know, Mars is a lot more hostile to life.
Like I just can’t imagine, you know, everything would need to be in a bubble, or we need to be wearing some kind of special suit all the time to, like, be able to breathe the air, like it.
Just isn’t I don’t get like a utopian vision of something happening on Mars.
I can see it as like a kind of last-ditch save this species thing.
If the if the asteroid, you know, does head toward us, we might want to keep a little like, Noah’s Ark on on Mars to repopulate somehow, but I just don’t get the idea that we’ll all have like, vacation homes on Mars. 20 years from now.
We’re deaf and I can have vacation.
I was on mars, or I mean, it’s worse than an AA, I have some time for the humanity, life insurance theory of Mars, that civilizations, you know, two important to not have some backup but that isn’t really what motivates me.
I think the best argument for space that I’ve heard is that most people think about space as a lifeless void where we send things, but we should instead think of it as a place from which we get things, and that is All about space, manufacturing and starlink.
So internet satellites space manufacturing, I think could be kind of interesting.
I think if you could take heavy industry off of Earth, that would be good for emissions.
There’s a lot of things like fiber optic, cables, and some human tissues that are really difficult to manufacture and high gravity environments.
And so you want to manufacture them in the microgravity environments of of low orbit space and then sort of send them down and space elevators.
This is very futuristic.
But that’s this is a it’s a it’s a message that doesn’t take you all the way to Mars, just takes you, you know, a couple hundred couple thousand miles outside of Earth.
And then I also think that that starlink, you know, this is this is elon’s project that is creating a bunch of satellites that orbit Earth and provide cheap and fast internet cheap fast, internet is good and to the extent that we can do that with with satellites.
I think that’s, that’s a nice idea.
So I guess I am Pro space up to like, sort of low orbit and then Time to get to the Moon.
By the time you get to Mars.
I I myself also get a little bit fuzzier and what exactly it is that we’re doing there and why it deserves equal priority to things like, you know, fixing climate change.
Would you go to space?
Anyone offers you a seat on the next space?
Space X rocket?
Would you take it?
And it would you not go to space?
I would definitely go to space.
You know, for sure.
I mean, you’re, it’s basically, you’re basically doing like, A 90 second roller coaster ride, that gives you like the best view of your life.
I’m a huge fan of Vistas like all my favorite Vacations or vacations that have Vistas like Grand Canyon Patagonia, you know, mountain ranges did in in Europe.
Those are all my favorite vacations.
What’s a Vista that’s better than the whole damn Planet?
Like I would feel, you know, guilty about the fact that this was a, you know, whatever 65 million dollar ticket, that I definitely don’t deserve.
But if I could somehow in some zero-emissions way teleport to that Vista, oh damn straight.
I do it.
Would you not, you know, there’s like I was interesting.
Why not this fear of death.
Mostly I think you could guarantee my safe return then maybe.
But, you know, it doesn’t sound all that comfortable to be an astronaut like, you know, the zero.
Gravity thing seems like it would be cool for about 10 minutes and then you’d be like trying to pee and you know, it would be you.
Aster, and all of your, you know, daily activities would be made so much harder and then you got to eat the dehydrated food.
It just doesn’t, although I did see that someone just got a like, a ubereats delivery in in space.
So maybe there’s some hope for that.
So we’re talking about the most influential person of 2021.
And it made me think who are the most influential people of the 21st century.
So I made a list.
And I couldn’t get it down to a top for Mount Rushmore situation, but I did get it down to a top eight sort of double Rushmore situation.
And this is the list in no particular order Osama, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump.
Is you Jinping Narendra Modi?
Carrico, Elon Musk.
Let me do a brief defense for each of them and then bring you in to criticize me.
I think it’s hard to measure.
Exactly a significant 911.
Is for today’s world, but between the Tack the multitrillion-dollar wars on terror that they inspired clearly a history, reorienting moment.
Not a great few years for his reputation.
Jeffrey Epstein, the divorce.
But if we’re talking influence here, I don’t think there’s any debate.
He founded the second most valuable company in the world and his charity, the Bill, and Melinda Gates Foundation, has among other things immunized, half a billion kids.
The who did a study finding that this effort?
Alone, averted more than 6 million deaths?
