Tools and Weapons with Brad Smith

Kara Swisher: It’s time for tech to mature

Episode Summary

When it comes to reporting on the tech industry, nothing escapes Kara Swisher. For four decades, the influential journalist has used the power of her pen and microphone to not only report the news, but influence the events of the day. Sharing insights from her career, they explore patterns that help her see what’s coming in tech before others, the attributes of tech leaders that succeed, the adaptability of leading companies, and the need for regulation on an industry that has accrued a lot of power.

Episode Notes

When it comes to reporting on the tech industry, nothing escapes Kara Swisher.  For four decades, the influential journalist has used the power of her pen and microphone to not only report the news, but influence the events of the day. Sharing insights from her career, they explore patterns that help her see what’s coming in tech before others, the attributes of tech leaders that succeed, the adaptability of leading companies, and the need for regulation on an industry that has accrued a lot of power. 

Kara Swisher wrote her first technology story in 1980, for Georgetown University’s school paper – the subject was pay phones.  As one of the first reporters to cover the internet while at the Wall Street Journal, Kara Swisher’s early career-making coverage of the rise of Big Tech earned her the reputation of “Silicon Vally’s most feared and well-liked journalist.”  Since then, Swisher’s impact on the tech and media space has been undeniable:  she’s produced the country’s premier tech and media conference, executive-edited a major news website, and co-hosts the podcast Pivot for New York Magazine.  Throughout her career she’s interviewed major players in tech, politics and culture including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Kim Kardashian, and President Barack Obama.  

Click here for the episode transcript.

Episode Transcription

Brad Smith: I'm Brad Smith and this is Tools and Weapons. On this podcast, I'm sharing conversations with leaders who are at the intersection of the promise and the peril of the digital age. We'll explore technology's role in the world as we look for new solutions for society's biggest challenges. Sometimes it feels nearly impossible to grasp the full impact that technology is having on our lives.

Kara Swisher: Tech is like water. It's going to get in everywhere. It's going to drip, drip, drip at your population, for good or bad.

Brad Smith: That was Kara Swisher, the lightning rod journalist who's been covering tech since the rise of the internet. She's arguably one of the few journalists who have not only covered the industry, but actually influenced its course. Whether she's writing an op-ed or grilling a CEO on one of her podcasts, Kara pulls no punches. Believe me, I know, because I've been on the receiving end of some of those. Her insightful reporting is met with respect and a little bit of fear sometimes in Silicon Valley, while giving us always, a clear picture of the industry's impact on our lives. Today on Tools and Weapons, I get to turn the tables on Kara and ask her the hard questions to decode the evolution of tech and provide a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Brad Smith: My conversation with Kara Swisher up next on Tools and Weapons. Well, Kara Swisher, it's a pleasure to be here with you today. I've been looking forward to this. This is my opportunity-

Kara Swisher: Really?

Brad Smith: Oh, absolutely, because Kara, I get to turn the tables a little bit.

Kara Swisher: It's not going to work, Brad, but that's okay. You can try. I've never heard a Microsoft executive say they're excited to talk to me, but all right.

Brad Smith: I've always been.

Kara Swisher: I know.

Brad Smith: But I will admit, when I got up this morning, I thought to myself, "We'll see if I can turn the tables," but I'll give it my best shot.

Kara Swisher: All right. Good luck.

Brad Smith: You have been covering tech for four decades. You've had a front row on the tech sector. But in my mind, you have a voice that has done so much more than just report on and comment on the news. There have been many times when I think you've actually influenced the course of events.

Kara Swisher: I think so.

Brad Smith: Was there a moment when you first realized you could use the power of the pen to do that?

