Rich Ziade I don’t know the exact sequence. You’re—you’re a better historian than I am.
Paul Ford We’ll see.
RZ But, like, really properly using projectile fire power—
PF Mm hmm.
RZ—kicked in, like, sort of around—maybe even during World War I.
PF I love that this is our ‘what we’re looking forward to’ podcast.
RZ We gotta set the stage here, right? [Paul laughs] That means we’re gonna—we’re way better off today than we were yesterday.
PF Yeah. Yeah, yeah [music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. We’re gonna talk about things that we think our exciting for next year. What is exciting?
RZ [Sighs] Well, first off, I mean before we look forward, let us look back. It’s been a rough year.
PF Not a great year for technology . . . in the popular mind.
RZ In the popular mind [music fades out], you know, it got ahead of us.
PF Well also, things that seemed sensible in 2008, like, “Look, we can track everything! Look at that! That’s crazy we can—we can see what people are looking at on the internet in real time.”
RZ Also, I mean I think there’s been a—just a level of optimism around like [oh yeah], “We’re gonna—”
PF [Crosstalks] Bitcoin.
RZ “—make it easier.” You know, connecting the world, make the world a better place, et cetera, et cetera, and you put these tools out there and uh—
PF I have a point to make here. It’s actually—I think it’s a relevant point which is that if you look at old—the leaders of things like the Bell System, ok? So the old days. Real old days.
PF Before us. What they talked about was about preserving the service and their good union team members going out in the snow to make sure that you had your phone line. And it wasn’t global connectivity, it wasn’t, “We’re gonna bring everybody together,” it was about you.
PF “You pay and you use our service and we are—we are the swift footed messengers that will get your voice heard on the telephone line when you wanna call your sister in the middle of a snow storm and make sure that your niece and nephew are ok.”
RZ Well, you said it: it’s a service.
PF That’s right and—
RZ It’s a—I mean we’re talking in the context of the photocopy machine.
PF And we—we’re now on year 15 or so of everyone talking about the global village and, “We’re gonna bring everyone together and knit everyone together,” and it’s very fair when you look at human history, and also recent human history, to say what’s that getcha? What do you get when you knit everyone into one giant screaming telecom mass? As opposed to enabling lots and lots of conversations.
RZ If you look at history (and I say that in the broadest sense possible) it’s been pretty messy, pretty consistently.
PF You put a lot of people together, often the outcome is—sometimes the outcome’s great.
RZ Yeah. But sometimes it’s, “We figured out how to generate energy from water, that means we need to kill the—one town over.”
PF Yeah, that’s right.
RZ “We need to kill everyone.”
PF That happens.
RZ “We’ll kill everyone.”
PF Mm hmm.
RZ “And we’re gonna have to either charge money for it or kill you.”
PF This is tricky, right? You get the like, “Well, our arrows are really pointy.” And then you go, “The other—” Yeah, you’re right, the next town over might be making pointy arrows too, so we should kill them before they get pointy arrows.
RZ And I don’t know the exact sequence. You’re—you’re a better historian than I am but really properly using projectile firepower kicked in like sort of around, maybe even during World War I.
PF I love that this is our ‘what we’re looking forward to’ podcast.
RZ Well, we gotta set the stage here, right? [Paul laughs] If that means we’re gonna—we’re way better off today than we were history.
PF Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
RZ And essentially their reaction was, “Shit . . . we’re—we’re never gonna be able to aim with this thing. Not for awhile [mm hmm].” Right? “But, man it’s good.”
RZ “And so if we line up like 80 of these, we can pretty much kill everything on the other side.”
PF Yeah, it’s gonna be bad in those other trenches.
RZ And it’s one of the most grotesque, ghastly human events.
RZ Because the tool—the technology. We weren’t ready for it yet.
RZ We were—I mean in the context of war: optimistic about how it was gonna be just serving our purposes and not really causing too much pain and suffering.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ It took probably another 30, 40 years to better refine it and not say, “Hey, there’s one soldier in the whole town, so kill all the cit—all the civilians.” And today, I mean it’s still grotesque in its own special way but we do have much more accurate capabilities, so that the moral calculation around war is a little different.
