Apologize later: Renowned tech journalist Steven Levy chats about his new book, Facebook: The Inside Story, which peers behind the scenes at the biggest social media monolith of our day. Levy breaks down how he convinced Facebook to give him inside access, what was happening there during the 2016 election, and why Mark Zuckerberg loves Caesar Augustus so much. Caution, book spoilers ahead!
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Steven Levy At Harvard I talked to one person who said they were in a small class with him and she threw a dinner party for the class but there were 12 people in the seminar and she only had room for eight. And she didn’t invite him because she felt it wouldn’t’ve felt as comfortable as some of the other people.
Paul Ford I mean that’s not—How many dinner parties have I not been invited to? Probably like 12 today [music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. Hey, Richard.
Rich Ziade Hi, Paul. How are you today?
PF I’m alright. Let’s not talk about the pandemic anymore. Just for one episode. Let’s take a break.
RZ That sounds great.
PF Alright, let’s do that. So, let me tell you something: I am and used to be a technology journalist, right? [Music fades out] You remember this?
RZ You were and you still are, that’s right, yes.
PF So, there are lots of technology focused journalists in the world. And then there’s like this one guy—
PF —who has been at it at a higher level than anybody else for longer. And every couple years you get another book . . . that you kinda wish you had written.
RZ Wow! That’s the ultimate compliment, right? From writer to writer.
PF Yeah, I know if there’s one person to be jealous of in the weird industry of writing about technology it’s Steven Levy. And I’ve probably—I don’t know, as many Steven Levy books as there are, I probably missed one. But I’ve read a lot. I use anecdotes from them. And just coincidentally I’m not actually just talking about this just to talk about it. Steven Levy is on our podcast. Steven, welcome, thank you for coming on.
SL Thank you. Thank you, I’m blushing from that very nice introduction.
PF Listen, I remember being in college and it probably would be about five or six years after you’d written Hackers. I don’t know if that was your first book or not but it was like—it sort of set this whole world that we lived in up. Like, MIT and open source and nerds hacking away in the middle of the night and helped us understand what that world was like. The other one that sticks out, people should go and look through the Steven Levy bibliography but the perfect thing which was about iPod—it was pre-iPad right? Or pre iPhone?
SL Yeah, it was. You know, a couple of years before the iPhone.
PF So it’s just this moment where this amazing new sector shows up and you get to sort of see the true intensity of Steve Jobs in this world. Anyway, I’m telling you about your stuff cuz I’m excited to have you on.
SL I’m really glad you mentioned that book because I did something that I really did for no other book: I really wanted to have fun with it and I loved the shuffle part of the iPod. So I literally wrote the book, like ten essays, long essays, and you could shuffle them. And we came out—I got a publisher to do this—in four different versions,determined by my son and my niece picking up ping pong balls with the chapters numbers—
PF Wait, wait, so the chapters were arranged differently?
SL Yeah, there are four different versions of the hardback version. [Paul laughs]
RZ That’s great.
PF I missed that entirely. Steven, where are you now? You’re a writer for a magazine that I know well. But give us a little of that.
SL Well, I work for Wired Magazine or Wired, the brand online in a magazine and video and whatever else it wants to be. And I’ve been affiliated with Wired since it started but for a lot of that time I was working for Newsweek. When Newsweek was really Newsweek, I was the main technology writer and then I went to Wired and took a couple of years off, a few years ago, to start a publication called Backchannel on Medium. And then Condé Nast bought the publication and I went back to Condé Nast. The publication got merged back into Wired so I ended up where I started. And I’m writin’ books all the time, so.
PF Yeah, I mean [chuckles], as publishing goes, that’s a pretty great outcome. It’s a good—
SL The nice thing is Wired took the Backchannel name—cuz we were all about longform stuff and now the longform franchise on the web, Wired, is called Backchannel. So anytime they say, “I’m doing a story for Backchannel,” I feel that’s great. And my partner, my cofounder of Backchannel, Sandra Upson, also came to Wired with me and she’s there, and she just wrote actually a terrific story which I’m sure you read about the Cloudflare guy, the coder, being, you know, literally lost his money.
RZ Yeah, I just read it, it’s great.
PF There’s a—It’s devastating and really good. People listening should go read that piece. And then there is a very large blue book . . . that recently came out and it’s a very specific shade of blue because it’s about Facebook. Which is also a very specific shade of blue.