Save Six Million Lives.
His second was rival company, the world that is influence.
This is easy.
Apple is the most valuable company in the world.
And the iPhone is probably the most important technological innovation of the century.
Again, this is influence, not awesome - but the effect is had of the GOP, Republican politics, undeniable you Jinping head of the Chinese Communist party.
I think being the semi autocratic leader of a country.
With 1.5 billion people is the Mission of influential Modi, the prime minister of India, s largest countries.
Probably a little less powerful than G but he might give Trump a run for his money.
In terms of just sheer influence, Cartland.
Hope I’m pronouncing that correctly.
She is the queen of mRNA science.
Probably the most important person in the history of the development of mRNA technology.
A technology that has saved the lives of tens of millions of people around the world and then you have Elon Musk.
Who is a late entrant?
Probably not the same level as the rest of these.
But in terms of staying power, in terms of impact in the future, Kevin, if in 2040, you and I are podcasting via neuro-link from self-driving, electric vehicles, powered by internet.
Distributed by space satellite.
It’s going to be pretty hard to argue against the Elan case.
Honorable mentions, just missed the list.
You have Angela, Merkel, long time, German leader, Ben.
He extremely influential leader of the Federal Reserve during the Great Recession.
Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Jennifer doudna D co-inventor of the gene editing.
Technology crisper who Kevin what stands out to you?
What are the big omissions?
And do you see some separation toward the top?
I think your list is pretty good.
I will say, I think that like you are in you are crazy to include someone like Ben.
Bernanke uh, that is your econ blogger.
Past talking name me one president of your head of the Federal Reserve from the early 20th century and I will grant that that you have a point, but I don’t think we tend to idolize, you know people who run the Fed.
I could be wrong, could be wrong, but that would be my instinctive person to take off that list.
I would also put some more people on the list, I would put, for example, Geoff, Hinton, one of the pioneers of deep learning and Ai and built.
The first neural network.
I think there’s a case to be made that like AI is going to end up transforming a lot of things and that we will look to the people who sort of pioneered, the modern AI movement as kind of progenitors of all that.
I think you could make an argument that, you know, Jeff Bezos, belongs on that list.
I think you could make an argument that someone Travis kalanick belongs on that list.
Not because he, you know, not because Uber necessarily is going to take over the world.
But because the gig model of work that boober popularized has become so dominant.
And if that ends up being a trend that lasts, you know, well into this Century, he could be seen as sort of a person who, who, you know, who sort of came up with that, or at least popularized.
And then, I would also say that some of the people ‘Well, we tend to remember decades or centuries, after the fact our activists.
We remember, you know, Susan Anthony and Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther, King, and Gloria Steinem, Betty Ford.
And like, we remember people who are, you know, sort of in the, in positions of authority, in transformative, social movement.
So by that token, like maybe someone like, you know, Alicia Garza, you know, from black lives matter qualify as maybe someone, like, Toronto Burke from me to like these movements that, you know, I’ve changed the way people, relate to gender and race in this country and maybe they end up being sort of on the Mount Rushmore 50 or 100 years from now.
Yeah, you could have Greta to that list may be greater than Berg.
You could add maybe a Malala.
I think the activism angle is really, really good one and you’re totally right when people look back, 100 years.
Yes, sometimes they remember the tech.
They remember the science, but they also always have a slot for the activists.
The change not only The the physical world but the morality of the future, our sense of right and wrong.
I think that’s a really, really great one and it’s hard.
I will say like it’s hard to do this with tech people because so much of it depends on whether the technology takes off.
Like we remember the Wright brothers because the airplane is popular and we still use them.
But you know, we don’t remember who invented the hot air balloon or at least I don’t because that was a technology that, you know, had its day and then, you know, now is not in widespread use so it Could be that like, you know, a hundred years from now, you know, everything is in crypto and Satoshi Nakamoto is the most, you know, famous person from this Century.
It could be, you know, that the people who are doing Quantum Computing, will end up becoming monumentally important.
We just don’t know yet because we because we don’t know which of these Technologies is going to end up mattering the most.
I love that idea.
I briefly wondered, I was like, who was the inventor?
ER, of Zeppelin airships.
