Facebook has nearly 3 billion users, which means changes to its business affect nearly half the planet. Its ambitions have often manifested in chaotic, unpredictable ways and had profound societal impacts for years after they’ve been implemented. So when the company decided to rebrand to Meta and funnel billions of dollars toward building its own virtual alternate reality, the move was bound to come with some big consequences—not least for Meta itself.
This week on Gadget Lab, we’re joined by Shirin Ghaffary from Recode and Alex Heath from The Verge. The new season of their podcast, Land of the Giants, is all about Facebook’s transformation into Meta and what it means for the billions of people on Facebook, and in the world at large.
Shirin recommends the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Alex recommends the show The Bear on Hulu. Lauren recommends Taylor Blake’s TikTok channel and the viral videos of her emu, Emmanuel. Mike recommends the book Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand, by John Markoff.
Shirin Ghaffary can be found on Twitter @shiringhaffary. Alex Heath is @alexeheath. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
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Michael Calore: Lauren.
Lauren Goode: Mike.
Michael Calore: Lauren, how come you never like any of my posts on Facebook?
Lauren Goode: Because I try to stay off Facebook as much as possible.
Michael Calore: What about Instagram and WhatsApp?
Lauren Goode: Right, therein lies the rub. I do use Instagram quite a bit. Sometimes I even message you on Instagram, or send you cat photos or other weird memes. I do use WhatsApp, particularly with friends who live outside of the US. Sometimes I even use the Oculus headset at night, like a real nerd.
Michael Calore: Wow.
Lauren Goode: What about you? How much time do you spend on Facebook these days?
Michael Calore: I used to spend hours on Instagram, but I set up a notification on my phone to turn it off after 15 minutes, every day.
Lauren Goode: And you actually heed that.
Michael Calore: Yes, I ring the bell every day.
Lauren Goode: Really?
Michael Calore: Yes.
Lauren Goode: You don’t just like swipe it away and you’re like, “Oh no, I really got to go back to that cat content that Lauren sent me”?
Michael Calore: No, it literally turns it off.
Lauren Goode: Oh, wow. All right, this is impressive. Do you think that all of us should be, I don’t know, taking a step back from Facebook these days?
Michael Calore: That’s a personal choice, but it’s one that we should ask our guests.
Lauren Goode: Let’s talk about it.
[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
Michael Calore: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore, I’m a senior editor at WIRED.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, I’m a senior writer at WIRED.
Michael Calore: And this week, we are joined by Shirin Ghaffary, a senior correspondent at Recode, and Alex Heath, deputy editor at The Verge. Welcome, both of you.
Alex Heath: Hi.
Shirin Ghaffary: Thanks for having us.
Alex Heath: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Michael Calore: Now you two are the cohosts of the new season of the podcast Land of the Giants. The show covers a different company every season. Past seasons have looked at pivotal moments in the histories of Netflix, Amazon, and Apple, among others. Season 6, which premiered last week, is about Facebook’s messy growth from a tiny startup, and its transformation into the giant company we now call Meta.
So Facebook is a huge topic, and the company’s history is peppered with controversy. But on the first episode of Land of the Giants, you decided to go all the way back to the birth of the News Feed. Why did you start there?
Shirin Ghaffary: Well, I think the News Feed is the genesis of Facebook’s really viral success, in terms of being the de facto way people are sharing information with each other about their personal lives and the world. But it’s also the genesis of a lot of the problems that they’re still going through today. So we decided to go back to that moment. We actually talked to one of the key product managers on the News Feed itself—I think one of the many hidden figures who helped shape the company—and looking back now all these years, what has she learned? And what went well? What went wrong?
Alex Heath: And Facebook’s no stranger to controversy, and they elicit a lot of strong emotions, even to this day. And we thought it was interesting to go back to this first, really big product announcement they did, which was the News Feed, and kind of tell the story of how there were literal physical protests because of this thing. And it was a real scandal, and it was one of the first times Mark Zuckerberg had to deal with backlash like this, which is also very instructive of the many times he would have to do that going on from that period.