SL I say for the first time where that shade of blue came from. It had never been published before.
PF Spoil it for us! Or do I have to read the book?
SL The guy who picked that shade of blue. And this wasn’t in the original Facebook. They were in Silicon Valley and it was a year or so after the original Facebook came out. And a real designer was working on it. And he stole that blue from the website of the Carlyle Group.
PF Oh! They’re nice! They’re good, friendly people. That’s definitely the affiliation that you want.
RZ Do you really need to steal a blue?
PF Sure, yeah, I mean it was a very impactful blue. But Carlyle Group?!
SL Kind of dark, cold warish, you know company [Rich laughs] and that’s where it came from. So maybe it sort of seeped into, bled into the DNA of Facebook. I don’t know.
PF You started this thing at a very, very different time in Facebook’s history, sort of—Sort of at the peak, right? Like, I mean, when did the—Tell us a little about how this thing came to be. And also sort of what it is because it really strikes me as this is the first attempt to truly capture Facebook in all of it’s breadth and not just sort of as a weird social phenomenon but as like a new piece of culture. So, when did this start?
SL So, I got the impetus and the hunger to write this book in late August of 2015 when Zuckerberg posted that a billion people had been on Facebook the day before. In 24 hours, this huge chunk of humanity was on his network! In one day! Cuz I knew they’d been past a billion members point but anyone could be a member and not show up.
PF Live, active users. Not just names in a database.
SL You know, in 24 hours, a billion people had been active on Facebook. And I thought, “This has never happened before. And I have to write a book about this.” You know, who are these people? And I had met him some time earlier, almost ten years before that, and had been following Facebook and writing about it, interviewing him, but I thought, “This is a big story. And it’s a story that’s made for me!” This is the kind of book that I could write! And I also felt that it would be really useful if I got their cooperation to write it. And when I say ‘their cooperation’, I mean give me access to them and let me interview them and all the people there, and the way I do that is, they say, “Yes.” And I don’t do anything in return except be fair. Right? So they don’t get to read in advance or say what’s in it. And, it took me almost a year to get them to that point where they agreed to that and literally a year—almost to the day after that idea, I went with Mark Zuckerberg to Nigeria to start my research.
PF And that’s where the book opens up. How did you convince them ultimately? What made them go from, “Ehhh,” to, “Yeah, alright, let’s let Steven Levy write this giant book that looks deep inside of our organization.”
SL They were very, “Uhhhh,” to begin with. First they said, “No.” Then they said, “Well, if anyone would do it it’d be you but we’re not doing it.” Then they said, “Well, maybe you should write up something for Mark and Sheryl to look at.” And I had done a book about Google before that . . . under similar circumstances. It really did explain Google. And was useful to Google for that purpose. And some of the people who were making this decision—one in particular, had been at Google. And even though Google said, “This book [stammers]—this book is really useful but we’re never going to cooperate with anyone like this again. He knows too much.” And I said to them, “Listen: what you’re doing is historic. Even if it’s not me writing this book, you have to let an outsider come in and write a book and tell this story. And they thought what they were doing was historic too. So I think that appealed to them, the idea that, “Hey! This is history and it is important and we should do this. And we know him and he’s fair, so let’s roll the dice.” Now, they had no idea what was coming down the pike a few months after I started the book because my beginning when I went to Africa with Zuckerberg, that was peak Facebook.
PF Oh yeah! You got your billion plus. He’s in Africa; he’s the young hero.
RZ When was that? When did you go to Nigeria with him?
SL Late August, early September of 2016.
PF Oh, September, so we’re before the general election.
SL And Facebook, they had had a lot of people complaining about them but nothing had stuck. They were Teflon before all that.
RZ It had their privacy sort of . . . dramas, right? That would come in and then they’d come out and—
SL But it had all just kind of like scraped off—
PF Well, and it could always get fixed with like, a nice, you know, “We take your privacy very seriously at Facebook,” message directly from Zuckerberg. Like there was always—they had a good script for whatever crisis. We’re listening and we’re committed to freedom and speech and it would kinda just wash out. Every time. And then [chuckles]—then the election. And that—that is—You know, in the book, this is really the beginning of the book is it just like—that was it.