You will be may be unsurprised to learn that his name was Ferdinand, Von Zeppelin and branding, it was invented in 1900 which means it was basically like months before the Wright brothers took off in, in North Carolina.
And it’s interesting to think like, in 1905.
If you, and I were doing the podcast equivalent of coming up with the most influential people in 1905 would probably put count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin over the Wright.
Just going pretty sure that rigid airships had a bit more popularity and optimism around them.
Then, than airplanes.
Actually know, for a fact that airplanes were not expected to be particularly popular, at least for common, use in the first few Decades of their existence.
Do you have, do you have a Mount Rushmore that you want to share if I’m if I’m jobs, Gates, Catlin, carrico, and G are there any edits that you would make to your Mount Rushmore of the first 21?
Years of the 21st century as much as it pains me to say it.
I think Trump’s got to be on there.
I mean, I do think that Trump is probably the most famous person who has ever existed.
Just in terms of sheer, name recognition around the globe.
And I think that, you know, the movement that he started in the US and we don’t know what the ultimate ramifications of it will be, but just I think that, you know, know, chapter on the Ends in any future.
History book will not have a big section about Trump and trumpism in the u.s.
And and so I think, you know, I think that he’s gotta pee on there.
To be honest.
I jump was was my number five.
He was he was the last cut for the Mount Rushmore and that might have been a cut made out of aspiration rather than how does hey a a truthful relationship to evidence.
I think you’re, I think you’re right, too.
Have him on the mountain are very close.
Like United States is the most powerful country in the world.
It’s a two-party system.
And one of those two parties is controlled basically, as a marionette by one man.
And that man is Donald Trump.
I think he has to be toward the top.
All right, shifting gears a little bit Kevin, the last time you and I talked we went over to the more confusing ideas in Tech, metaverse and crypto.
And you recently wrote a really Interesting article about why it seems like so many of the founders of the last generation of tech.
Seems so Restless now, about the state of technology and they’re looking for something new.
I want to quote directly from this article that you wrote in the times you’re talking about the the resignation of Twitter founder and former CEO Dorsey, and you say, quote, there’s something else going on with mr.
Dorsey, and some of his fellow Tech moguls.
And they seem to be getting bored and Restless with their jobs and they’re striking out in search of Adventure.
His Wanderlust led him to step down from Amazon this year.
And fulfill his childhood fantasy of going to space.
Google’s Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin step down in 2019 and have since been investing in futuristic projects.
Like, airships, go Von Zeppelin and flying.
Taxis, Mark, Zuckerberg is still running Facebook, but it’s called meta now and the company’s big metaverse pivot see.
To be designed in part to infuse some novelty and excitement back into a stayed big company culture.
Say a little bit more about what you think is going on about our Tech royalty and why they seem so fidgety to move, on to something new, even as the problems of their Creations.
Haven’t quite been fixed, right?
Mean, this is one of the more sort of fascinating shifts in the tech industry this year.
It really has felt like everyone who was sort Of instrumental in pioneering the last sort of generation of big internet companies just kind of got bored.
And you know, the skills that you, you know that serve you well as a, you know, Plucky young entrepreneur, or a college student, you know, programming in your dorm or Harvard like those same skills aren’t necessarily the skills that you need to run a huge Global Enterprise.
It’s not all that fun.
You’ve got Regulators yelling at you, you know, politicians.
All you in to testify before Congress, you’re just in like a series of, you know, meetings all day and and your you know, sort of making incremental progress toward fixing these like massive societal problems that you’re now, you know, being blamed for like the downfall of society and democracy.
So, I don’t think it’s totally unexpected that they would sort of get itchy after you know, in some cases Decades of running these companies.
They also, you know, they don’t need the money obviously and so it’s not about that for Them.
I think it’s about sort of keeping themselves interested and engaged and and so for a lot of them that’s been playing out in these ways that I mentioned, you know, space travel or airships or or crypto and and crypto in particular.
I think and the metaverse are interesting next pivots for for these technology leaders because in some sense, they are escaping the Islands and the confines, and the limitations of the physical world of meat space, as some of them call it, you know, things in meatspace are messy.
They take time.
They involve, you know, regulators and laws and and you know, real world consequences.
The rules are not written by people in Silicon Valley, at least not technically, they’re written by people in government.