Lauren Goode: Right. You mentioned how that product manager, Ruchi, was actually the target of some harassment after changes were made to the News Feed as well.
Alex Heath: Yeah. They had to get security guards for the first time in the office after the News Feed came out.
Lauren Goode: It’s wild.
Shirin Ghaffary: Yeah. There was a Facebook group called “Ruchi is the Devil.” It was intense.
Michael Calore: Oh, I don’t mean to laugh.
Lauren Goode: So you also talk about how Myspace was the biggest social network around the time that Facebook started, so like circa 2004, 2005. And you say that until Facebook did the News Feed, no other social network really had that. I kind of remember, I don’t know, I have to reach back into my memory here, but I remember Myspace having sort of like a feed of some sorts. I don’t know, eventually it just got so cluttered with like spam and glitter, and I don’t know what the hell else was on there, that maybe that’s not really what it was.
But you talk about how Facebook intentionally moved away from this idea of browsing for things, actively searching for things, into something that just appeared in a timeline. How did that fundamentally change the way we do social? Talk about the details of that.
Alex Heath: Oh, gosh. I mean, in so many ways, right? It’s really probably the most significant product contribution, for better or worse, that Facebook’s had for the rest of the tech industry. You can’t use any social app these days, really, without a feed that ranks based on some kind of engagement metric, and really Facebook invented that model. And, yeah, there were very rudimentary feeds at the time, but you know, they really invented the concept of a social feed, and you have to give them credit for that, again, for better or worse. People have strong feelings about it, obviously, and kind of what the impact of it has been.
But you could argue that it’s just complicated, because as we say in the episode, even as there were protests and one of the largest Facebook groups protesting News Feed was calling the lead PM Ruchi the devil, they were watching user activity and user behavior just love the thing, and they couldn’t stop using it. And the actual hatred of the News Feed was spreading—because of the News Feed. So it’s this interesting, also, just information accelerant that started in a really formative period for the company, and really the internet at large. And we’re still kind of living in the ramifications of that.
Shirin Ghaffary: Right. And to explain some of the backlash, initially it was a huge changing of the norms of privacy online about what we’re comfortable sharing, and being passively shared with other people, with our friends, or strangers on the internet. And so in the case of all these hate groups that popped up after the launch of the News Feed, they were protesting this idea that if I break up with my significant other in college, I’m making that change in my profile, and then it’s being broadcast to my friends. People didn’t realize that kind of information would be, without kind of their explicit notification, put out there on a megaphone to the world.
And so that’s why you have this strong, strong reaction, but also it marks the beginning of a new norm. Now it’s really not that controversial to know that when you post something online or when you change something on a public profile, that it will be shared.
Michael Calore: I think it was an important lesson for Facebook, that the backlash of the News Feed didn’t really matter because it resulted in this huge increase in engagement. And it seems like it’s a lesson that informed Facebook’s product decision-making going forward. You can really push things on your users and you can really upset your users but still see big gains come out of it. And I think that’s a lesson that not only informed what Facebook did, but, as you said, what other companies in Silicon Valley started to do immediately after.
Alex Heath: Yeah, absolutely. It’s this metrics-driven, growth-obsessed culture that Facebook pioneered really on behalf of Silicon Valley in the early 2010s that now has been kind of the playbook that any consumer internet company uses or startup uses. In terms of the conversation of like, “we’re going to bench the success of the business based on something like daily active users,” this was really a thing Facebook came up with.
Shirin Ghaffary: I mean, I will say there were no consequences, really, for Facebook in the long term for this. Most people kind of came to terms with it, that this was the way social media and tech were going. And that, ultimately, maybe Facebook knew us better than we know ourselves.
Lauren Goode: We hear a lot from a young Mark Zuckerberg in the first couple of episodes of this series—what was Zuck like back then?