Kara Swisher: Well, you know, I started off as a beat reporter. That was primarily what I did. I had a point of view, like a lot of people, like, "This is wrong. This is right," but it was after doing extensive reporting. I never tried to shade my reporting in any way, just as when I was reporting on Yahoo! or whatever. It was interesting, because I was at Sue Decker's house for dinner last night and she was the former COO of Yahoo! I think before she left. Who I'm sure you're familiar with because Microsoft tried to buy it at one point, so I'm sure you were right involved with them. And her daughter, who is I think a freshman at Tufts, and Sue was like, "I'm trying to explain to my daughter who you are," and she was like, "She's journalist. She does all these things."

Kara Swisher: And I said, "And your mother hated me before we became friends much later." And she said, "No, I didn't hate you. I feared you because as it turned out, you were right about pretty much everything you reported," because they had all these troubles and all these issues. I pointed them out pretty adeptly. At the time, of course, they thought it was a point of view, but it was really reporting, reporting with analysts, with experts, with my own history of seeing things happen over and over again. She goes, "But now I like Kara because it turns out she was right." I really appreciated that. Of course, her daughter was like, "Who really cool have you interviewed? Not my mother essentially?"

Kara Swisher: One of the things that I think she was trying to communicate to her daughter was that, you know, I was doing fact-based reporting, but I was definitely tough on companies in terms of a lot of the press coverage had been very positive, a bit of a fanboy, except for Microsoft, which got a lot of tough reporting. Most of the coverage of tech has been very positive in the early days and very laudatory of its very wealthy people. And so, I was doing that for a long time and developed a base of knowledge. I could see patterns. I could see themes start to emerge. And then I was covering Uber. I was like, I've got to say why this is wrong. You know what I mean? Like what was happening within the company.

Kara Swisher: I'd seen bits and pieces of it in lots of companies and had done stories like that. But here was a company that really was living probably some of the worst qualities of tech out loud, very proudly actually in a lot of weird ways. I decided to say, "This is wrong. This is not the way it should be. This is not the way a CEO should behave." And so, when I started AllThingsD, which was at The Wall Street Journal, I instructed my reporters to do reported analysis of what you were doing. You couldn't say something without having a lot of proof. And that's what they did. And so, I think readers really appreciated it because it was both informed by reporting, which is critically important. It wasn't just people mouthing off, which they do now I think.

Kara Swisher: And it was also, I have looked at all the evidence and this is what I'm telling you I think. Now, you don't have to believe me, but typically we're right and typically we have a point of view that's informed not just by reporting, but by experience. And I thought that was more valuable to the reader in terms of saying what's happening, why it's happening, and perhaps not what you should think about it, but this is my take on it. Take it or leave it essentially.

Brad Smith: One of the things you just noted is I think just incredibly interesting, and that's the ability to discern and describe patterns. You know, I think for so many people you get so engrossed in the details. You can examine every tree. It's hard to step back and see the forest. And your reporting, I think, has done a wonderful job over the years of capturing trees and then describing the forest. But let me build on that if I could. Think for a moment about the last few decades, because you were there for the '90s. You were there for the 2000s. You were there for the 2010s. When you think about the broad patterns, is there one thing that jumps out, a development or a technology or a person, that sort of captures for you what was most important about tech in each of those three decades?

Kara Swisher: Oh god, that's interesting. Obviously the first ones were about Microsoft, you know, and about power, what power could do if it was unfettered and unregulated. I'm not as big a fan of government regulation as you might imagine. But when there's none, I'm sort of like just a second. Like right now, Europe is essentially regulating everything. Why? That doesn't make any sense to me. The US companies should be regulated in some part by US government officials, which they declined to do on many occasions. I think Microsoft was the first one, the power of Microsoft, and the rise of the internet, AOL and Yahoo! and Amazon and Netscape and those companies, some of which survived, some of which didn't.