SL Yeah, they went from the poster child for, you know, what Silicon Valley could be and Zuckerberg from the role model for every young founder to the dark, evil power that exemplified why we shouldn’t like tech companies anymore.
PF Now, look, you’re talking to them during this time. You know, I’m assuming you’ve started the book, “Steven, sure, we’ll get back to you,” or you know, “We’re setting up another interview with Mark and Sheryl and so on.” And then things start to go bad. How long was the gap between things getting sort of really bad in public perception and them understanding how bad it was. Cuz that always fascinates me, when words that are so big that they could live in their own bubble and almost need to live in their own bubble to do their work, and then the world is kind of encroaching. Did they know that day? Or does it just, like, take a while for people to figure it out?
SL Well, reality wasn’t evenly distributed within Facebook.
PF [Laughs, Steven joins] Ah! That’s great! That’s the title of the podcast.
SL Some people got it right away. Right off the election. Other people felt this will blow over and . . . to be honest, it—you really couldn’t have predicted it would be so total, that it would be one thing after another. One big difference is that it was Donald Trump that they elected [mm hmm]. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, I think the trajectory would’ve been much, much different for Facebook.
PF Or—or Mitt Romney! Right? Like it just—A new platform emerges and a very new kind of political outcome is the result.
SL So, you know, the things that people wound up unhappy with and the things that were actual misdeeds on Facebook’s part, they were there no matter who was elected but this put it in real sharp relief and, you know, people were ready to look negatively on Facebook and dig these things up. It really got traction after that. So, some people got it right away, other people—because they had this history of having a crisis and skating past it, thought that that would be—this would be another thing like that.
PF “Let me go in my toolbox and we’ll hammer this out.” Yeah, it just wouldn’t go away.
SL “Move fast and break things,” right? So, you know, you could always apologize later—that was the unspoken . . . coda to “Move fast and break things,” and say, “We’re sorry, we’ll fix it.” And go on.
PF So, let me—let me ask you a weird question which is just like, at one point Zuckerberg was doing a 50 state tour. That was a very surreal moment cuz it’s like, “Is this person running for President? Or—but they’re already kinda the Governor of a giant new kind of global state—” And sort of all this other stuff going on and that’s when I started to think, “Wow. They see the world foundationally differently.” And I think when you’re in a big org, like when you talk to people from Google or you talk to people from Apple, obviously they see the world through Apple’s eyes. You become—I see the world through Postlight’s eyes. So do our employees. So does Rich. And so you always have to work for that filter but like how does Facebook, which actually is able to sense and understand the world in ways that very few organizations can, what is the difference between a Facebook person looking out and reading the news and looking at the sunshine versus you and me getting up in the morning, reading The Times, and kind of sitting in our rooms and doing our work?
SL Well, I think—The way to answer that, I think, is just to say what does Zuckerberg think? What does Mark Zuckerberg—
PF Mm hmm.
SL So you’re really asking, “Why did he do that?” And I don’t think he was doing it ever to run for President. That really was not his motivation. He doesn’t wanna run for President. And why would he take that demotion?!
PF It’s true, a lot of supervision and much lower pay, like why do it?
SL If Facebook was a country, it would be by far the biggest country in the world. Right? There’s almost three billion people here. There’s no country like that. And he told me, I think, at one point that the Africa thing was somewhat of an inspiration for that trip because he liked what we were doing there: going and talking to people and learning about what things are like. I think it was, you know, his—the moment to go out and see people and connect with them and learn more about what Facebook can bring to the world. And it was something that I think was a professional thing. I mean, he wasn’t doing it solely to satisfy his nature or to promote himself but more to help Facebook. It turned out to be really tone deaf, considering where Facebook was at that point. And I think it might have even wise at some point to say—at some point during the year, “Hey, I wanted to do this and go to all the states during the year but things are happening in my company and I’m making a statement by pulling the plug on this trip,” which became increasingly out of step and bizarre as he went on. But he didn’t do that. He’s a very stubborn guy who goes off on these quests and doesn’t budge off them.
PF Alright, so what is he—I mean, he’s stubborn, he’s pushing through all of this criticism floating. Like, let’s name another name. Which is the name that Rich and I talk about a lot with a mixture of fascination and maybe just a little bit of fear which is Sheryl Samberg.