Alex Heath: I love looking at the tape of Zuck back then because it’s like the flip-flop era, that’s the era where he had “I’m CEO Bitch” on his business card. I don’t know, can you curse on the show? And it was before he had to become this statesman and this political figure and this international, I mean, really, like superstar in terms of fame that I don’t think any other tech founder has still to this day. And we talk when we talk to Ruchi and other people who were there early on, you really do get the sense that they all had no idea how big this thing would become, which is like the classic Silicon Valley refrain. But I think with Facebook, it’s absolutely spot-on.
Shirin Ghaffary: And he also has this attitude, even though he’s incredibly young, it’s not clear Facebook’s going to be a long-term success or not at this point, it’s still, it’s kind of a startup. He has this kind of authoritative, know-it-all tone in this blog post that he writes, where he tells people something like, “Calm down, breathe, relax,” if I'm remembering right. And it’s just sort of pedantic and like, “Listen, guys, I know you’re all upset, but it’s going to be OK. This News Feed thing is going to work out. You can change your privacy settings. Here’s how you do it.”
Almost putting the blame and responsibility on the user for not knowing how to navigate this system he’s created. And so I do think you see these early signs of character that we see again and again in later kinds of scandals, including Russian misinformation and Cambridge Analytica, and his initial reaction is sort of to minimize a problem, and then once he realized how serious it was, he actually writes another post and is a little, I think, more humble in his acknowledgement of the problem, the second time around.
Lauren Goode: It’s so true. It’s like, if that era of Silicon Valley and our consumer tech experiences was defined by “move fast and break things,” which we will get to, it was also partly defined by the saying, “You’re holding it wrong.” There was a lot of onus put on users at the time, when things weren’t working or our privacy was being, I don’t know, disrupted, interrupted, when our phones wouldn’t work, whatever it was. That was the famous thing with Apple that they would say, “You’re holding it wrong. It’s on you.”
Michael Calore: All right, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back with more Meta talk.
Michael Calore: Welcome back. We are here with Shirin Ghaffary from Recode and Alex Heath of The Verge. So episode 2 of Land of the Giants dropped this week, and it became pretty apparent to me listening that you got a lot of key people to talk. You got Ruchi, Schrep, Stamos, Pincus. In the case of ex-Facebook employees, I’m curious, how eager were people to talk? It seems as though the company’s culture is not that secretive, or am I missing something?
Shirin Ghaffary: I think it’s shifted a lot. I think it certainly—there was an era of tech journalism where it was, really, not a lot of people leaked about Facebook. And there was this transparency, much like Google, this real trust that, “Whatever drama we have stays within the company, and we are going to have these all-hands and Q&As that are open where people are challenging executives, but we’re not going to leak that to the outside world.”
I think that’s obviously changed a lot. I think the Haugen leaks were a big notable shift in that mindset at the company. But even before that, there are moments that we analyze in the series, where you see these tensions starting to crack and spill open into the public—I think really starting with the 2016 elections.
Alex Heath: And getting people to talk about the early days is obviously different than getting them to talk about the here and now. So, yeah, we got a lot of access and we talk to a lot of formers, too. And Facebook has this kind of unusual culture now post-Trump of a lot of senior people who have come out now that they’ve left and are very upset about how the company did things and have regrets. Not everyone is that way. We actually were very intentional about trying to find people who have nuanced views of these issues and don’t see it as just Facebook is bad, or Facebook is good. And I think we did a good job of that, and I hope listeners of the series feel that way. But, yeah, people have very strong feelings about the company, especially people who work there.
Lauren Goode: This episode, in particular, you cover Facebook’s rapid growth, and the company’s now very infamous motto, “move fast and break things.” So this was like a big bet to become this platform for developers, and in essence become a social graph for the entire web. Was this the right move? I mean, not only from a business perspective, but from the perspective of how it has impacted society, how has that turned out?
