Interview: Kara Swisher, Executive Editor, Recode

Kara Swisher, Executive Editor, Recode

As far as I can tell, Steve Jobs let only two people interview him on a stage that wasn’t Apple’s: Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Kara was also one of the first to call Jobs out when she thought he was bending the truth—like when he denied working on a phone, only to launch it the next year.

Watch Kara contemplate these interviews and you see one part admiration and respect, one part holding the power accountable.  

I’ve worked with Kara up close, from the other side of the table. She owns what she thinks she’s good at, and what she’s bad at. She’s human like the rest of us. She likes breaking the rules. She doesn’t mind pissing people off, but as you’ll see in this interview, there’s much more to it than that.  

There’s a reason she’s still at the center of tech after three decades. Kara’s not so different from the entrepreneurs she covers as a journalist. She’s disruptive. Confident. She pushes boundaries when it’s necessary. She drives change. Sound familiar?

She is on to the next thing before most of us have gotten comfortable with the first. If you listen to her show Recode Decode, the intimacy of audio will bring you much closer to Kara as a person. It doesn’t take long to realize both her critiques and praises come from a deep belief in the power and potential of Silicon Valley.

She regularly calls on phrases like, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t think it’s lost on Kara that this also applies to her as one of tech’s most prominent journalists.

We sat down a few weeks ago to talk about growing up, her dinner table conversations, diversity, leading teams, and of course, journalism. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. Podcast version coming soon.

The Early Years

David Swain: Who were you as a kid? 

Kara Swisher: A copy of my mother. I was pretty much the same obnoxious character when I was a kid. I was very outspoken. I was very forthright. I remember my mom told me, in fourth grade, I walked out of class and said, “I already know this. This is boring to me.” Oddly enough, they thought I was way smarter than other people when I was younger. Then everybody caught up to me in sixth grade, especially in math. I was good in math until I wasn’t. I didn’t stay a genius. I read very early. I was very articulate super-early. I read all the books in the library.

I was about the same (as a kid). I think it had to do with knowing I was gay. I was very confident as a woman. I think that had a relation to it, even though it wasn’t sexual at the time. I had an attitude of “I got this, no problem.”

My dad died when I was five. When that happens to you, it’s the worst thing in the world. Then you’re fine, even though you’re not. When you survive something that awful, very little is going to bother you the rest of your life.

Where did you grow up? Do you have siblings?

First Roslyn Harbor, New York, and we moved to Princeton, New Jersey after my dad died. Very similar towns. They were preppy, rich-people towns—suburban towns but nice suburban, not track housing. It was all very pretty. Then I went to private schools.

I have two brothers. I’m the middle child, but the only girl. That’s a benefit—I don’t have the middle child syndrome from being the only girl. Two years apart, great brothers, we get along great. One’s a doctor and one’s a lawyer.

When your dad passed away, did you and your brothers stay close?

We were a very tight group, very close. We got along. We’ve had the normal fights.

It wasn’t a traumatic upbringing except for our dad dying. Everything paled in comparison to that. My brother was older, so he was more affected. My little brother hardly remembers it, but obviously does. It didn’t occur to me until my child was five how big an impact it was. My son and I at five were really close to each other. He was very articulate at five. I don’t have memories, but I was badly devastated. It made me think when Sheryl Sandberg lost Dave Goldberg—I think one of her kids was five, and I just—I had a lot of memories after that.

I can’t even think about it with my kids. I watch videos from when they were three or four, and they were the same as they are now at nine and 10.

You know your kids well at five. At five, they’ve been around forever. It’s like, What are you still doing here? Why aren’t you in college?

Nature versus nurture—I think there’s a lot of nature in people, although I think there are changes, and shifts, and very severe things that candefer people’s dreams. I think a lot of people are the way they are when they’re born. My kids are like that.

I feel like you can see people for who they really are. From my side, you’ve always held people accountable while building trust and respect. That’s a hard balance.