PF Sometimes with the mouse, they click the wrong icon and—and that can be really hard on a village overseas but—
RZ Or—or an early send.
RZ I mean same thing! [Laughs]
PF “Oh wow, that was supposed to be yellow house not blue house.”
PF “Oh boy.”
RZ I think we just did a lot of stuff, we built these really open-ended platforms, and they got away from us and we were a little too optimistic with how humans work.
PF Well, this is—
RZ Does technology surprise me?! No. I’m impressed.
PF No, I think, too, you know, you talk to people from the giant, giant platforms and bless them. They are in a world that is all-inclusive and I can see that happen because we work at a small company, we run it, and it can feel like it’s our whole world some days.
RZ I—I think there’s that and I think there—look, here’s the thing: there are thousands and thousands of people that are pretty—are, you know, doing a lot of sort of self-evaluation but, man, they have a lot of stock.
PF Yeah, that’s right. No, no, I mean there’s—
RZ [Laughs] That’s real [laughs]. Alright, so I mean we could take this one of two ways, right? We’re either gonna say, “Ok, you know what? 2019 is just sort of accepting the fact that we’re all doomed.
RZ Or is there—I mean give me—give me, cheer me up here, Paul. We used—I just used the World War I analogy.
RZ You gotta help me out.
PF First of all, what we’re gonna see with technology, as we know, in 2019, it’s just more. There’s gonna be more.
RZ Like walk like eight more revelations.
PF Well, well there’s that. Right?
PF They’ll be more. First of all, there’ll be—there’ll be more hard drives; there’ll be more cloud services; there’ll be more apps that are released; and more web things.
RZ Can I throw out a headline? A New York Times headline.
PF Yeah, what’s your headline?
RZ February 7th, 2019 [hmm]: Investigation Reveals That Mark Zuckerberg Was in Your House Two Weeks Ago.
PF Yeah [laughs] exactly right. [Rich laughs] You could feel this—yeah, this is the big one. This is—because that thing, by which I mean Facebook and WhatsApp and Instagram and who, I don’t even know what else they own, became the dominating present. It—it—they sought to define what the internet and technology would be to everyone in the world and they achieved that goal this year. I think that next year—here’s the thing: Facebook is an enormous platform that’s very, very successful, it’s also got WhatsApp and Instagram, for many people it is the internet. And it’s where they communicate and talk to their friends and—
RZ View it as the internet.
PF They view it is as the internet and you’re not gonna just button this up. This is gonna be a continual negotiation, I think it will end with some compliance on Facebook’s side; a lot of—more transparency, hopefully; and probably government regulation. Like that’s how this resolves, whether that takes a year or longer.
RZ You know one of the key components of—of a crime is intent.
RZ You can be negligent.
PF Well, this is what—
RZ You can be reckless.
PF What got fuzzy this year is intent.
RZ I mean do we have this sort of kabal of just sinister people sitting around a big boardroom table?
PF No, I think you have something so big and people with very ambitious moonshot goals, and the tools to do things that are bad for society indirectly, now when you add all that up you get something that’s pretty dangerous. And it doesn’t even know how to police itself; and it doesn’t even know what it did. It’s like if somebody took your brain and put another brain in and that brain ran around in your body. And then you come back, and they put your brain in and they’re like, “What happened?!?” Like, “I don’t—I don’t know.”
RZ I mean I think that’s right. I—I think they overestimated their ability to see the whole picture, right?
PF Well everybody—
RZ They underestimated the power of the thing.
PF I think there’s probably some law or something but everybody—you know there’s the Dunning-Kruger effect and all this stuff—everyone assumes that they are an ethical genius, including you and me.
RZ You can be successful and still be ethical.
PF We couldn’t be in business unless this was the primary conversation. Like this is very important to both of us, that [yes]—that I wanna earn that respect and I wanna feel that I am a—that I’m adding something to the world. That’s important, right?
PF But if you came here and you sat with a dental pick and went through every decision we’ve ever made, you would find some stuff where you’d be like, “That was pretty self-serving, wasn’t it?”