Alex Heath: I mean, I think it’s up in the air whether it was a good move. I think after doing the episode, probably not. I think there were parts of this era that worked well for Facebook. For example, the login with Facebook still exists today. They got their tentacles in a lot of the open web at a critical time that allowed them to hoover up a lot of important data that made their ad targeting very valuable, even to this day. Had they stayed a walled garden with no developer activity through the early 2010s, maybe they wouldn’t be as powerful as they are today. But, again, that whole era is kind of over now, and it failed spectacularly with the scandal of Cambridge Analytica, and when people realized kind of how they just let data flow off the platform in an unaudited way.
So if they could go back, I bet they would do things a lot differently. Really, it’s also a lesson of platform shifts, which we talk about later in the season. And I’m sure we’ll talk about it, but mobile was happening at this time and they were a little distracted, thinking they were going to be their own platform on the open web, and it turns out that Steve Jobs’ view of where things were going happened to be the more accurate one. And so they kind of got regulated to being just an app when, for a brief moment in time, they were the kingmaker with companies like Zynga and FarmVille.
Shirin Ghaffary: I think there’s two parts to the question of did Facebook make the right move of being the social graph of the internet? And I think in terms of how Facebook looks at it, at least, internally, with having their users all be connected to each other and having all these friendships and families and connections happening on their platform, I think they would view it as a huge success. Whether society does or not I think is a question that is still being answered, and that’s still being written. Now in terms of, were they right to open up their platform to other people like the makers of Cambridge Analytica making a quiz on their platform? I think even they would say, “No,” that was the wrong decision. It led to probably their biggest scandal to ever hit them.
And not only that, it just wasn’t really working financially for them either, as we get into in episode 2. But I think the question about, “ultimately, would we have been better off if Facebook never had a News Feed?” is a really interesting one to pose. And I think it’s really a subjective answer based on your personal experience with social media and how responsible you think it is for the ills that are happening in this world.
Michael Calore: Well, one thing that I can sort of sniff coming in the rest of the season is this race to catch up on mobile because Facebook famously slept on the mobile revolution in a big way. But their big swing there was the acquisition of Instagram. If you could, talk us through the reasoning behind that acquisition. Why would Facebook go after Instagram? And what are the results that the company saw from it?
Lauren Goode: Do you mean BRBN?
Michael Calore: Yes. BRBN.
Lauren Goode: BRBN.
Michael Calore: B-R-B-N.
Shirin Ghaffary: I mean, I think as Alex was saying, Facebook, it felt like it had missed the big shift to mobile. The iPhone was out there and people were developing these new apps, and this is a chance for Zuck to catch up, and to lay his stake out in the mobile market. As we all know, there’s an argument that it was anticompetitive, and that’s something that’s being litigated right now. But just from a purely business perspective as well here, it makes total sense that if the company’s already feeling insecure about its progress on the next major technological shift they would want to acquire a company that’s at the forefront of that.
And it was one of the best bets they made. People at that time, we talk about, thought it was so crazy to spend a billion dollars on a mobile app. I think that was the record at that time for the cost of mobile app. But, I mean, it was absolutely critical to Facebook’s success.
Alex Heath: Zuck I think made what will go down as maybe the top two, three best tech acquisitions of all time. And at the time—we opened that episode with John Stewart calling it ridiculous on The Daily Show. People thought [Zuck] was crazy for doing this. And it’s interesting, looking back and now looking ahead, if you thought he was crazy, then you may think he’s crazy now again with this metaverse bet. And it’s kind of like how many more of these amazing bets does he have up his sleeve? Does he still have it? Does he still have that kind of foresight that he had with Instagram?
I think the judgment on whether Oculus is going to go down as one of the best tech acquisitions of all time is still very much up in the air. I bet he thinks so. But, yeah, certainly Instagram and WhatsApp. There’s no question that Facebook would be in a much weaker position, in its core business today, had it not bought those two apps.
Lauren Goode: And so Oculus is no longer Oculus, right? I mean, that is Meta now, too.
Alex Heath: Yep.
Lauren Goode: So we should talk about the pivot to Meta. Why? Why did Facebook do this?