Yeah, I think it’s hard. One of the things that we’ve always maintained, Walt Mossberg and I, and with Recode, is that smart people appreciate smart questions. When I started off, I was much snarkier, but I changed that quickly because it’s not a real conversation. If you’re having a real relationship, you don’t talk to people like that.

What we wanted to avoid was being super-friendly with these people because we’re not their friends. Even though they think I’m friendly, it doesn’t mean I’m their friend. Yet we want to listen to them if they have legitimate and substantive things to say. We want to have a conversation where if they say something stupid or inane, we’ll say, “That’s inane—what do you mean?” I think people like that. People find it special, but I don’t think it is.

The problem is there’s so much bad interviewing. It’s either obsequious or it’s mean. When you actually listen to somebody, you say, “Oh, that’s an interesting point of view” or “I didn’t know about that.” You just enter a conversation with curiosity, and sometimes you have a problem with them. I’ve had some tough interviews with Marc Andreessen, and about jobs and stuff like that, but he can keep up. I think they like it. I think they enjoy it.

What is the history of the red chair that you and Walt made famous?

It was a throwback to Silicon Valley’s early days. It looked like a spaceship, and it worked really well, so we kept it as a symbol.

Weirdly enough, it was not really that organized. Steelcase was one of our original sponsors, and they donated furniture, which is very expensive when you’re doing an event to save money. I wanted to keep everything else beautiful—the great drinks, and the cookies. It had to be a beautiful experience. You look for cost savings, so Steelcase was a sponsor and provided the furniture.

We liked the look and feel of Steelcase, and Steelcase is one of the premier furniture companies people use in Silicon Valley. They said, “Look at this red chair. Do you like it?” If you look at the original All Things Digital, they were just chairs. They were nice chairs, but they weren’t chairs you remember. I think the second year, they said, “What about these?” Then it was the red chair and the hot seat. It looked great. It was a throwback to Silicon Valley’s early days. It looked like a spaceship, and it worked really well, so we kept it as a symbol.

How’d you get into journalism? Did you study it in undergrad?

I did not. I was the editor of the high school yearbook, which was a position of great power, as you can imagine.

In college, I worked on the student newspaper. I didn’t like Georgetown, but did really well at the newspaper. I won a writing award my freshman year. Of course, since I’m an egomaniac, it got me interested. I won the award, so I had to be a journalist.

I worked for the Washington Post for a little bit my sophomore and junior year, and then went to Columbia Journalism School just a year after college. It was a stupid time to go, but I went.

Why journalism?

I like the response. I was going to be in the CIA. I was in the School of Foreign Service. I’m certainly not a diplomat—that would be a problem for me. I wanted to be an analyst for the CIA. That was my goal. I was gay, and that was a problem there in the ’80s. I know people say there wasn’t an issue, but there was. You couldn’t be gay. It was hard to be an out person then.

Things changed really rapidly in the ensuing years with AIDS and stuff like that. At the time, there were a lot of people in the closet. There were a lot of issues around gay people. There was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You remember it and you think, Are you fucking kidding me? They did that? Who thought of that?

It was a problem. I didn’t think I could serve in government as a gay person, honestly. Reporting is adjacent to analysis. I was super-interested in propaganda and the uses of media. That was one of my areas of study at Georgetown. I think my Columbia thesis—it wasn’t really a typical thesis, but I did a big paper on propaganda in China. I was interested in the use of propaganda in Nazi Germany. I was always interested in how people use media to manipulate.

It’s all come full circle this year.

Yeah, exactly. Now that I’m an expert, I know exactly what they’re up to. I actually do. Distraction, lies—a number of lies all at once, so you don’t know which ones—one of them has to be the truth, but none of them is, stuff like that. It’s interesting. It’s textbook Nazi behavior, the demonization of certain groups.

How do you pick the themes you cover?