PF Yeah and it’s—and so like the dental picks are out.
RZ Yeah. That’s real.
PF And that’s real and—and what you’re finding is that that self image of, “We’re gonna connect everyone in the world and it’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be wonderful,” and then, “Yeah, we broke some eggs along the way, one of them being Myanmar. But we broke some eggs but, you know, we’re still making a hell of an omelette,” and people are like [yeah], “I don’t want eggs.” [Laughs] “I want hashbrowns today.”
PF And—and it just doesn’t look good and it doesn’t feel good and it sucks because everybody thought that they were saving the world and then it actually turns out that they might’ve been destroying it and no one—there are very few tools in culture. It’s not like you can go read a book on like Hey, You Thought You Were Saving the World but You Destroyed It.
RZ But they also—they gave the world this thing. And there was an optimism about how the world works.
PF And making stuff is wonderful.
RZ Making stuff is wonderful and empowering others is wonderful but the thing is when you empower others, you give them power, right? And—and it turns out that some, yeah, they do—they do use it to organize the—the charity function.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ But many use it to wield their agenda and their agenda is often very biased cuz it’s their own and their own perspective and their own—their own biases, and—and the like.
PF You know what’s tricky too, right? Is that the—it doesn’t matt—99 good acts but one pre—one that is indirectly or directly really negative, the 99 get forgotten because that is just how humans are. We don’t—and that’s not an excuse. It’s just if you drop poison into the water supply, people forget the water. They focus [chuckles] on the poison.
RZ True. Honestly, look, you’re a media guy, also, it’s kinda boring.
RZ The hot mess of people throwing shit at each other—
PF Yeah, it’s very interesting.
RZ—is what people stare at.
PF Very motivating.
RZ The fact that 80 out of the 90 invitees to a charity function showed up is just boring.
PF No, that’s right. What’s interesting—
RZ And—and a good fistfight, at the corner, I mean that’s real. I wanna draw another parallel.
PF When are we gonna talk about the good stuff that’s happening?
RZ Well, I think we can get there. Our founding fathers, Paul, could’ve written like a two-pager that said, “You know human beings intrinsically are good people and just all of you get along, and just make sure that you pay taxes so everybody, you know, takes care of each other.”
PF I love the two-pager. Just Thomas Jefferson in Google Docs.
RZ Yeah [laughs]. But they actually had—I mean the way we’re structured it’s like, well, ok, you gotta put a piece over there to balance that out over here and just make sure this guy doesn’t get out of control [mm hmm] and so put a piece of control here, so the checks and balances are, in my view, people are so optimistic about the human being, you know, human nature and this, it’s actually a deeply, deeply cynical framework.
PF It’s very suspicious.
RZ It’s very suspicious because the power and money and greed kick in and so how do you balance that out, right? And so they, you know, [music fades in] lifetime appointments in the Supreme Court, et cetera, et cetera.
PF Yeah [music plays alone for five seconds]. Hey, Rich.
RZ Yes, Paul [music fades out].
PF There’s a lot of really interesting things that are happening in technology next year and—
PF Yeah and we try to keep up on them. We try to build systems that are really stable, that are gonna be in it for the long haul, but we also try to make sure that if something new is happening out there and it’s gonna save you a lot of money and time, we try to stay on it.
PF And so that kinda defines our culture and we really wanna hear from people, we wanna hear from people who wanna work here, and we wanna hear from people who wanna work with us. We have a great team of engineers and designers and product managers and we can build just about anything. Frankly, we’ve been tested on that in the last couple of years and we’ve come up pretty well. We’ve built entire email clients; we’ve built financial trading systems; we’ve built unusual forms of authentication and login for giant organizations, like really tricky stuff—education platforms. And platforms is the big word there. So if you need anything, get in touch with Postlight.
RZ Yup [music fades in].
PF [email protected] [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down]
RZ So, tying this this back into the future [music fades out] of technology, Paul, especially in 2019—
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Are there some good things happening? [Paul exhales sharply] Will there be some good things happening?