Alex Heath: It’s a good question. To be perfectly honest, we are still putting the finishing touches on our finale that talks about this. So this is a good—
Lauren Goode: Give us a sneak peek here, something only our listeners will hear if they come to Gadget Lab.
Alex Heath: Shirin, thoughts? I mean, I have some thoughts, but I’m curious to hear you first.
Shirin Ghaffary: I mean, look, I think there’s so much baggage associated with the Facebook brand. I cohosted the Google season at Land of the Giants, as well. And Google is as big, bigger of a giant than Facebook, but it doesn’t, I think, receive nearly as much of the heat. And I think that whether or not people buy it, there’s a real value in Facebook from a purely, just kind of, reputational perspective, trying to put a new spin on things, trying to have a new face, a new name, a new brand. It fits nicely with this interest Zuckerberg has had for a while in VR and AR, but it really, to me, is …
There’s immense value. It’s very apparent. We kind of did a deep dive, even in the episode 1, into the announcement of the rebrand. And you can kind of even just hear it in Zuck’s voice that he’s sort of over talking about Facebook all the time, that it’s bogging him down. I mean, he’s a coder. He wants to go build the shining new tool. He doesn’t want to be sitting there trying to woo over politicians on both side of the aisle to not break up his app. That’s not fun for him. So I think this is a chance for him to do something that he’s actually excited about.
Alex Heath: I think that’s a huge part of it. I think there is also a … I interviewed him when he announced the rebrand, and he was telling me there’s a logic, too, of just, they have a lot of apps and brands now, and Instagram is arguably more relevant than Facebook. Definitely, will probably make more money soon on like a yearly ad revenue basis than core Facebook. There’s WhatsApp, which is barely associated with the Facebook brand in its core markets: India, South America, outside of the US. And it made sense in his mind to have an umbrella company.
And I would point to this recent announcement they made where there’s Meta accounts now that are these kind of umbrella accounts that you can then opt to connect to your Facebook or your Instagram or your Horizon profile, which is this Roblox-meets-Fortnite version of Facebook for VR, and soon to be mobile and web that’s coming out later this year. So it’s really just recognizing kind of also the expansion that they’ve done as a company and as a brand. And they’re a hardware player now.
He’s thinking ahead. And when you think about putting AR glasses on your face with facial recognition, eye tracking, other kinds of sensors, you don’t necessarily want to be selling that as the Facebook glasses. You kind of want a clean slate. If you’re going to be putting stuff on the body, it’s probably best to move on from that brand.
Lauren Goode: What’s the future of our Facebook/Meta experience? Because, right now, Facebook has a way into our lives through a lot of different apps, whether it’s the Big Blue or WhatsApp or Instagram, et cetera. But is the future just going to be we’re all living in this metaverse?
Alex Heath: Well, we haven’t really talked about this yet, but a big thing we get at in the episode is actually how feeds are evolving, thanks to TikTok. And so I think in the near-term what’s going to happen is that … if the original early developer platform era of Facebook Zuck got wrong, in hindsight—that user data powering all this stuff was the wrong way to do it, and that people didn’t want that. There’s an interesting thing happening now where he thinks TikTok has proven that people don’t necessarily care if what they’re seeing in their feeds is from friends and pages and accounts they follow; they want AI and algorithms to recommend interesting stuff for them.
And so what’s happening, it’s a little fresher, it’s underway right now, and they really, I think as a company, don’t have like a kind of top-level aligned story on this yet—but they will have to soon—is that they’re moving Facebook, the feed, Instagram already, into this future where it’s not based on your social graph. And that was the core thing that Facebook pioneered was like, “We’re just going to show you what you followed. And if you don’t like it, it’s because you followed the wrong accounts.” And now they’re going the opposite direction.
We have this interview with Nick Clegg, and it was one of the more interesting things that someone said to us in the series, I think, was he told us, “Basically, we’re going to be doing what Frances Haugen accused us of but we weren’t doing at the time, which is putting our thumbs on the scale in terms of what people do actually see. Because before we were just ranking what you followed, and what people were sharing from accounts that you follow.”