When I first started, one of the things I covered was the internet. I loved the medium. A lot of journalists at the time hated it. They were like, “Ugh, this is a Ponzi scheme. This is CB radio. This is blah, blah, blah.” And I was a communications studies person. I really understood the transition between the telegraph, and radio, and television. I understood that better than other people, I think.

When I saw the internet, I grasped what it was immediately. I embraced it in all its forms, and I wanted to write about it. I wanted to operate in that medium. I think I got to it early because the penny dropped really early for me.

It does seem like you’ve always been a couple years ahead, even with the events you’ve run, and now with podcasts.

That’s why I would’ve been a good CIA analyst. I would’ve been Claire Danes with 100% less mental illness.

It was two or three years ago, yeah. Now I’m thinking about TV. I’m hot on TV. When I saw the internet, I really wanted to get out of newspapers immediately. I saw, Oh, this is the death of newspapers as we know them. Not media, but newspapers. I worked at the Washington Post, so I was very early in that. I was very early to mobile phones. I used the Washington Post suitcase phone. I used the giant phones they had, satellite phones. I was obsessed with that. It wasn’t because I was a Star Trek fan, because I really wasn’t. I’m not one of those people, but I really understood that mobile communication was going to be enormous early.

People made fun of me because I was always carrying around some sort of device that you would communicate with. I think in one of my first articles for The Journal back in 1995, or ’96 or ’97, there was a picture of me with big scissors—it was such a ridiculous picture—cutting wires, and it was called “Cutting the Cord.” Like, how you aren’t going to use a landline. I kept saying, “You’re not going to use the landline. Why would you be tethered to the wall?” It was a whole essay on this. “You’re going to have a mobile device. You’re going to wander around.” I was really pushy about that.

Then the same thing happened with a lot of these companies. Last year, I started to have a really uneasy feeling about sites, particularly Twitter and Facebook, about their responsibility and how they pretended they had none, or they pretended they weren’t powerful. I started really talking with their executives and publicly pillaring them about their lack of responsibility. This was a year before Trump or anything, or early in that period. Then, last January, I thought, This Russia thing is really important. This was a year ago. I thought, This is going to be a big deal. These people have responsibilities they aren’t taking. Now everybody’s talking about it.

Oh, and there’s the backlash that we shouldn’t be feeling bad about ourselves. We’re Galileo, or whatever the hell Sam Walton wrote the other day. I think I’m good at picking themes. I was interested in self-driving very early, thought it could have a significant impact on society. I think I’ve missed very few turns, mostly because I don’t say no to things when they start.

A lot of journalists, you know how they are. They say, “That’s not going to work.” But do they know? Do they have an idea? Have they asked people what they think? Have they thought about it significantly?

That’s why I would’ve been a good CIA analyst. I would’ve been Claire Danes with 100% less mental illness.

Given the challenges the media has faced over the last several years, if you were to go back, what would you be doing right now?

Still digital news. I got interested in podcasts two years ago. I don’t know why—I just thought they were interesting. I thought the mobile device had finally arrived. Sometimes you have an idea, and it’s not the right timing. I think a lot of early internet stuff was right directionally. The timing just wasn’t correct.

Now to me, when I saw a lot of this stuff—how I was using the phones—I thought, Oh, this is a great way to have an intimate relationship with our audience. It was also a link for our events. People wanted more of our events but couldn’t go, so I thought podcasts were a great way to deliver our events all year round. Then there were dozens of people I thought were interesting who never got to be heard from. I just didn’t want to type out an interview with them. People don’t engage very well with text in that form.

On Leading Others

What are you like as a boss? Talk about building your events, and building an editorial staff.

I’m pretty nice, actually. Surprisingly, I think I am.

What am I not good at? Sometimes I don’t assume people aren’t like me. I’m always like, “Let’s go!” People can be very conservative, and I’m not, in terms of—I don’t see a problem. I think I got infected a little bit by Silicon Valley, and so I’m always like, “Of course we can do this.” I always forget to think about why we can’t do it, or why an idea sucks.