And so you are essentially playing on someone.
If you’re a technologist trying to create a global global scale platform, but with the metaverse and with crypto, like they can own the turf.
It can be a world of their own creation where they write all the rules, where they control the boundaries of what people, you know, can and can’t do in a way that they almost can with their existing companies, but can’t quite.
So I think I think this pivot toward crypto in the metaverse.
I think a lot of it stems from sort of a desire to kind of wipe, the Slate clean and try.
Again this time, you know, Having learned the lessons of some of their past mistakes and hopefully doing a little bit better next time.
That’s the sort of optimistic, you know, sort of generous spin on at this the more cynical spin is like, yeah, they made a big mess.
They don’t feel like cleaning it up and they’re going to go play in a new playground that they’re going to build from scratch while the janitors clean up the mess on the old one.
And that’s something that a lot of people feel is going on to I think you’re right.
I frankly think that both those things are going on to me, you know, I reading your piece.
And putting it next to an essay, that the tech writer Ben Thompson.
No relationship published last week, gave me this new conception of how we’re looking at a situation where futurism people’s vision of the future seems to be forking into three different paths.
Number one is Save the Planet.
You have people that are saying the future of technology and science needs about be it needs.
That saving us right now in meatspace in the physical world, vaccines into our bodies solar and wind energy all over the world.
Carbon capture plants, save this planet.
There’s another second vision of futurism that is about going to another planet and this is a little bit less popular, but there’s definitely a lane here of people saying the future of technology needs to be entirely oriented around building.
Its the This Interstellar civilization, right?
This is not my dish in the future, but it’s definitely a vision.
And then number three you have this third vision of futurism that says it’s not about saving the planet in the physical world.
It’s not about going to another planet.
It’s about building a digital Planet.
Building a new layer of digital experience.
And that’s what the meta versus.
It’s a new layer of virtual reality that we can experience.
New software, and we’ll live in a better world in this metaverse, online space, and you have crypto sort of connecting to that to and crypto is hard to describe in a single definition.
But to me, it’s it’s a suite of technologies that take an Internet.
That is mostly centralized where a lot of us are kind of like tenants.
You know, we don’t own something on Facebook.
We are tenants of Facebook.
We don’t own something on Spotify.
We’re tenants of spotify, and So says, we want to move from an internet in which users are tenants of institutions of centralized control to an internet where users share ownership of these scarce digital assets.
Like nft is and create their own distributed decentralized communities, right?
And crypto, and the metaverse can sort of fit together because some people say, we can build this virtual layer of the internet.
That is powered by crypto.
Sometimes I feel like I’m completely going fucking insane.
When I use these words in elongated sentences, but that’s basically the vine you’re not alone and I wanted to to ask you about that third path because it is the path that I think people seem most excited about right now.
Like what is the appeal?
Do you think of building this new Digital Planet?
I think part of it is that it’s still the wild west.
You can do pretty much anything you want in the metaverse and Crypto right now, there are some Regulators starting to poke their heads in and say hey what’s going on in here?
Maybe we should put some guardrails up.
But but really it’s you know, as open a Terrain as you’re going to find in the tech industry.
I also think there’s something uniquely appealing about crypto in in this phase of its adoption.
I mean if you think about the sort of early phase of social media like If you were user number 100 of Twitter, like it was kind of cool.
You know, you got like a cool username, you know, maybe you got just your first name.
There’s a little status Associated that with that you talk to your friends, like it was cool to be user number 100 of Twitter.
If your user number 100 of Bitcoin, you get a billion dollars.
Like it’s just a very different incentive structure that points to Really early like that is the that is the thing that you want to do.
If you are invested in crypto is like you want to get in early.
You want to promote the living, hell out of it.
So that other people get in and make your your bags more valuable.
Like there’s a kind of evangelism in early adoption like built into the nature of the technology.
And so I think that is sort of different and appealing to people who are interested in making a lot of money or amassing a lot of power very quickly like it is a place where you can kind of do that.
And I also think there’s a kind of, I’ve been trying to sort of play out kind of the psychology of crypto in the metaverse.
And like, why these particular people Jack Dorsey Mark Zuckerberg, like why they feel drawn to it.
And I think some of it is about like a midlife crisis of sorts.