So it’s going to put a lot more responsibility and I think a lot more scrutiny on them as a publisher, in a sense, with algorithms, and that’s going to happen in the near term. And I think it’s going to take a long time before we’re talking about Facebook in the way we talk about Myspace. I think network effects are very strong, and they’re sticky, and they’re still good at that.
Shirin Ghaffary: I think, look, there’s always just going to be—there’s a physical and a cost barrier to getting, right now, what is it? A $300, several-pound headset on your face. And I think the metaverse can be incredibly fun. There’s also a lot of problems with it. But I think that using it in your day-to-day life right now for long stretches of time outside of gaming or these sort of one-off capacities, we’re not seeing mass adoption of that yet. And I think it could be a long time before we do.
It’s hard to say exactly when because you never know when all of a sudden everyone’s going to have a mobile phone in their pocket or when all of a sudden these headsets are going to become seamless enough with our bodies that we’ll just feel comfortable using them all the time. But I think Facebook, in the short to medium term, is definitely not thinking that everyone’s going to jump to the metaverse, and they know that they have to keep their social alive and competitive. And so they’re trying, as Alex was saying, to sort of TikTokify the feed in both Facebook and Instagram. And I think that is sort of like the cash cow to fund the metaverse, and they have to keep up and beat TikTok if they’re going to want to be able to actually see this whole metaverse vision through, financially.
Alex Heath: I mean, Zuck has been very clear that the metaverse stuff won’t be an actual business until maybe the end of the decade. So this is a huge, long-term thing still. And the question now is whether they can, like Shirin said, afford this massive amount of runway that they need to get to this place, and they want to compare it to the shift to mobile. I think that’s a little generous. I think this is different because they’re pivoting to this thing that really doesn’t exist yet, and that people don’t even know if they want. So it’s a lot bigger question.
I think when mobile came out, it was so apparent that this was the future. When you saw the original iPhone, it was obvious that people were going to want this thing. We haven’t had that moment with VR or AR yet. I actually think we will in the next couple of years, I think especially when Apple comes out with a headset, it’s going to really change people’s view of this technology, as not being just the Mark Zuckerberg production. But for now, we’re not there yet. And so there’s a lot of unproven and uncertainty in this whole push that they’re having.
Michael Calore: I don’t know. I got very excited when I saw the Horizon virtual conference room.
Alex Heath: I mean, I don’t know if you’ve … I mean, it sounds like you guys, we all have on here, because we’re all tech people, tech reporters, but just try to get into a social experience on Horizon on one of these headsets, it takes like 20 minutes. And—
Shirin Ghaffary: Yeah, it does.
Alex Heath: That’s the problem, it’s like—when you’re first trying, I mean, even early phones, just trying to like send a text would take 10 minutes on one of the first smartphones. So we’re in that stage, we’re in the like dial-up stage of the metaverse, and so of course it’s not going to be mainstream yet.
Shirin Ghaffary: And I think the technological problems on the hardware and software side can obviously be fixed. And if they’re throwing this much money at it, they will be fixed. But we’re also seeing some of the same mistakes and some of the same negative patterns happening in this early metaverse. Like, we are seeing underage users in their social environment. We’re seeing women saying that they’re being virtually groped, and Facebook is sort of reactive to these issues, much like they have been in the past. But I think there’s a real question about, should we trust Facebook again? A lot of people feel that Facebook has violated their trust over the years. And I think a name change is not sort of enough to win over critics who really don’t want to give even more data about themselves, physical, more visceral data about themselves in this new world.
Michael Calore: All right. Well, thank you both for being here and talking about Facebook with us. Let’s take a break, and when we come back, we’ll do our recommendations.
Michael Calore: All right. This is the part of our show where we go around the room and we have everybody give a recommendation to our listeners about something that they might enjoy. So, Shirin, let’s start with you.