Kara Swisher: Some that hobble on today, but are still there. I think the second part was the rise of mobile and the apps and how important the iPhone especially was. I think a lot of people talk about different companies and stuff, but I think mobile was really the overarching theme of that time, especially the app store, and that changed a lot of things and gave rise to a lot of companies like Instagram and Uber. Everything was apps essentially. You had the rise of Google, the rise in the power of Google, and the continuing rise of Amazon obviously. And then Facebook entered the picture with its power, the social media power, Facebook, Twitter, and things like that. And it was the rise of shared economy, virtualization of everything.

Kara Swisher: I'm writing my memoir right now. I said to someone, everything that can be digitized will be digitized. I thought it was a really profound thought actually, which has guided my career. And so everything I think about is what can be digitized and how. And then the last part is about regulation. It's about the control of power and the mitigation of corruption and the fixing of some of the real mutations that have been bad. It's like mutating viruses, in some cases, with tech and the relationship between consumers and tech.

Brad Smith: What do you think the defining features of the rest of this decade will be? Will it be in part about the resurgence of regulation?

Kara Swisher: Yeah. Well, I think a lot of these businesses really do bang up against analog in lots of ways that they didn't. I think this pandemic has changed everything, in that it's accelerated existing trends that I had already been writing about. Years ago, when I first got to The [Wall Street] Journal in the '90s, I wrote a piece saying nobody will have a landline phone and here's the iterations. I meant more. And I had a picture of me wrapped in wires with scissors, big fake scissors. And I got so much shit for that piece. I was like, "You're going to have a mobile phone. It's going to be for everything. It's going to be like Star Trek. And that's what you're going to do. You're going to attach to them and they're going to be your communicator and your computer and your encyclopedia and your this and your that. And it's going to track you, which is disturbing on lots of levels." But I do think it's going to be about, as these things move into areas like transportation, healthcare, finance especially, because that's where governments like to play. I mean, the governments can't let this happen the same way with finance. They can't. That's how governments rule really, military and finance essentially. And so, I think it's going to be about government getting a hold of it. I think it's going to be about consumers maybe reacting to the bad parts of tech, and they already are. As much as they rely on them, they saw how the pandemic accelerated our dependence on these technologies. I think a lot of people are thinking hard about that, and impact on kids too probably.

Brad Smith: Kara, one of the things I think that's interesting about your career is, you know, you've seen all of this unfold. You've seen technology. You've seen power. You've seen companies, wealth, government, but you've also really had almost unfettered access to people.

Kara Swisher: Yes.

Brad Smith: I mean, I think that's actually what made you so successful in part with your early coverage of Yahoo! that you were talking about before. You saw Steve Case when he was a young upstart, Bill Gates when he was getting started.

Kara Swisher: He was pretty powerful at the time when I met him.

Brad Smith: What are the lessons you've learned about people, especially let's say people who last, who have sort of enduring impact and success?

Kara Swisher: Yeah. The things that endure with them, they're all different. Everyone's like, "How are they the same?" I guess I have to say persistence in the face of doubt, and at the same time, ability to pivot when things go wrong, right? To shift. And that—most people who have failed and left behind have been ones that have denied change. Even if they're powerful in their particular era, they didn't... Not that they didn't see it coming. Most of them see it coming. They just don't like it. I think people that have changed and adapted. Now, not everyone's able to adapt even if they see change coming. I see a lot of trouble ahead for Facebook, because where they're aiming, the metaverse, requires creativity, and I don't think it's a particularly creative company.

Kara Swisher: What's coming requires a little bit more Steve Jobs than Mark Zuckerberg, right? I could see Steve envisioning the metaverse for sure. And even though there's massive technological challenges, I think Mark sees that part before he sees it's got to capture people's imaginations in ways as you develop it. I think one of the things that's important is, you know, when I think of someone like Jeff Bezos is, I don't want to say meanness, but a real toughness, toughness with yourself and the people around. You've got to really push on through with your vision, even if it means sort of upsetting apple carts, and then a willingness to not necessarily play by the rules until the rules change.