I’m surprised by how many people still need direction. I don’t need direction, and I think I’ve been trying more and more to hire people who need help, but I don’t have to tell them what to do all the time. I think a lot of work cultures have been top-down, do these six tasks, and then come back to me when you’ve done them. I think really great managers don’t do that. If you’re not entrepreneurial in general, you’re not going to be a very good worker in the future. I try to hire people and push them out of their comfort zone. People have gotten better because I don’t baby them.

When I was a reporter, it was like, “Go do this story, and this is the way you’ll be doing it.” I’m very open to ideas. I think I’m good at that. I think I can let people do what they want, and they sometimes hang themselves. They don’t like that. They like direction. I’m not a very good boss in that regard.

How do you identify your areas for personal growth and stay engaged?

If I’m bored, I stop doing things. I will switch just like that. With my reporters, I don’t mind people leaving. If they don’t feel like they’re growing, they should go. That’s my feeling on everything. I started AllThingsD when I was in my 40s in 2002, so I was later in my career. I could’ve been the editor of the New York Times. I could’ve been the editor of the Washington Post. I could’ve gotten on that track or at least been in competition for those jobs. I just didn’t want to.

I remember looking around at the Washington Post and thinking, I don’t want to be anybody here. There’s not one job I want. I used to think that when I was in my 20s, and that was when I left. Same thing with The Journal. I thought, I don’t want to be here. I’m very good at identifying that. Same thing with AllThingsD—when it was over, it was over, and I was fine with going.

One of the things I think women in particular don’t do, is they don’t try to please themselves. I try to please myself. If I’m bored and I don’t like something, I shouldn’t be there. There are moments when I do that, when I sit around—I remember when I wanted to leave the Washington Post. I was walking out of my building, working on a book on AOL, and I walked out. It was a beautiful day in New York. I know just where I was. It was 47th and Park. It was right near the building there, the beautiful building in the middle of Park Avenue. It was the Pan Am Building at the time. I remember thinking, I’m leaving my job. I’ve got to go. That was the decision.

You just walked in and said you were leaving?

I just said, “I’m leaving.” I made the decision like that. It was like a bolt to the blue. Same thing with leaving The Journal. These people weren’t who we wanted. We didn’t like working with them. It was a fucking pain in the ass, it gave me a headache, and I was going to move on. Same thing with selling. When everybody got funded, we had just gotten funded, and then everyone got double-funded, triple-funded six months later. I was like, Nope, this is not the game I want to play. We’re real good at moving, really good. I’m thinking that now. I’m doing TV now. I’m just interested in it.

Wait, what’s coming with TV for you?

We’re working on a series of TV shows. You know I’m obsessed with the future of work, the impact it’s had on our politics, the worries and agonies over where job training is and education and how it’s affected politics. I was always a student of history, so the shift between farming and manufacturing was interesting to me, and now I think there’s going to be a shift. We’re in the middle of a major shift that’s really problematic. That’s why I go on and on about who’s reasonable for what’s happening on social media, on job automation, robotics, AI, infrastructure, job training, and self-driving. It’s all part of a really big societal shift that’s about to happen, or is happening.

When you push buttons on the issues you see in the industry, is it to bring awareness?

Yes. I’m not going to say who has called, but I get calls from a lot of CEOs asking, “Why do you keep doing this?” I tell them, “Because you need to think about it.” I know I affect them. I think when I wrote a lot of those Trump things when they went there—I didn’t know what they were doing, and I said, “This is so stupid.” I think no one said that to them. I think then they thought, Oh, maybe this is stupid. I think when I say things, they think, Oh, maybe she’s right. I think that’s my usefulness to Silicon Valley.

I’ve been using this Spider-Man thing: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I believe that.

You have as much power and influence as the people you’re interviewing, which is an interesting dynamic. And your ability to shift public perception is a real thing.