PF Well, we’re gonna see the first 5G networks. That’ll be pretty cool.
RZ Ok, so this is a good point: tech—raw tech, unapplied, there’s—it just keeps marching [oh yeah]. It just keeps going.
PF More processors on a core, faster computers.
RZ I mean your phone [mm hmm], you have a Google Pixel 3.
PF Oh yeah it’s gonna be able to report what I’m doing to China five times faster. That is—
RZ [Laughs] Paul, we’re going optimistic now! Turn it around. I mean you took a picture—we were in a bar.
PF Yeah I took a picture.
RZ And it was dark.
PF At night. You take pictures and they look great.
RZ It was kinda terrifying that’s because, by the way, when you took that picture, someone in China touched it up in Photoshop and sent it back to you.
PF Possibly true and then they save it and that’s how they build the profile. The thing that is real—machine learning is real. Machine learning is creating interesting new consumer experiences cuz that’s what that night mode is.
RZ Isn’t that still tied to taking my data and making like, you know [no, that’s tied], a coleslaw out of it.
PF That’s tied to taking 90 photos in a fast sequence and then using the little bit of motion in the camera and connecting it to a giant machine learning model and saying, “Hmm, this is what they’re intending to do,” and turning—and enhancing certain parts very, very quickly and suddenly you have a really good picture.
RZ So great images.
PF Great images, different kinds of search experiences, new—just new stuff. Like new ideas and weirdness is happening out there and that’s fun.
PF You know what I would say about machine learning is that all through the history of computing as like a pop culture thing, like not the earliest days but say the last 30 years, the operating system was your core interface to the silicon. Like you buy this device and it can do something. And what we put on it is an operating system and software, and that’s the space between you and the computer is filled up with the operating system, and that’s how you access the computer. Machine learning kinda gets in there in the middle and it’s a new space in between where you’re feeding it’s signal and it’s using the silicon and it’s coming and it’s using the network sometimes too, and it’s coming back out with data and responses. That’s not you—it used to be you, you’d move your mouse, and you know, you would say, “Enhance,” or, “Night mode” or whatever but now it kind of figures out stuff out as you go along [mm hmm] and the fact that there is any kind of new third space—it’s been 40 years.
PF Is very, very interesting.
RZ Ok. Is that 2019?
PF I think it’s gonna be—that’s like the next five years. I’m pretty sure machine learning applications are the next five years.
PF At least.
RZ How do—give me a neutralizer for everything that’s happening in social media.
PF Well, there’s always the argument that, I don’t know, conversations, podcasts, people talking to one another.
RZ Conversations are terrible. We’ve seen that.
PF This is bad.
RZ Podcasts are good.
PF Podcasts are gonna have a big moment next year. That’s real.
RZ Regulation? [Paul exhales sharply] Like does it get really positive and optimistic once it’s regulated?
PF No, no, you can’t fix people.
RZ Yeah. Let me ask you this: why didn’t Pinterest go to shit? And why didn’t Etsy go to shit?
PF They were really locked into a certain form.
PF You know like Etsy—first of all: I think Etsy always had really good community moderation. If you show up with a lot of swastikas at Etsy—
RZ Pause there. Moderation.
RZ Community moderation.
PF I think you don’t have a choice.
RZ We have none of that on the platforms today that are causing chaos.
PF Yeah, not really, I mean there’s some.
RZ I mean they’ve reached a scale where they can’t do it.
PF That’s the problem, you have like checking for pornography.
PF But it’s not about like—
RZ Is that what’s needed?
PF Probably. You know, you just—you need forward looking people who are like, “Hey, don’t do that.” Is—is the internet part of a civil society? Well, obviously now yes.
PF Social media—
RZ In fact, it’s a key sort of system.
PF It drives civil society. Twitter [right] drives how the media interacts with—I mean it’s like everything is connected. Facebook is—it’s a huge part of a civil society. It defines family and community for a lot of people. It’s connected to education, like it’s—it’s infinite. So, we have all kinds of regulations and rules about how things—
RZ Well they’re coming.