SL I feel that her story, actually, is terrific.
PF When you say ‘terrific’, how come?
SL I mean, she, to me, is the poster child of the meritocracy. And what’s right with it; what’s wrong with it. She grew up a well-to-do, not a rich family, an upper middle class, I think, probably family. A lot of doctors in the family. And she is a believer that if you work hard, you know, you could do anything. From your privileged position of someone who’s grown up going to the good schools and then gotten into the best schools. So she puts off all the checkmarks, she’s mentored by Larry Summers . . . who later becomes the head of Harvard. She goes with him to treasury departments. She worked for The World Bank. She does good things and fights leprosy and then the treasury department and then goes to Silicon Valley, right? The land of opportunity and succeeds there. Then goes to Facebook, she makes a bet on this company, and that guy—that weird and strange guy who runs it—the whole thing, this beautiful ship—this cruise ship that she’s build for herself, you know, hits the iceberg and you know, and see the iceberg in a lot of ways. You know, her life takes a bad turn, in one case a tragic turn because she finds a perfect mate for her, a fantastic guy, and he suddenly dies, and then a year after that, the company runs into horrible trouble. And now she’s pedalling rapidly, a person who believed with all her life that if you worked hard enough, you’re gonna get the A+ and you were gonna do that, and that’s not working for her. And I got to see how that unfolds.
RZ As I’m reading the book, I was looking for the bad guys. I was thinking, “Ok, we’re gonna finally go into that sort of windowless room where they plot and—”
Sl A lot of people were disappointed that I didn’t give them that. And Paul gave me this wonderful introduction, and I think the reason why he . . . likes my work so much is because these are all stories. I’m a literature major. You know, I’m telling [right] stories and these are amazing, true life novels. And they’re not [yeah] cut and dry, they’re not cartoons! It’s a novel. It’s a true life novel about the most important subject of our time, about how technology changes our world. And in this story, you’re not going to get, you know, like, mustache twirling, you’re gonna get stories about people who start off thinking they’re doing the right thing and then get tempted to take wrong turns. And this is how things go wrong.
RZ Yeah. But I think when you still—Still when you zoom back out, you don’t get that pass. I do think they lose all perspective, right? I think they created a thing that was just utterly unwieldy and they had to try to get their arms around it, but! There are still a lot of stories within your stories of decisions that feel like, “What were you thinking?”
SL Well, that’s it! I mean, so what happened was after the fall came, after the election when things turned wrong, in a way, it limited what I could do. I could only write one book after that. And the book was [yeah] what happened. Chekov says if you plant a gun in the first act of a play, it’s gotta go off. So I was writing this book and all the guns are going off. I had to go back and find out where they were planted.
RZ Did you find that your interactions with them, that they were a little more guarded? Like did your dynamic with them change after the election?
SL Well, I was talking, you know, to a lot of people there. And what happens is when you do a project like this—and I learned this in the Google book—and you talk to hundreds of people in a company, you know, people who worked there; people who used to work there; people who dealt with them, sometimes competitively, sometimes collaboratively. You understand the language they speak. It’s like anthropology: going into some tribe or—And once you learn to speak the language, then things start to happen, then you really learn what’s going on. And then, even if they are cautious around you, that caution strips because you’re speaking their language [mm hmm, yeah]. So even if they think they’re not telling you anything, they’re telling you plenty. Then, of course, there are some of them who are unhappy and then will tell you in other venues what really is going on. But you could do quite a lot on the record with a PR person in there when . . . you speak that language because they’re telling you a lot.
PF Could anyone else run this company? Like, you’ve looked inside of the biggest companies for 20 plus years; you interviewed Steve Jobs plenty of times; I mean, just like, you’ve seen these leaders up close. Probably more than most human beings have across the spectrum of leaders, could anyone take over and fix Facebook or is it Facebook that’s broken?
SL Well, Facebook got there by all those decisions. You know, that basically, it didn’t have to come out that way, right? You know, they were having such a tough time fixing it because they made it in a way where it’s ripe for abuse. And they made that because that same that’s ripe for abuse, made it in a position to grow very quickly, and become addictive. And it didn’t have to be that way. So it’s not impossible to change it but it’s painful.
PF It’s so hard to make decisions that are going to cost you tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in the future, right? Like, that’s hard to do. I’d have trouble doing that.