Like, I think it’s like, these are people who, you know, did, you know, transformative exciting things in their 20s and 30s?
You know who are now kind of reaching middle age and they see the young kids who are all into n ftes and crypto and the metaverse and they don’t think of themselves as being old.
They want like a kind of a chance to play in that space.
And so this is their way of kind of, you know, it’s like the equivalent of like, you know, refreshing your wardrobe and dying your hair and like, you know, buying a skateboard or something.
I don’t know.
It’s like this.
Is how you, if you are a middle-age Tech executive, this is how part of how you can make yourself feel excited about tech again.
Yeah, I think, I think that’s all, that’s all really.
Put and, you know, when I think about these three Paths of futurism Save the Planet go to another planet build a digital Planet.
It occurs to me that like the first two are really, really, really hard, you know, like fixing Facebook.
I think Facebook is hard like it requires like fixing human nature and in many respects, building roads and bridges buildings.
Efficient housing in this country and others.
That’s really really hard colonizing Mars.
That is really that’s going to be really, really, really hard.
What’s still hard still very hard, but not as hard is building a new kind of crypto.
Product that creates an extraordinary amount of wealth in a matter of months.
Like, there are billionaires, being minted on a months-long basis, which is like faster than like it takes to get approval to build the typical bridge in America.
And that also seems to me to be why you have this Focus moving toward building.
The next Digital Planet, rather than spending time in the meat space and the physical world of this one that that’s just where the River of he’s in Fast Money, somewhat flows to.
I think that’s like a really important and profound Point like this is the fastest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world.
Like maybe the thing that is most comparable to it is like the discovery of oil in the Middle East like it’s crypto is generating.
I mean, we were seeing it, you know, emerge, like people are naming stadiums after kirbo companies.
They’re buying Sports.
Teams there, you know, raising 40 million dollars to buy a copy of the Constitution, like, the amount of money that has been generated over the past, really 45 years in this space is just unbelievable.
And, you know, if you’re, if you’re early and you’re lucky, like, you don’t even particularly have to work that hard at it.
It’s not like building a company and, you know, from the ground up like you just click a few buttons and you know, put some coins in your wallet and take some risk.
And if it works out you You are rich.
Yeah, I do think it’s important to point out.
I know a lot of people in this space around the space and I think it’s it can simultaneously be true that some people are getting rich very very quickly without the same kind of demonstrated effort that it took to get similarly Rich before and there are also a lot of people that are working, extremely hard totally things and it’s a really really hard slog.
It’s the slow boring of hard boards and they’re working hard on stuff.
That could be really interesting and important and They’re not getting super rich very quickly, right?
There are people who are in it for all kinds of reasons.
But I think, you know, with any Gold Rush with any sort of, you know, explosion of new wealth and possibility and opportunity.
Like you’re going to have people who are there to to speculate, you’re going to have people who are there to build settlements.
You’re going to have people who are there, you know, for the social experience of being there.
I don’t think crypto is a monolith and I I wanted to come up with like, saying, everyone’s there to get rich, but I also think that, you know, it is, it is a blank slate in many ways.
And I think, if you’re someone who has gotten frustrated with all of the, you know, hassles of working through, you know, bureaucratic red tape and regulations.
And it’s just not that fun anymore for you like, it feels appealing to go to a blank canvas.
Kevin the last thing I wanted to talk to you about is working from home and remote work about two years ago.
I guess, what is it now?
20 months ago, you wrote.
I think the very first article that I read about the research around remote work and March 2020.
And what our experience, working remotely would feel like, and I just had an interview with Aunt Helen Peterson, the co author of a new book on remote work out.
Office and is something that I didn’t say in that interview that I felt bad about.
I want to I want to bring it up now and get your feedback on it, which is that, you know, it’s not obvious to me that remote work is good for teams.
I can see how it’s good for a lot of individuals and I can see how it’s good for a lot of clearly designated groups, but I it’s not clear to me that it’s good for working across teams.
And there’s one piece of research.
I think is really important for for For advancing this point Microsoft in the first six months of its pandemic did a research project with University of California.
Berkeley looked at 60,000 workers, looked at how they talked to each other before.
And after the pandemic struck, and they basically came up with two conclusions.
Number one, is that Communications within teams went way up.