One of the great things about journalism is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I think I’m really good at the second one, not so good at the first one. I’d like to give a voice to people who don’t have voices, and for some reason, I don’t suffer the consequences. Maybe other people do. I think I, for some reason, seem to get away with a lot, by saying a lot that should be said.

I’m an irritant. If I’m irritating, I’m doing my job, essentially.

Having been on the other side of the table from you for many years, I think the integrity you bring is what matters, even if what you say is hard to hear at times.

Yes, because I’m not doing it for money. I think it’s really very clear. It really bugs me. Like the Marissa Mayer stuff. She’s not any good. Why are we all pretending she’s good? Same thing with Twitter, or whatever the company is. What are you talking about? Stupid things like Juicero. We did a thing like, “What the hell are you doing? This is insane.” If it’s a dumb thing, who cares if the company rises or falls? I don’t care if these things lose money. I don’t honestly care.

What I do care about are the things that matter. I had a great meeting with Chris Cox (Facebook’s Chief Product Officer) recently. It was about the platform, and we had a really great discussion. I think I moved him to think harder. Since he’s in charge of the platform, good—I’m glad he’s thinking about it. He may not do anything. It may have just been lip service, but I don’t think so. It goes back to the idea that smart people want smart discussions.

I think it’s hard for these Silicon Valley people to understand their power. I sometimes think they’re lying. Are you kidding me? You don’t know you’re powerful? They say, “Well, I’m just one person.” I think, You’re a billionaire. You have a company that talks to billions of people every day. You have a responsibility to think about the platform and not pretend it isn’t influential. I’m not sure why they pretend, though. It’s odd. They should at least just own their power. I’d rather be an arrogant son of a bitch any day. I’d rather be a Larry Ellison any day of the week because he doesn’t pretend.

Finding Balance in a News Environment

Few things are more always on than journalism. How do you stay centered?

I have my schedule in my control. One of the things I do a lot—and I think people should do, and they don’t—is assess my abilities. I’m really good at knowing my abilities. I was a bad employee. I didn’t like my bosses. I didn’t want to talk to them. I thought a lot of them were stupid. I thought, I can’t keep calling people stupid. That’s not really a strategy for getting ahead. I just didn’t want to talk to them, and I didn’t want them to have any power over me.

I thought, How can I design a career where I don’t have to talk to them?I’ll be a boss. I’ll be in a position where my leverage is much stronger.

I think about leverage all the time. When I don’t have leverage, I leave. I don’t want to have to use it. It’s not like I’m this ridiculous Game of Thrones or House of Cards type, but I definitely think really hard. I am not good in a group situation, so let’s not put me there.

Same thing with this year—I get asked to do a lot of things. People want me to come and appear and talk, or people want to meet me all the time, which is really interesting. I’ve been saying no a lot more.

I’m not like her, but Oprah Winfrey talked about this years ago. I just thought of it recently. She said when she goes through airports, everybody wants to hug her. She started it. She hugged everybody. Then she said it takes psychic energy out of her to hug everyone, so she stopped. Now she says she has a cold or something like that.

On a small, very tiny level, I always want to say yes to people, especially women, if they want to meet me, because I like entrepreneurs. I like to help people. I like to give them a little bit of a leg up.

Just recently, I’ve been limiting what I say yes to, even though I say yes to a lot of things. I have to think really hard about what takes from me because I don’t have endless time.

When you get bored, you mentioned you’re pretty good at recognizing it and shifting. What are your techniques for staying motivated?

I sleep. I take time out. But I do recognize I have responsibilities. This morning, I thought, I cannot take a nap until Tuesday at 4 p.m. I woke up super-early this morning because I had CNBC, and I like to take naps. I thought, I’m not going to be able to really have a good night’s sleep for four nights. I’m just not. My kids are here, so they take priority. I was just prepping myself for a week where I’m going to be tired. Then I try to fit in exercise so I can do that. I spend a lot more time on exercise: SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp. I go running, and I do yoga. I get bored, so I do different things.