PF What choice do you have? Like it feels—it happened so fast and I think also the ethos of tech is so anti-regulation that it feels almost impossible.
RZ Yeah but I think—I think numerous red lines have been crossed.
PF Well, it always—it feels really impossible and then one day that one congressman sits down with somebody and is like, “We’re gonna do it this way.” And they go, “Yeah, ok.” And then suddenly the law is passed and suddenly it’s possible.
PF And a good example there is that pro-Nazi speech has never been allowed on Twitter in Germany because Germany bans pro-Nazi speech.
PF Yeah and so when Twitter wanted to expand and succeed in that market it had no choice.
RZ Right. Ok, Paul, so—
PF [Laughs] Yes.
RZ So far, you know, we’re looking ahead and, like, hey, what’s—what’s good positive stuff coming in tech? And we ended [frankly] up explaining a remedy, right?
PF No, but I’ll tell you, frankly, a mature government involvement in tech would be a wonderful thing.
RZ Very positive.
PF Well it depends [laughs] it’s this government.
RZ [Crosstalks] Is there anything happening—is there anything happening out there that’s just positive, like just ground up and it doesn’t need government to tell it to behave itself? In tech?
PF Everything is getting cheaper and faster. But you know—you know what’s a killer here is that it’s really hard to launch new things. I think this is what I’m struggling with, like because Facebook and Twitter and everybody else are kind of the conduits for broadcasting new information and new ideas, there’s just—so let’s say I wanted to start a not-for-profit and get the word out. I make my website, I accept donations, now I have a horrible struggle ahead of me. How much money am I gonna spend on Facebook? What kind of events am I gonna do? Do I promote tweets on Twitter? Like, there used to be more free flow, and more chance to play and kinda hack around, but you couldn’t get to this level of broadcast. You couldn’t hit tens of millions of people efficiently.
RZ Right, mm hmm.
PF And now we’ve got that. And maybe that’s a really good thing when it all—when—when the final reckoning is done but it’s just hard because everything is harder to do. The scale’s bigger; things take a long time. But, that said, the tooling is wonderful; you can build more software faster than you ever could before.
PF Yeah, programming languages are great; hard drives are cheap. I mean if you wanted to go build something—
RZ You can go do it.
PF Oh my God.
RZ So there’s opportunities to innovate.
PF There are drones and there are cameras and everything is—I mean if—you ever been on the website Crowd Supply?
PF It’s magical. It’s hardware. It’s like a Kickstarter but for the [chuckles] nerdiest things.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF So a Linux system that runs on the risk five open source chip or a network storage device that runs all open software and you can plug little discs into it, and—
RZ Wow. This is really nerdy.
PF It’s really nerdy. It’s really—people are making and distributing and selling thousands of units of electronic devices that are for a very niche audience but they’re finding that audience.
RZ I mean that’s great, right? Like there’s somebody still hacking tech out there.
PF Not just somebody. I mean it’s gotten cheaper and easier and there’s distribution and there are frameworks and, you know, Crowd Supply is pretty positive. It takes a very modest cut. It is designed to help people with big, exciting technology ideas, make them real, and help them find an audience.
PF Like I’m sure that if we dig into the—the forums there will be 700 things that are bad about Crowd Supply but [both chuckle].
RZ Something out there has been hacked to read credit cards.
PF Yeah, I mean maybe this is—maybe this is the positive version of our world is one where you’re able to make interesting things and find a medium-sized audience. Yeah, maybe we’ve internalized giant platform needs too much.
PF I don’t know, Rich, I mean who’s doin’ good stuff?
RZ Alright so, here, this is really cool. Now I—you know, drones are cool.
PF Yeah, they are.
RZ They’re damn cool.
PF I will say, though, every time someone sells a startup, they get into drones.
RZ They’re cool!
PF They are.
RZ They’re just cool. It’s like, “Ok, I made a startup, you can now manage your accounting a little bit better, but, man, now I can fly.”
PF Yeah, that’s right.
RZ “So I’m gonna fly.”
PF “I can fly, I’m a bird.” It’s why people used to have falcons.