Number two Communications outside of teams went way down.
So like the water cooler.
Hobnobbing effect was basically zeroed out by the pandemic and I thought the reaction to the study was totally fascinating because some people look to the study and said, look, team stopped talking to each other.
You’ve no more water cooler.
This is your critical source of creativity and it’s drying up and then you would other.
People saying water cooler, magic doesn’t exist.
Like you can have way better way cleaner.
Way more interesting, cross-group Communications online.
By finding communities on Twitter or wherever else.
Then you can in a typical office where people are just bugging you about the latest NFL game or the latest Taylor Swift album.
Keeping sort of the findings of that research paper in mind.
I wanted to know where you were starting to come down on the relationship between remote work and creativity.
It’s interesting question.
And I haven’t kept up with the research as closely as it sounds.
You and certainly and how and Peterson have been.
My, I can just speak individually from what it’s been like from my perspective.
So I am, you know, I’m a writer.
I’m a columnist.
I work mostly on my own and have for some time and I’ve also worked.
I worked remotely some years before the pandemic.
I’ve worked remotely since the pandemic and I think my own experience of it has been that, you know, I am I am sort of productive.
At home, I can be productive.
I can be happy, but I work all the time.
There’s no separation.
I’ve I’ve, you know, I work, you know, much more than I probably should and and certainly then I did before the pandemic when I was going into an office much, you know, blurry or separation between work and Leisure.
And I also think that it’s sort of changed my writing style.
I think that, you know, I When I am going out into the world, when I’m going on reporting trips, when I’m, you know, meeting people in the flesh.
I tend to be more Repertory ol in my Approach.
Like, I think of my job is basically, like, mostly writing down what other people say.
And, you know, my experience of being in a place and adding like, a thin layer of analysis or commentary on top of it till like now, we’re just like, sitting in my office, in my house and like, just crank out takes like, that’s, that’s not a change that.
I’m particularly proud of, and it’s something that Like, I really felt the first time I got back on a plane and like, did a reporting trip.
I was like, oh, this is a much.
I enjoy this job much more the job of like, going out into the world and being sort of eyes and ears for for readers.
So I think that’s that’s been my experience.
I feel more creative.
When I am when I’m in an office colliding with people.
I tend to work, you know more in a more sort of focused and narrow.
Away when I’m by myself, but I do think there’s, I think the research is pretty clear that they’re in these environments where there are sort of creative collisions or whatever you want to call them.
Like, and the company is a place, the organization actually values that and that there’s like an out that that’s actually a productive thing to have.
I think that, you know, in that sense like I do miss that.
So I think I will start going back to an office at least a few days a week when that’s an option.
Safe to do.
So, my feeling on this issue is changed so many times over the last 20 months or so.
I honestly, I have no fucking idea where creativity comes from like, I’d just like to cleared bankruptcy on the idea.
I’m actually, I’m not sure anyone does.
I like a part of me, feels like all the research, all the hundreds and thousands of papers that have been written about the secret sauce of creativity that AA.
There’s so much diversity within them.
That they can’t all be right, and be I wonder if they’re all just a little bit wrong and whether it’s like so unbelievably individual and so sear and dipp’d us like, where great ideas come from that, it can’t be designed for.
I think that there is some ideas that I have, that could only come from, just reading Twitter, a lot and that sounds ridiculous, but it’s just true.
There are just some articles.
I’ve written something about best articles that I’ve written, most popular articles.
I’ve written that I’m most proud of just came from goofing off on Twitter for two hours longer than I should have.
And Across the idea that sparked a canoe little piece of connective tissue that brought together all these ideas and created an article.
At the same time.
I am terrible at telecommunications.
I’m so bad at like maintaining Focus during many Zoom calls or the you have been electrifying on the phone calls.
I like, I look around, whatever room that I’m in and get distracted by like that the stitching and a pillow, and someone’s talking in my ear.
I need like the physical corporeal.
Presence of people to stay attentively.
Connected to them.
And that makes me think wait, not that the Twitter thing doesn’t work.
I have to be around people.
I need those, those, those physical world collisions.
My, I actually think it’s just so individual.
I mean, a thesis that I’ve been, sort of a hypothesis that I’ve been playing around with you, I want to bounce off of you, is that I think that remote work is great for mid-career individual contributors.