SL Well, but if you’re following the same course that ultimately is goin’ to cost you billions of dollars in fines or ultimately some decision which is gonna be devastating to what you do, then you have to make the change. Then you have to, you know, bite the bullet and make the change.
RZ I think what’s interesting here, though, is as I’m reading the book, I’m not seeing money being the driver. I’m seeing success being the driver. I mean, you use that board game analogy a few times in the book and how Mark just thinks in the context of these role playing games and you know—And so I don’t think that was it. You know, humans, I think, if you give them enough power cause damage even if they don’t mean to. There’s no oath, right? I think with here, I think you reach a point, you know, where you really have no control. You’ve lost control of the thing but they still feel like deep in their hearts they are good people doing something good for the world.
SL What happened is your mission connecting the world which sounds warm and fuzzy and wonderful gets messed up with the subgoals. If you’re gonna connect the world, you gotta grow. So growth is important. But then growth becomes like, a mission in itself and growth isn’t [yeah] a warm and fuzzy mission. It’s a brutal one. Making money—well, the reason why we have to make money is we can grow! The idea isn’t to pile up the most money, the idea is to fuel growth, to keep that growth going. So these subgoals become just as important and ends in themselves and that’s where stuff goes off the rails.
RZ Lemme ask you—I mean, the election was in ‘16, right? So you show up earlier. You get in there. But, you know, The Arab Spring which in the beginning was very inspiring for a moment, for like ten minutes because it was just people out in the streets. Every single one devolved into a shit show. Right? Is anyone at Facebook saying, you know, “Humans are inherently good, decent people and if you give them this kind of power, good things are gonna happen.” And every single one—I happen to be Lebanese, so I saw it catch fire in Lebanon for a minute, and then it went horrible. You watch Egypt go horrible. Syria went horrible. And so was anybody having that conversation at Facebook? Saying, “You know what? Maybe this isn’t the right thing [laughs] to hand people.”
SL Now they talk about it and they say, “Yeah, we love Arab Spring,” and they get that there’s another side to that but for a number of years they didn’t wanna hear it.
RZ How come?
SL Because they wanted to grow!
PF I think there’s a kind of, like, just a product driven thinking where it’s like, “Well, you know, we’ve built a great thing for—for unlimited human interaction. And yeah, you know, some things are gonna break and it’s gonna be tough but obviously it’s better to have more communication than less and you know,” these things—it had never hit this point before. Nothing grew like this thing.
SL The thing is it is unprecedented. That’s why I wanted to write the book in the first place. No one’s connected everyone in the world but, you know, I think—and I think the consensus believes you have a responsibility when you unleash these big things to look around the corner. Facebook itself says this now. It says, “From now on, we’re actually gonna be more proactive. We’re going to think about what consequences happen when we do something.” Wow! You know? Thanks now. Right? And they say and Zuckerberg particularly says, Hey! We started in a dorm room.” You know? How can we know from a dorm room? And I looked into, you know, the past and I actually wound up spending more time in the early days of Facebook than I thought I would when I started this book because I thought, “Oh, The Social Network people have heard this.” No. No, no, you had to go back and find out where the guns were planted. So I retold that story knowing what happened there. So, you look at it and you look at that excuse that, “We were in the dorm room.” Hey! Within a few months after starting Facebook they had moved to Silicon Valley and they were getting advice from the smartest people in the Silicon Valley! They were getting funded by VCs with a lot of money. They were in the big leagues. So it wasn’t like they had no access to expertise or people who scaled things. They were right in the middle of it and they heard it and Zuckerberg, naive though he might’ve been in some ways, was like a smart person who knew who to listen to and who not to listen to . . . to get what he wanted.
PF I mean you defer ethics, just in the same way you might put off quarterly taxes. Right? Like we know it’s—we’re going to have to figure it out later, right? Let me—Alright, so there’s a thing I need to unpack because it’s come up a lot, it’s in the book. I just need to understand: what the hell is the connection with Zuckerberg and Caesar Augustus? Do you know about this, Rich?
RZ I do.
PF So, like, he loves him! But I just—I can’t—it just keeps getting mentioned and kind of brought up. Like, what were you able to figure out about that?