Kara Swisher: Play within rules that exist. Right now, even though I think he is a terrible person on Twitter sometimes, Elon Musk. At one point, I was interviewing Elizabeth Warren recently and she was going on about The Billionaire Tax, et cetera. And he didn't pay his taxes and I said, "He did everything legally at this point. I don't know if you expect him to be Captain America. He doesn't have to be. The rules you make allow him to do this. Why are you yelling at him? Change the rules. You're the legislator." And then, of course, it was, "Well, it's hard." I'm like, "Well, too bad. I don't know what to tell you. Use the bully pulpit.

Kara Swisher: Use this, use that, but change the rules if you don't like the way it's happening with people, but don't expect him to be our better angel and say, 'Oh, I'll give over my money.'" So, you know, different qualities depending on who they are, but persistence in the face of challenges is really probably the best quality.

Brad Smith: I think part of what is so interesting about your assessment there is that in some ways, persistence and adaptability can be intention. You know, that's something I've lived through in some years or even decades at Microsoft. Do you persist with the strategy, or do you say, "Wait a second, we need a different strategy?" You know, in 2013, I think we would get up every morning at Microsoft and say, "We don't have a phone."

Kara Swisher: I like the Microsoft phone, Brad, by the way. It was just a little too late. I thought it was quite good actually.

Brad Smith: I think we were both too early and too late, but never quite right. It was all about envying the thing that we don't have. In 2014, when Satya Nadella became CEO, I think in many ways he looked around and said, "We are never going to succeed in having a phone."

Kara Swisher: Yeah, he's an adult.

Brad Smith: And then he said, "And we can succeed without one." And so for me, it's also this interesting aspect of knowing when to persist and knowing when to change.

Kara Swisher: Yeah, knowing who you are, knowing who you are.

Brad Smith: When you think about the people who have actually endured from say one decade to the next, do you think they've had that sort of moral compass or other center?

Kara Swisher: Well, I think it's important. I do. As you know, I have a particular point of view on that, but Satya's a really good example. He understood what Microsoft was. You know, like me, I'm never going to be a basketball player. Maybe I will. I actually just interviewed Maura Healey and she was five-four and was a professional basketball player. She had pure athletic talent obviously. I think that knowing what you are and what you're capable of is critically important. It requires you to be a bit of an adult. And in Silicon Valley, people would say, "Oh, you can do anything." I'm like, "You really can't. You could try." Everyone that's gotten hit has tried things that's not their strength. It doesn't mean you don't exercise and try different things.

Kara Swisher: Google's been a little like this, because they're just interested in everything. And therefore, they forget that search really is pretty much what they do. Like, if you look at the money, they've tried a million different things and it's all a hobby as far as I can tell. No. Cloud, obviously, it's been important, and AI. But those were forks off of their original talents, right? Little forks that become big businesses. I've always thought that, for example, Amazon should play more heavily in the finance sector, and Apple in the—Scott and I on Pivot call it the recurring revenue, bundle "the rundle." Who do you have trusted relationships with? Microsoft could now play there too in the longer term relationships with customers.

Kara Swisher: When you all went into media, I was worried for you. You know, I remember. But you were in there with cable. You were grabbing at everything right without looking at what you did well. I don't begrudge companies for doing that, but some of it is like, that's not going to happen. What's that expression from Mean Girls, you can't make fetch happen.

Brad Smith: Well, I do think one of the risks for people who succeed early on in the world of tech is they can fall into the trap of thinking that if they could do one thing well, they could do anything well.

Kara Swisher: Yes.

Brad Smith: And it's usually not the case. Perhaps that's the other thing. You need to combine persistence with adaptability, a sense of who you are and who you are not.