RZ [Laughs] Right. It’s a modern day falcon.
RZ So there’s a startup out there called Zipline.
RZ And what Zipline does is get used drones to get medicine to remote places.
RZ Now, that sounds—well, that’s weird, why would you do that? Well everybody heard about the whole Amazon thing, right? Like, “We’re gonna deliver the package—”
PF Through the drone.
RZ “—through the drone, to your front step.” Et cetera, et cetera. What these guys are doing is they’re using drone technology to get vaccines, to get blood supply for transfusions, to places that don’t have either roads or facilities or even runways so planes can land to bring them supplies.
RZ And they’re using these drones to get the stuff over there.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Now, I don’t know a lot about this company. I think it’s a great story. And I think what’s most interesting about it is this probably didn’t come up, you know, as a product of three guys in a cocktail bar in New York City saying, “I’ve got the next billion dollar idea.”
PF No, that’s right.
RZ Right? And that’s incredibly reassuring in light of just everything that’s going on because what a lot of this is is people lose perspective entirely because they were so driven by money.
PF You know what’s a huge deal in—in really remote communities is the ability to charge devices. Like I remember meeting a guy who was affiliated either with the state department or the UN but it was like he was getting solar charging stations so that small scale entrepreneurs you could come and charge your phone.
PF Because it was hard to get stable electricity.
RZ So cool.
PF And the person who was gonna thrive there was kind of like already usually had a little bit of a hustle.
PF And they had to pay for it. So it was like a couple bucks a week and they would get the charging station and they would charge people, and it was a way to kinda get stuff moving but everybody needs their phone, right?
RZ And—and, you know, its motivations are just so different than, “I’m going to conquer anything.”
PF I think that this is a goal for me. I think that in the course of next year, I would like to learn more about how people who are not wealthy westerners are using these technologies. Like I need [yeah]—you get hints of it and you read an article about how some cool thing is happening in Indian telecom or how, you know, your expectations of smart phones should be smashed because this is what’s really happening and [yeah] but it all comes filtered. I need to figure out what’s happening.
RZ Yeah, we’ve had some work at Postlight actually deal with stuff where the apps had to be very low data um [that’s right] and be very efficient because the phones weren’t super modern. And it was one of our more fascinating projects because [clears throat] these are problems we’re often told not to worry about. Everybody’s got a great phone and everybody’s got, you know, unlimited data.
PF Maybe this is my goal! I think my goal is to figure out the world and to reali—I live in a bubble. I—I try to be sensitive but I live in a—in the greatest imperial city in the greatest imperial country in the world and—
RZ And you—
PF I’m in Rome! Right now.
RZ You are and—and you’re not some laborer in Rome.
PF Oh no I’m in the—I’m in the—I mean I’m not in Silicon Valley but I am in the largest growth industry basically in history [right] and I’m thriving in it.
PF You know, Rich, we’ll see what happens with this podcast after editing but I—I think a good goal . . . America has really gotten obsessed with itself.
RZ The world has.
PF Yeah! I mean we are real—I’m lookin’ in the mirror too much with technology. I wanna think about bigger things than just the apps and what Facebook’s doin’. There’s—there’s things that are happening that are way outside of my understanding. God knows China, too. China is doing things with the internet—
RZ That’s another series of podcasts.
PF You know? I’m gonna have to go subscribe to some newsletters here and [oh boy] [chuckles] get my passport renewed and do all kinds of stuff but in the meantime I’m gonna be right here at 101 5th Avenue, and if you need to talk to me or to Rich you can send an email to [music fades in] [email protected]
RZ Yes, and I can very proudly say that we do a lot of work for non-profits.
PF That is very true. We like to hear about their problems.
RZ We’ve done good work for them.
PF Yup. And we’re gonna be here all next year figuring this out with you, the listener. We really appreciate people sending us emails, asking us questions. So, [email protected] and let’s go, let’s make 2019 matter.
RZ And if you’ve got stories out there of stuff—
PF [Crosstalks] I gotta get my passport renewed!
RZ—that’s a little more positive, a little more optimistic, then share [music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, fades out to end].