Shirin Ghaffary: Well, since we were talking about the metaverse, I am reading Snow Crash. I’m a little late to this, but it’s the novel that coined the term metaverse and inspired it. And I went in being like, “Oh man, this is going to be work. This is what I do.” I want to read something totally different than tech, usually, in my free time, but I actually really am enjoying it. It’s quite dystopian. It is entirely different than the vision of the metaverse that Mark Zuckerberg is painting, which I find hilarious. And there’s such sort of an anti-privatization, anti-corporate vibe to it, which got me thinking a lot about the foundation of the internet, and how government funding essentially helped the genesis of the internet and how the metaverse could be very, very different because we’re not really seeing government grants going toward this stuff. So it really got me thinking about this whole concept in very new ways, and I would recommend it.
Michael Calore: Nice. It’s a big book too.
Shirin Ghaffary: It’s a big one.
Michael Calore: Alex, what’s your recommendation?
Alex Heath: Mine is a TV show. And apologies if it’s been mentioned on here already, The Bear on FX, on Hulu, have you guys already talked about this?
Lauren Goode: We talked about it last week, but please go on. I want to hear your take on it.
Alex Heath: Well, I just finished it, and it is phenomenal. I can’t wait for season 2, the way it’s shot and the acting. And it’s definitely like auteur, but great. And, also, I just love shows about kitchens and chefs and people making food, and I’m a huge Top Chef fan. And so seeing a dramatized, super over the top, people yelling at each other in a kitchen [show] is just great for me. It’s just great brain relaxingness after a long day. Well, there’s episodes of The Bear that are not relaxing, but I would say that I generally just love that category, and I wish there were more shows like that. And it’s just super cool. I love The Bear.
Michael Calore: It is certainly not relaxing.
Lauren Goode: Have you watched it yet?
Michael Calore: We just started it last night. And my wife is a reformed chef, she used to work in a kitchen for years and years. So it’s quite triggering for her, but she’s being a champ, and we’re getting way into it. It’s a great, great recommendation. All right, Lauren, what’s your recommendation?
Lauren Goode: My recommendation this week is like a little snack of media. Shirin recommended a book and Alex recommended a series, this is going to take like 20 seconds of your time and it’s going to brighten your day. There is a woman who’s gone viral on TikTok named Taylor Blake. She’s also on Instagram. She works at Knuckle Bump Farms in Florida, and she’s gone viral in recent days because of a delightful emu named Emmanuel who keeps ruining her shots.
Alex Heath: I love this clip. I love it.
Lauren Goode: It’s so great. And then I’ve gone through like some of her back catalog and just watched more of the videos from the farm, and it’s just absolutely delightful. It turns out this is not the first time that she has gone viral on the internet. I found a BuzzFeed article from several years ago where she—
[A phone beeps in the background]
Lauren Goode: Oh, what was that?
Michael Calore: That’s your phone.
Lauren Goode: Oh my God. It’s BeReal. It’s a new social network.
Alex Heath: It’s time to BeReal.
Lauren Goode: Should I BeReal? Hold on, I got to do this. Are you familiar with BeReal? I only have two minutes to post.
Alex Heath: Oh, yeah.
Michael Calore: Oh, yeah. Sure.
Lauren Goode: OK. Hold on.
Shirin Ghaffary: Can we be in it.
Michael Calore: I think I read about it on The Verge.
Lauren Goode: Shoot, yes.
Shirin Ghaffary: Yeah. We want to be in your BeReal.
Lauren Goode: You want to be in the BeReal.
Shirin Ghaffary: Yeah.
Lauren Goode: OK. Hold on. Let me pull up the Zoom. And—
Alex Heath: This is the new Facebook, right?
Lauren Goode: OK. So do I hold it down? I don’t know if it’s working. God, I’m so old.
Alex Heath: Yeah, it’s buggy right now. It’s delayed.