Kara Swisher: Right. Right. Who the heck are you? I remember saying something to Mark Zuckerberg when he did the Newark donation. Remember? He was going to save Newark schools. One of the things that offends me not about Gates, because I think he did it very thoughtfully and he hired the right people and not everybody thinks everything the Gates Foundation does is correct, but I thought he did it pretty thoughtfully and effectively in certain areas, not schools necessarily, but other areas in vaccines and things like that. I remember thinking, why are we taking your cue? I said, "When did you get your education degree, Mark? What do you know about education? I think locally and elected officials working through citizens should be deciding where all this money goes."

Kara Swisher: And so, I remember thinking, this is going to fail because he didn't undergird it with structure around it. Is this the real problem in Newark schools? Can you solve one school system and then iterate it? It just didn't seem very thoughtful. And so, they tend to do that. One of the things with the pandemic is all these instant venture capital experts on masking and medicine, some of them have gotten very educated, but some of them I just want to slap really hard. Not really. I never touch them. I think it's wrong to use hands over words, so I use words. It's been really interesting to watch the pandemic, VCs particularly with expertise. I call it Dr. Google. I always write, how's you doing, Dr. Google?

Kara Swisher: Very few have actually done the work. Some of them have and have good arguments that they're making, but most of them are just... But there's a lot of them that comment on media. There's a whole pack of them for a while starting their own media companies, and I was like, "Bonne chance, mon ami"

Brad Smith: Well, let's take that for a moment.

Kara Swisher: We don't make money and we're good at it. You know, good luck.

Brad Smith: The role of the media has changed over the last three decades.

Kara Swisher: Sure.

Brad Smith: Do you think it's better today than it was in the 1990s, or is it worse, or just different?

Kara Swisher: Better and worse, I think, in both ways. I think a lot in the '90s was very fanboy. Even with Steve Jobs, who I think deserved a lot of praise that he got, but you know, appearing on the cover of Fortune every year. Isn't he fabulous? What a fabulous guy he is. Fortune was particularly good at this. And by the way, there's lots of good journalists there, but the covers were sometimes ridiculous. They had a "Google can hang in the moon. Hang the moon, Google," right? And then Larry Page once called me and he goes, "They're doing another piece on us. They just did one last year that was really good and why are they doing that?" He actually called me. I was like, "Because they're going to hit you now.

Kara Swisher: The chaos at Google will be the cover line and it will be because a lot of people don't get you. You need an adult in the room. You need to hire someone. You're having an impact, but no one gets back to people." He was like, "Why would they say that?" I said, "Because I hear that complaints. I think you're sorting it out. I don't think it's that big a deal, but that's what it's going to be." And literally the cover was "Chaos at Google." And I said, "They're going to use the O in 'chaos' to have Google in the color." And they did that and he called me, he goes, "How did you know that?" And I'm like, "Come on." Same thing happened to Mary Meeker. She had a lot of very positive... "The Soothsayer of Wall Street," "The Queen of Wall Street," whatever, when she was knocking the stocks up.

Kara Swisher: She genuinely believed in these companies and she was on balance correct about everything, but sometimes a little enthusiastic. She just called me and she's like, "They're doing another cover." I'm like, "Don't pose for it." I don't usually give media advice to people, but I like Mary.

Brad Smith: I think you'd be good at it.

Kara Swisher: I would be. I was like, "Don't pose for it. They're going to catch you with a bad expression." She goes, "I'll smile the whole time." I'm like, "It doesn't matter. You're going to pause for a second." And there was a cover of her, it was some insulting story about her. It was unfair. But I think that the relationship has gotten strained. Everyone is getting a taste of what you all got. I think reporters felt bad about missing some of the social media stuff and then piled on a lot. I wrote a lot of this stuff early, like this is going to be trouble with social media. And then when it actually happened, I think they were possibly surprised by the power of these people.

Kara Swisher: It's not as even-handed as I was like sometimes, although I'm known as a pretty tough person, I can't believe I'm saying that, but it's true. I think there used to be a slightly more balanced look at the impact of tech good and bad, because a lot of it's good as you know.