People who are basically happy with their jobs and would be content to do them uninterrupted for the rest of their careers.
People like, you know, you and me frankly that we you know are some of the people who benefit most from remote work Arrangements.
I actually see the other end of that Spectrum, the early career, sort of young ambitious people and the late career sort of managers and executive.
Ranks as being much hungrier to get back into an office.
And that’s something that I would have predicted from the executives but not so much from the young people that’s been really surprising.
Is that a lot of the people I know who are like in their 20s are like the ones who are most psyched about going back to an office and most bummed out that they can’t be in an office because like how you move up in a lot of Industries is by sort of mastering the subtleties of the workplace is by figuring out where the power is.
Who has veto power, who you know, who has what personality type, how to sort of fit into an organization, what an organization needs like it’s much more difficult to do that kind of subtle organizational mapping over slack.
It just doesn’t work as well.
And so I think if you are a person who’s young and ambitious like you are, you know, you want to be in an office and anything about that.
I love the idea of a remote barbell effect, essentially that, you know, if the X Axis is, is it sort of Age and and Status within the company that it’s not very valuable remote, work for people who just entered the company, cause they don’t have a sense of culture.
It’s not as valuable for people who are older and more likely to be managers because they might get more out of seeing people and interacting directly with people.
But for those in the middle in their mid-30s say, you know guys who are 35 years old talking to each other on a zoom podcast right now.
I’m only 30 or thanks.
Oh my God.
I’m so sorry.
It might be really useful.
That there that there are certain aspects of it.
I want to be careful, not to sort of, you know, globalize my own individual appreciation, for certain aspects of remote work.
Also want to call out and Helen Peterson’s point, which I know you agree with.
And I think it’s a really good one.
It’s very clear that a lot of office cultures were built around a certain, a certain white, a certain sort of, you know, Pro male culture.
That is that we’re better off, not recapitulating, as we think about, you know, bringing people back to the office.
I think the last point on remote work is just that why?
I’m, I am sometimes a little bit less optimistic about the next few years.
Other remote work experience.
I think it’s just really, really hard to build a great remote culture.
I think it takes a lot of purposeful investment in a lot of really purposeful team architecture, engaging and a lot of these companies that were thrust into remote work have just been getting by to the pandemic and if God willing Pandemic ever ends purposely designing a hybrid work experience that works for everyone is going to be really really difficult.
I see the point that I think there’s a lot of Merit there.
I’ve also been sort of toying around with this whole like anti work argument.
If you’ve been, do you ever go on the ante work subreddit?
I have, but unpack that for listeners.
So there’s this whole movement that I think is very interesting and it’s, especially sort of taking off among kind of gen Z workers that basically says, Is that like this idea of having like a corporate culture of like the company is like a family, you know, like we’re not a company, we’re a community like that kind of language and rhetoric is basically just a scam to, like, extract more labor from people, then they’re being paid for and that essentially like you should do as little work as possible because it’s a bloodless exchange of, you know, capital for for labor and that you should, you know, you should embrace all of the things that allow you to be distant.
Your job that you know clocking in and clocking out is not a bad way to live your life.
And in fact, anything other than that is kind of a sham perpetrated by companies that want to make people work harder and extract more of their labor in return for the money that they’re paying them.
Are you asking me how I feel about this thesis?
Yes, my extremely unsatisfying answer is sometimes.
I totally get that for some people.
Some of the time at some companies the family.
Amick, and sort of pretended, appreciation of the role of work in their life is, is absolutely a sham and it is designed to extract more value and more work out of individual workers and workers should be extremely cautious about falling prey to a manufactured sense of corporate family at the same time.
When I hear arguments about things like anti work represented by journalists who seem to legitimately love their jobs.
It makes me recognize that there’s this huge spectrum of working experience, like some people just fucking love their jobs.
And I don’t think that’s a psyop.
I don’t think that those people are like, broken, deep down.
I am so lucky. that I am paid to just Pay attention to the world and come up with questions about it, and then call people and answer the questions.
Like, that’s an awesome thing that I would do or would like to do whether or not I’m being salaried for it.