I’ve been not eating meat lately. This is the problem: I love meat. It’s really interesting, only because the person I’m dating is younger, so I think about dying more(laughing). Four weeks now without meat—it’s great. I feel good.

There’s a great book called How Not to Die. Have you read it?

I read it. You go to Berkeley any day of the week, or San Francisco, and they yammer at you about their veganism. I think, Shut the fuck up. Just stop judging people. Just do it yourself. There’s nothing worse than people being 100% right and 100% annoying. Not every vegan is annoying. I don’t need your fucking lecture, but you’re right. When I read How Not to Die, and then I read the China study, it was pretty convincing.

It’s science. I’ve already been down that road because of Michael Pollen—eat plants, not too much meat. He’s just right. From a scientific point of view, it’s like, Eh, you may have a point. It’s like a lot of things. Smoking is bad for you. I guess you should stop. That’s what it reminds me of.

We’ve been doing a lot at Recode around the Impossible Burger and a lot of this stuff. I’ve just been personally interested in all these tech people investing in “not die” stuff because I’m happy with dying—you have to be. Their longevity stuff interests me, largely because it’s mostly male. Men can’t stand the idea of dying.

Anyway, just some interest in the topic, and I started reading up. When you start reading, it’s pretty hard not to—I would eat more fish, but it’s filthy. That’s one of the problems, that some of our ecosystem is so polluted.  

Gender, Diversity, and Parenthood

You talked about the issues around becoming a CIA analyst as a gay woman early in your career. You’ve seen gender and diversity issues up close in your role as a journalist. Where have you seen progress, and where are things lagging behind?

Well, I can fairly say people still hate women. Women still get the short end of every single stick. I hate to use that term, but it’s true. I think that misogyny is at the heart of almost every problem in this world. Misogyny is anti-gay too. It’s on the same avenue. It’s structural, it’s systemic, and it ranges from the small to, “You should smile more, Kara.” I get that a lot. I think, Fuck you, I don’t want to smile. Why should I? Why should I have to add that tax to my day? If I feel like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t, then I won’t.

It’s everything from, “You look pretty today,” to staring at someone’s boobs. It just goes down the lane. Not everyone’s down in rape territory. There are only a few assholes down there, but boy, there are plenty of people in the middle—and there are tons closer to the stupid remarks, or deferring people’s dreams, really not giving people a chance based on ideas because they are pattern-matching people who are like them, not taking the time to really pick their head up off the table, look around, and say, “Why is everybody here a white man?”

I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it every day. Could it be that only white men are smart? That must be it. Why would you ever come to that? If you’re a scientific person, you could never come to that conclusion easily. You just couldn’t. Then you would be willfully ignorant of the issues. I think some of these issues are ingrained.

I think I have had an easier time, in a weird way, being a lesbian because men can get along with me better. Men want to get along with women. There’s a sexual element, I guess. I think about that a lot. They think I’m a guy. I’ve had guys in Silicon Valley say, “Oh, what do you think of her?” It happened the other day. I thought, I’m not going there with you.Still a woman, still don’t like being objectified. I don’t want you to objectify other women.

Being gay has changed, for sure. People have an easier time—not completely, obviously—but it’s because gay people demanded it. They got angry. They took action. They changed laws. I think the misogyny part’s going to take a lot longer, and I’m not surprised by any of this stuff coming out.

Every woman has a story. Every man who’s good doesn’t know about it. That’s what the problem is. Really good men are not as engaged as they need to be on the topic, mostly out of ignorance. They say, “What? I didn’t know.” Well, why didn’t women tell you? Why didn’t you ask? There are two sides to that equation.

Then you don’t want to get into being the sex police. You don’t want to get down in that area. So what if we are for a little while? I’m good with it. If it clears things up and scares some people, it makes people think.