Brad Smith: Have you experienced differences between the two coasts? I mean, one of the things that's interesting about your background, Kara, you grew up in the East Coast. You lived in the West Coast. Now you're on the East Coast. You go back and forth, you know, every day really by talking to people. Have you found different points of view between say the Northeast Corridor and Silicon Valley and just how people think about some of these things in the world?

Kara Swisher: There was. When I came here, it was a revelation. The East Coast, it was sort of stuck in itself. Very traditional. I hate the weather, by the way. So, I live there now, but I'm not going to live there for that long. But yeah, definitely. When I came here, the idea of, you can do anything, and the creativity was really quite pronounced. I think that's changed here and it's moving lots of different places. I think talent is being dispersed around the world. I've been impressed by what Satya has done. He's really transformed Microsoft in lots of ways. You don't have to be new and fresh and startupy to do incredible things. You don't. And so, yes, there was a difference. And even being here, I'm in San Francisco right now, there's a different feeling here. There just is. There's a more open-mindedness.

Brad Smith: Open-mindedness about what?

Kara Swisher: Well, everything. Like the food. I know it sounds crazy. The food, the conversations. Everyone in the East is so mired in politics. Well, here they are too, right, with the city, but it's different. There's still a lightness to the West Coast that doesn't exist on the East Coast, except in pockets. It's a little bit more about what can't be done versus what can be done. I think San Francisco's going to come roaring back, by the way. It's a great place to create. I feel more creative here. I don't know why that is. Maybe it's the weather. I don't know. But when I came, it certainly was an exciting moment in tech history.

Brad Smith: I do think it's interesting to look forward and think about sort of the West Coast as this center of technology, innovation and creativity, in particular, the Northeast as the center of government and the years now, forcing this coming together. I was talking with a European official a couple of weeks ago about the coming age of regulation and the comment that the person made was, "This will not be beautiful. It will not be beautiful because we waited too long."

Kara Swisher: That is correct.

Brad Smith: "And now we have to go fast to catch up."

Kara Swisher: Yeah, if they can.

Brad Smith: Yes, and I actually think then the question is, well, is there any opportunity to make it at least a little more beautiful? I think it's going to take people on both sides to understand each other and adapt.

Kara Swisher: Well, why should tech companies do anything now when the government doesn't have the teeth in this country, at least, to do anything? They can't pass very basic bills, Brad. It's really kind of astonishing. They can't agree on lunch. You've been there. They can't do a transparency bill. Some of these should be very light lifts. National privacy bills should not be that hard. The antitrust stuff, they're never going to catch up. I just interviewed Lina Khan, who's the head of the FTC. Very smart young woman. Biden has put in some very tough, interesting thinkers that maybe everyone in tech doesn't like, Tim Wu, Jonathan Kanter. I don't know how much they can do. Even Lina was like, "We're undergunned." She was doing that partly for PR, but I think she actually is undergunned.

Brad Smith: I think there's two things to think about though. One is I do think that change is coming in the United States. You're seeing Congress start to move. You're seeing committees like the Senate Judiciary Committee pass legislation by a vote of 20 to two. But the other thing that I think is interesting is, and this is I think something we often miss in the United States, tech is global. The products, the services are global. And if the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Australians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Indians, if they all go in one direction and the US stands still, there comes a point in time when the tech companies say, "Well, look, we just need to create one global service."

Brad Smith: Look at GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation. Yeah, I mean, in many ways, GDPR has come to the United States without privacy laws changing in the United States because it's just cheaper for a company to design its service in a global way. And so, I think that Americans often make the mistake, in my view, of focusing so much on Washington that they missed the fact that Washington maybe the last place.

Kara Swisher: That's right. I think so. That's why I say Europeans are defectively regulating the internet right now and from a government perspective, right? Or other countries, but Europeans, they just passed these two acts in Europe, the digital whatever acts, the names. You know them all.

Brad Smith: Yeah, Digital Markets Act.