So I reject the idea that just because I’m salaried for it means that my devotion to answering interesting questions about the world is some kind of evidence of Brokenness.
Now, that’s what exactly what the victim of a sigh.
Are you are, you are in the Cults.
No, I agree with you.
You know, given the choice between working at a place that has a bad culture and a good culture.
Like I’d probably take the good culture and I enjoy my work.
Places culture for the most part and I think that like I enjoy my job as a result because people pay attention to things like culture and I don’t believe in this like very cynical sort of view that anything short of just a complete transactional relationship with an employer is like a sort of you know, bowing. ^, you know, of capital, but I also think that I understand why people are rebelling against this idea that your job should be the source of all meaning in your life.
I think, you know, you wrote this kind of definitive essay on this about about work as I’m this sort of attitude that like, your meaning and your your value and your identity are all derived from the place that you get a paycheck from it.
I think that’s been, that’s, that’s not been the experience of a lot of people and so I think that’s it.
In part, I see anti work as sort of a reaction to that.
Yeah, I think that that’s where I think I start to agree is that I think that it’s important that we give people options about where they derive meaning and where they find love.
And I think that there’s something about the demise of community in America that has left.
A lot of people assuming that the last Community standing is the office.
The last Community standing is work.
And that is a broken ideology.
The idea that you don’t have a choice, the idea that you have to love your job.
The idea that starting off at 1822, your career is, like the spine of your life.
That is a broken fucking philosophy.
But if people do happen to find themselves in work, that is fulfilling that they think about that is socially beneficial that allows them to live well-rounded lives.
If they go to sleep, happy and wake up happy and can provide for their families and be intellectually stimulated throughout the day.
I can’t, I can’t II don’t want to pretend that.
I’m identifying something wrong in that picture, because I’m because I’m not, I think that some people just get lucky.
But at a sort of national policy level, we should find ways to pass laws, that make it.
So people don’t have to reorient their lives around maximizing, working hours.
That’s for sure, you know, Auntie work hard liner.
Would probably be very mad that I’m coming on this podcast for free today.
I mean, this is really the I am the victim of the Derek Thompson psyop in which my labor is being extracted for no pay and frankly.
I’m considering going on strike.
We’ll look, I’m going to extract only a small amount of Labor from you.
For the next five minutes.
I would like to end by asking you to make one Tech prediction for 2022.
What is Kevin?
Says, big thing to look out for next year in the technology space.
I think it’s going to be the year that crypto asserts itself in politics.
I think we will see candidates backed by crypto organizations.
I think someone with a board ape Avatar or a crypto Punk Avatar is going to run for Congress and probably win.
I think we are going to see sort of financial flash mobs of campaign contributions and lobbying dollars spontaneously forming around crypto.
I think it’s Going to be the year that Washington actually has to figure out what the hell.
This stuff is.
I believe in the 1950s.
It might have been for Dwight Eisenhower.
We had what was called the television election.
It was the Snapchat primary or the Snapchat election in 2015, 2016.
You’re predicting the crypto election or the crypto Primary in 2022.
I think that’s incredibly plausible.
You know, one of the things that I’ve said that’s got me in trouble about The crypto movement is that people keep looking for this killer app?
Like what is the first killer app of crypto?
And I drove to one point, I said, the first killer after of crypto is that it’s minted a shit ton of bajillion airs.
Like that’s not a function of Technology but is a function of the technology making a lot of people rich and it’s something that eventually you just can’t ignore.
You’ve sent so many billionaires people with some of them with very strange views, strange and closely.
She held views strange to use that.
They want to find politicians to back.
I think you are totally right on the money about this.
Like in a weird way.
I what did I say about the three?
Futurism, sort of physical world, futurism, extraterrestrial, futurism, and digital futurism.
Maybe what you’re saying is 2022 is where pads one and two converge, where the crypto people start to find ways to influence the future of the physical world, the Your planet earth.
That is a beautiful potentially dystopian, potentially just bizarre, and strange place to stop.
Thank you so, so, much for coming back and we will hear from you very soon.
Again, you’ll hear from my negotiating committee.
I am not coming back on this podcast.
Without a fair contract.
My union will talk to your union.
Good to see you.
Thank you, Kevin get to see you plain English with Derek.
Thompson is produced by Devon.
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