SL So he—From high school, he loved the classics. He loved Latin. He took a summer course, The Johns Hopkins Exceptional Student’s Summer Course—ever hear of that?
PF Mm hmm.
SL One of the guys who wrote his Harvard recommendation was a teacher there. And he really connected with Augustus Caesar and it was connected to his—He loved to play Risk. Take over the world. Like take over the world—Civilization. These were his favorite games and he had this connection with him. When he went to Italy once with his wife—you know, I think it was on their honeymoon—she complained there were three people on the honeymoon, “You, me, and Augustus Caesar!” He kept like looking at all that—you know, [stammers] all that Caesar had.
PF “C’mon babe, we’re just gonna stop by the Pantheon again.”
SL Well, you look at his haircut. You know, I mean, there’s a connection there.
RZ Is there a bit of a he couldn’t conquer the schoolyard so he wanted to conquer the world?
SL Well, he wasn’t that—He wasn’t sort of an unpopular kid. He was a quiet kid but he fenced and he did have his friends but when he did speak up, people listened to him, so.
PF No, I mean, I think that’s what’s wild is you have a very capable, very bright person who gained an unbelievable amount of power and then really likes that power. And, you know, decides to kinda create a governance model and build a nation state out of the internet. The point I keep taking from the book is that as this system smashes into other giant institutions like The United States government or the concept of democracy, it’s—it’s truly like aircraft carriers smashing into each other. It’s not—Facebook doesn’t subvert itself to democracy. It profits; it sort of says, “Put us in charge, we’ll take care of this for you.” And then just kaboom as these things smash.
SL Well, what’s always been amazing to me is not so much Zuckerberg grabbing for it but being comfortable with it. But not being freaked out by his own power. I would be freaked out by that much power.
RZ I think there was just some weird, infinite confidence sort of grounded in a certain level of naivete. I mean I think—
SL It’s a personality thing—You know, I love pondering how people got that way, unusual people. You know, Paul mentioned Steve Jobs who I spent a lot of time with, and I always wondered, “How did Steve Jobs get to be Steve Jobs?” Right? And he was like that as a kid.
PF There was no clear answer. Like, he was sorta born into the Jobsian mindset.
SL Yeah, Malcolm Gladwell has a theory about outliers and I don’t buy that because it doesn’t explain Steve Jobs.
PF No, I mean, it doesn’t cuz it’s the patterns of behavior. I mean, you do this with Zuckerberg too. It’s not just like, “Oh, he saw a guitar when he was 12 and then later he became Jimi Hendrix.” It’s like when you look at the way he’s playing Civilization and the way he’s describing it and thinking about it. His narrative is one of, “I was always a little different; I always did it this way.”
SL I talked to his parents.
PF They must be very proud? [Rich snickers]
SL Yeah, they’re super proud. And they were very reluctant to talk to me for a long time because considering all the bad things that were happening. They were afraid they would say something wrong. So his mother tells me the story. He was in high school and he went to a local public school. It wasn’t a bad school, it was Westchester County but they didn’t have enough computer courses and he wanted to go to a private school to have more dense classes and computer courses. And down the road there was a really excellent school, Horace Mann, and his mother really wanted him to go there cuz his older sister was going to go away to college. And she didn’t wanna lose two kids, particularly the one son of their four kids, the chosen one. He had heard about this other school, you know, Phillips Exeter, and he got in his head he wanted to go there. And his mother said, “Listen, I really want you to go to Horace Mann. Why don’t you just interview there and see if you like it?” And he said, “Well, I’ll interview there but I’m going to Exeter.” That was it. He was going there. I thought about every time people said to him, “Mark, we can set this program which reports automatically what people buy on a website on their newsfeed. They have to opt into that consciously. We can’t set this as an opt out.” And he felt otherwise and that’s what happened! It was opt out and people wound up—women found out that their boyfriends bought a diamond ring by looking at it on their newsfeed. You know? And when he made those decisions and other things like that, I just thought, “Exeter.”
PF So look, here’s the foundational question for me which is—So you were in—you were in this world for three or four years, yes?
SL A little over three years, yeah.
PF Ok, so this is a vast and infinite subject. Like, not just Zuckerberg but Facebook is the . . . You might as well be writing about The United States, right? Like, the Wikipedia page is a hundred pages long so, how the hell do you stand up one day and go, “Ok, I’m done with this book.”