Kara Swisher: Yeah, right. They're effectively governing the internet. And, by the way, I don't even think they are. You know who's governing the internet right now? Apple. Apple is the one that put the privacy stuff in place that took Facebook stock down by a rather significant amount. Apple is the regulator of privacy right now.

Brad Smith: Well, and I think that is in part this interesting question, and then you see people in different parts of the world look at it somewhat differently. In a world where at least half the world is led by democratic governments, what does it mean to have a small number of tech companies exercise this amount of influence or control without being subject to democratic measures, legislation laws, regulation, and the like? It goes back to the classic question you posed, which is maybe at the core of what then defines success or failure for technology leaders over time. Do you persist, or do you adapt? Or in this case I might say, do you resist, or do you adapt?

Kara Swisher: Well, look, Facebook now is in a real pickle because it can't buy anything really. That would be stopped, right? If they do anything too egregious, they're kind of hindered that way. I mean, look, they could point to TikTok now. They could point to a lot of competitors. They could point to their own stock. Amazon with the markets, there's a lot of really interesting competitors coming. That said, boy, does Amazon have a stranglehold. Even Apple, which is regulating Facebook, has their market issue. I think they'll self-regulate or submit to some rules. They're adapters. Like you, they're adults. There's adults in the internet, and then there's people who think they hung the moon, which they didn't.

Kara Swisher: Whenever I think of some of these people, even though they're trying to change this, I'm always like, you know, life is fatal. There's no way. No way you're going to manage to hold onto this for that long. But they are trying actually to change their healthspan. That's their word they use a lot. I think that they should stop doing it so cynically. I think you've been less cynical than other people. You're trying to do it for the whole group of them and do it as... Instead of like their persistent aggression, you know at Facebook, their first move is victimization. That's their thing, although I think Nick Clegg is trying his best now. I think actually it's looked a little better. I haven't gone, "Oh my Lord Jesus, what are they doing now?"

Kara Swisher: I'm like, okay, I see what he's doing. It seems reasonable, some of it. I think this Russia thing has been a real test for everybody, because it really does writ large exactly what a country can try to do. I don't think it's going to work for Russia honestly. Tech is like water. It's going to get in everywhere. No matter what you do, it's going to drip, drip, drip at your population, for good or bad. And then in this country, the radicalization of people is really quite significant and it's not just tech. It's Fox News. It's cable. Look at Russia. It's a whole population that's been Fox News'd because of the television, but the youth are not because they have the internet, in that case, which is kind of ironic.

Brad Smith: Well, in this world of constant change, I want to just close with what I'll call a lightning round, Kara. So, a few quick questions for you that sort of build on this. You have this wonderful worldview. If you could pick one era in history in which to live, what would it be?

Kara Swisher: Oh wow! That's a good one. Oh gosh, the future. I want to see how it all turns out.

Brad Smith: Well, you're an optimist then.

Kara Swisher: Oh, I have four children, Brad. I have to be.

Brad Smith: Absolutely.

Kara Swisher: It's got to be better for them. I guess if I had to pick in a past era, I would've liked to have met Da Vinci, I think.

Brad Smith: Interesting.

Kara Swisher: I think I might have liked to have met him. If not, Edison. The Gates and the Jobs were the Edisons and Fords of our day. Since I met those guys, I would meet Edison maybe because I heard he was kind of a jerk. I would've loved to have cover him in a real way.

Brad Smith: I often think about the comparisons between the last 30 or 40 years that you and I have discussed here and say the 30 or 40 years between say 1870 and 1900. The era...

Kara Swisher: Yeah, after Civil War.

Brad Smith: Because that was a similar era of profound technological innovation, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, huge industrialists that made their fortunes.

Kara Swisher: I would've liked to get a look at them for sure. I'm very interested in that. Of course, ended with a pandemic and then a world war, so let's hope that doesn't follow the same pattern.