Do you see it being held up in certain pockets of the Valley, or is it much more broad?

I think the problem is these real abusers—because I think they’re just fucked up people. You get the ones who are serious abusers and really have a problem. That’s just an illness like any other mental illness, essentially. I don’t excuse them for it. Even with an illness—they’re just malevolent people.

The people in the middle—that is where you find things. Women don’t get the chance. You don’t think of them. Your staff, your whole staff—again, I don’t know how you could look around a room full of the same people and wonder if you’re doing your very best to find the greatest diversity of thought. To me, great diversity of thought is what makes any successful enterprise. I’m not talking about gender—just people with different backgrounds.

You want people to make you feel uncomfortable. The other day, someone on my staff was talking, and I thought, Fuck you. Then I was like, “Actually, I’m sorry. Someone today was annoying me.” I thought, Okay, they have a point.

What about you as a parent?

I’m a good parent. I’m a great parent (laughing). I think I am. People aren’t supposed to compliment themselves, but I have really nice kids. I talk to them. They share a lot. We encourage them to share a lot. I think they’re smart. I think they challenge things. They’re really irritating to me a lot of the time now because they’re super-smart. The other day, we were having this really fascinating discussion about AIDS. They had been reading about it and had questions and thoughts. I’m super-proud of them because they were trying to sort it out: “Did this happen? What was it like?” They’re very inquisitive.

I think I let them express themselves. I’m stricter than you’d imagine about certain things—in terms of their behavior, especially toward women. We’re very strict about that. I think lesbians make the best parents, but that’s just me. I think we spend a lot of time on their attitude, and I want to make them aware of their privilege.

I don’t want to guilt them. I always joke, men have this thing—they’re always “great.” It’s really fascinating. It takes a lot to knock a man down. Certain men are very insecure. The ones who aren’t, they’re “great.”

I question my sons’ capabilities at the same time. When they’re good, I point it out. When they’re bad—the same.

What’s your dinner table like?

Last night, we had talks about everything. They were showing me stuff I didn’t know about new social networks for kids. Everybody takes pictures of themselves in bubble baths. It’s called Yellow. I was like, “What?”

We talk about politics. We talk about history. I spend a lot of time with my kids learning history because it’s critical. We talk about music. I demand they put down their phones. They’re still on their phones too much. I’ve gotten really good about that, about putting down the phones.

How old were they when they got phones?

Early, 10 years old. Look, it’s like restricting a car. “You can’t drive the car, son. You’ve got to take the horse.” It’s kind of stupid. It’s good because I know what they’re using better than they do. If I have a problem with Snapchat, I can call up Evan Spiegel or Kevin Systrom at Instagram. My kids love Instagram, actually.

Let’s switch from parenting to Silicon Valley.

This is the last thing on that. I do point out when things are good, when people do good things here in Silicon Valley. I’m not always out to say they’re evil, although some of them are.

The reason I am so hard on this is because I am so astonished by the innovation behind what’s happened in the last 20 years. I think people would be surprised by how important I think it is.

In the last of couple years, it’s become dangerous. The people who are in charge of it are not doing enough to understand that. It’s almost like nuclear fission. Oh, there’s a bomb. Oh, there’s endless energy. Yes, there’s a bomb. You’ve got to think hard.

I think they love their money so much it makes me nervous. They’re so interested in their wealth, and they just fob. Since I knew them before they were wealthy, I wonder, why did they get so intelligent about the human race that they get to decide? Maybe that’s history. People who have power and money get to decide those things. I knew them before they were like that, so I’m not clear on why their attitudes andopinions are any better than a coal miner’s in Kentucky.

Watch Kara and Walt reflect on their interviews with Steve Jobs. 

About The Author

David Swain

David Swain is the founder of Common Threads Media. Swain was the head of communications at Instagram and director of technology communications at Facebook. He is an advisory board member of Strava.

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