Lauren Goode: OK. It was just a photo. OK. Send, all right, I guess … Do I do a video? I don’t know. Anyway, gosh, so you guys are in it, which is awesome. OK. Sorry about that. That was a BeReal notification because when we all move off of Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, everyone’s going to be on BeReal.
Michael Calore: Sure.
Alex Heath: That’s right.
Lauren Goode: OK. What was I saying?
Michael Calore: You were talking about the BuzzFeed article.
Lauren Goode: Oh, yes.
Michael Calore: … this is not the first time.
Lauren Goode: Yes. Years ago she had a crush on someone who she wanted to ask out, and so she gave this person, this woman, her journal, basically, and like said, “Read it.” And in it was like a beautiful entry about like how much she liked this person, and they ended up dating or whatnot. And BuzzFeed would literally find anything they could on the internet for a while, and just make a listicle of it. And so this woman was actually in a BuzzFeed listicle many years ago. But if you’re going to watch her content now, watch her for Emmanuel, who was described by NBC News as “the emu the internet has fallen in love with.”
Michael Calore: He’s the naughtiest bird.
Lauren Goode: He’s the … Don’t do it Emmanuel. Don’t do it!
Alex Heath: Don’t do it!
Lauren Goode: I love it.
Alex Heath: I did just post my BeReal though.
Lauren Goode: Oh, you did? Oh, awesome. OK, cool. Mike, what’s your recommendation, BeReal about it.
Michael Calore: So, much like Shirin, I also don’t like to read books about technology in my free time. However, I read an excellent book about technology in my free time while I was gone. I took a vacation and read this on my vacation. It is called Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand, and it’s by the longtime New York Times technology journalist, John Markoff. So Stewart Brand is like a hippie dude, he was around in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s. He was a Merry Prankster, but then he started hanging out with Stanford people and got very into technology.
He is the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, which was sort of like a blog in print that talked about all of the tools that you needed in order to live off the land. And if you were into homesteading or communal living, it had a lot of resources for that sort of activity. He later started The Well, which was one of the first big informal communities on the internet. Now he works with The Long Now Foundation. So he lives this, this sort of like Forrest Gump-style existence, where he has bounced around from community to community, all of them very important and very influential over the years.
But he has not been as celebrated as a technology pioneer because he is sort of adjacent to the big celebrated technology pioneers. So his life is really fascinating, and his experience is really fascinating. And this is like the first big sort of book that’s been written about him. There’s also a documentary that is unrelated. It’s also about Stewart Brand. It premiered last year, I think it’s going to make its way into theaters and onto streaming later this year. So if you’re interested in this guy, he’s in his 80s now, and he’s still vibrant and active on social media. We’ve interviewed him a few times recently in WIRED. He was around when WIRED was founded. So he sort of has a connection to our publication. Although I will say, I do not know him, full disclosure. So yes, great book, check it out, The Whole Earth: Many Lives of Stewart Brand by John Markoff.
Lauren Goode: There was a particularly unflattering review of that book published recently as well, right?
Michael Calore: There was, yes.
Lauren Goode: Yes.
Michael Calore: A lot of criticism about the book is that Stewart Brand is not as interesting, because he’s the guy next to the important person. I would argue that’s false. Also, the book is just really good. So if you like biographies of people who are interesting, then you’ll like this one.
Lauren Goode: So you give it your wholehearted recommendation.
Michael Calore: I do. Here is a—
Lauren Goode: That was a stretch.
Michael Calore: Yeah. It really was. Here’s a photograph of my whole heart.
Lauren Goode: Thank you for that.
Michael Calore: All right. Well that is our show. Shirin and Alex, thank you for joining us.
Alex Heath: Thanks for having us.
Shirin Ghaffary: Thanks for having us, yeah.
Michael Calore: You can find all six seasons of Land of the Giants on Vox.com, or maybe the same application you’re using to listen to this podcast, you can find it there. The sixth season premiered last week, and new episodes will continue to roll out through the rest of the summer. Thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. Our producer is Boone Ashworth. Goodbye, and we will be back next week.
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