Brad Smith: And the progressive era in regulation. All right, second question then, name one of your favorite heroes.

Kara Swisher: Oh, there are so many. You know, she just died, Madeleine Albright I always enjoyed talking to. I thought she had a very canny perspective on the world. People think I'm super liberal, but I actually like practical people. I sometimes think the left can be too tough on people. I don't believe in cancel culture, that bullshit but I think it's called accountability culture. But I thought she was a very practical, reasonable, democratically inclined person who lived the life that she lived gave her the perspective she had. I really liked her a lot. I enjoyed talking to her. God, heroes, who's been a hero of mine? Tech, that's hard. I have to tell you, be honest with you. I thought Steve Jobs was really interesting and not a personal hero, but I thought he was a really interesting, restless person.

Kara Swisher: I'm curious if he had lived what he would be like right now. I think he would've changed. He always had good instincts, you know, in terms of where it was going. Not always the nicest person, but you know what? I have a thing, Brad, I don't talk about it often, I'm going to write about it, which is a prick to productivity ratio. If you're a prick, but you're not productive, it's really no, you really can't be. But if you're prick and productive, I give you a lot more. I don't like people being prickish to people, but you know what I mean? He had some real impact on the world and I don't think it was all smoke and mirrors by any stretch. He had a vision of computing.

Brad Smith: Well, I laugh, Kara, because inside Microsoft, I sometimes talk about a pain to profitability ratio. In other words, some of the issues that give us the most pain, they're not even profitable.

Kara Swisher: Right. Yeah. What are we doing? Let's get out of this. Yeah, that's a smart...

Brad Smith: So, let me ask you one in final question. Go back to the day in 1985, the day that you graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism, my wife and I graduated from the Columbia Law School. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self with the benefit of everything you've seen and done and learned, what would it be?

Kara Swisher: I hate to say this, because people don't like women to be so confident, do exactly what you did. Be stronger about gay rights, which I was pretty strong, but I'm pretty good. I'm pretty good. Do exactly, have the same... Do not shave off one bit of edge ever. I was like this then Brad. I was a pain in the ass then, I'm a pain in the ass now.

Brad Smith: Well, I remember meeting you, Kara, when you were at The Washington Post in the 1990s and you're right, you were, but with a charming side as well, I have to say. Well, look, thank you for your time. I look forward to...

Kara Swisher: No problem. You're a good interviewer, Brad.

Brad Smith: Well, I listen to your podcast, Kara.

Kara Swisher: Oh good. You're quite good. I get interviewed by a lot of people and I'm always like, "Oh God, not that question," but you're an excellent interviewer.

Brad Smith: Well, thank you. I look forward to your memoir.

Kara Swisher: You're in it, Brad. You're in it.

Brad Smith: Uh-oh. Well, I don't look forward to it quite as much as before, but I will read everything.

Kara Swisher: No, you'll do okay. Some others will not do as well, but I'll tell you, I'm going to leave it on the field as they say, and then I'm going to go, "Bye. See you."

Brad Smith: Good for you, Kara. That's the advice you would've given to yourself in 1985.

Kara Swisher: Exactly.

Brad Smith: It's applicable now too.

Kara Swisher: Yeah. 100%.

Brad Smith: Well, it's a pleasure. Thank you.

Kara Swisher: Thank you so much, Brad.

Brad Smith: You've been listening to Tools and Weapons with me, Brad Smith. If you enjoyed today's show, please follow us wherever you like to listen. Tools and Weapons is produced by Corina Hernandez, Mark "Frosty" McNeill, and Jordan Rothlein, with production assistance from Emma Foley. Our executive producers are Carol Ann Brown and Aaron Thiese. This podcast was edited and mixed by Jenny Cataldo, with production support by Sam Kirkpatrick at Run Studios. Original music by Angular Wave Research. Tools and Weapons is a production of Microsoft, made in partnership with We Are Listen and A_DA.