SL Well, here—So what you do is . . . and I have to say the one thing I’m gonna be at—This is sort of what I do, in these books, there’s been a few like this, is to tell these complicated stories as narratives. And you have to go into it with the confidence that there’s gonna be a way to end the narrative you choose to tell, right? So . . . there’s a lot that’s gonna happen to Facebook and we don’t know what’s gonna happen but the story to me is this arc of it starts off with these ideals, it grows because of this, and the story of these people there. And it’s his story largely. And I found what I thought was the end of it, right? You know, the way I make a big thing when I talk about his notebook. This notebook that he has where he outlines his vision for Facebook. And I reunite him with the notebook at the very end. So, basically it ends with him—I’m giving away something here, I guess—but with him looking back at how he’s changed; and how Facebook has changed. So, to me, that tied the bow on this narrative. You get one complete story of Facebook and through it all you’ve been through a lot and I tie in—You know, we didn’t talk about Instagram and Whatsapp and all the things—How all the stuff ties in to this narrative and you know about this company intimately and have heard that story.
PF Mm hmm.
SL That’s what I wanted to do and I hope I did it.
PF I mean, you did [laughs]. This is the thing you do. Are you glad to be done with that one in particular?
SL Of course! You know, I mean, I’m glad that I was able to package that up. I still write about it sometimes. You know, Facebook but you know, to me, that’s it. I’m not gonna be writing in five years Facebook Part Two.
PF The revenge! Did they ever get in touch? Did they ever say, “Hey, Steven, interesting book”?
SL Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg did, you know, contact me. He told me that he doesn’t agree with all of it. He thinks I might’ve gotten some things wrong in his view but he saw what I put into it which was like a lot of work and an effort to tell the story and he respected that.
PF I imagine when you received that email and you see the subject line, you take a little bit of a deep breath before you open it.
SL First of all, it was Facebook Messenger.
PF [Laughs] Of course it is. Of course it is. Alright, so two questions: first of all, this book is about I feel like about a month or two now, right? And where do people go to—First of all, give us the full title and the publisher.
SL It’s published by—you know, the imprint is Blue Rider Press, it’s part of Dutton, which is part of Penguin, and you can get it wherever you get books! Probably the best way to do it is a lot of independent bookstores now allow you—you go to a place called IndieBound, you can order through a local bookstore, or if you’re a fan of, you know, the big Amazon, Barnes & Noble, you know, you can get that or you can it instantly, of course, as and eBook from many of those places, through Kindle or Google or Apple. The audiobook, if you feel like listening to it.
PF Oh, did you read the audiobook?
SL No, I didn’t. No—
PF Ooh, ok.
SL I read—I narrated one audiobook of my work and that the book about the Macintosh and I did that years after I wrote it and also it was short. So, that was ok.
PF Sensible. If anybody wants to get in touch, what’s the right way to reach you?
SL You know, you could go through my website, stevenlevy.com. There’s a way to send mail. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org if you wanna write me with something Wired-ish. I’m not hard to find.
PF Great! Well, if 21 year old or 19 year old [music fades in] Paul knew that he would get to hang with Steven Levy on a podcast, he would be pretty excited right now. So, this is very cool. Thank you.
SL Thanks to both of you! That was a great interview.
RZ Thank you, Steven.
PF Rich! I gotta run to a meeting! I gotta present!
RZ Oh boy, well then let’s say goodbye to everyone.
PF What do you know about Postlight?
RZ Postlight is a beautiful company, everyone. We are a kickass consulting firm, product design and development shop. We conceive, design, build, ship all kinds of great things. We’re the company you want nearby when you’re thinking about the next big thing.
PF I mean we’re your partner, right? If you need help and you know, the thing we don’t talk about enough and I really want us to talk about is it’s not just platforms and products, it’s about experience, it’s about how people use these things.
RZ Yeah, and also, we love to look at the market, look at this landscape, and think about how do you get in there? How do you penetrate? How do you do something impactful. We like big problems.
PF And that is why you should send us an email at email@example.com.
RZ Reach out.
PF And we’ll help you not build the next Facebook.
RZ [Laughs] Have a good week, everyone.
PF Bye, everybody! [Music ramps up, plays alone for three seconds, fades out to end.]