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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

How Much of a Threat Is TikTok, Really?

TikTok’s influence is expanding well beyond the social sphere. The app is increasingly being used for the types of internet searches one would normally rely on a web search engine for. The video-based social app might not seem like the best place to get answers to your burning questions, but many users have made it their tool of choice for finding bars and restaurants to visit, movies to watch, or clothes to wear. It’s a trend that has companies like Google more than a little concerned. The popularity of the app has also raised the hackles of US lawmakers, who have cited security concerns and even introduced legislation calling for a wholesale national TikTok ban.

This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED's Lily Hay Newman joins us to discuss why all the kids are using TikTok for search and dig into whether the app’s ownership by a Chinese firm really makes it a national security threat.

Show Notes

Read Lauren’s story about her week of using TikTok for search. Here’s Lily on TikTok’s security threats. Follow all of WIRED’s coverage of TikTok.

Recommendations

Lily recommends the essay collection “You Are Not Expected to Understand This”: How 26 Lines of Code Changed the World, edited by Torie Bosch. Lauren recommends the book I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. Mike recommends the classic seasons of the show Doctor Who, which you can find on BritBox.

Lily Newman can be found on Twitter @lilyhnewman. 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.

How to Listen

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Transcript

Michael Calore: Lauren.

Lauren Goode: Mike.

Michael Calore: Lauren, have you discovered any good new restaurants lately?

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Lauren Goode: I have, as a matter of fact, and I found them on TikTok.

Michael Calore: TikTok?

Lauren Goode: TikTok. Yep.

Michael Calore: Not Google Maps.

Lauren Goode: Nope. Not Yelp. Not Google Maps. TikTok. Yeah, that's what the kids these days are doing. They're using TikTok to search for everything.

Michael Calore: So you've been using TikTok to search for everything.

Lauren Goode: Yeah. I decided I was going to give it a go.

Michael Calore: Do we need to have an intervention?

Lauren Goode: Quite possibly, yes.

Michael Calore: All right. Well, let's talk about it.

Lauren Goode: Let's do it.

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: We are also joined this week by WIRED senior writer Lily Hay Newman. Lily, welcome back to the show.

Lily Hay Newman: Hello. I am here in the flesh.

Michael Calore: In the room.

Lily Hay Newman: Yes.

Michael Calore: No Zoom, no headphones.

Lily Hay Newman: Very exciting. No closet.

Michael Calore: The room is pretty small. So did you know that TikTok has a search function? People aren't just endlessly scrolling on TikTok. They're also using the platform as their go-to search tool. Google has obviously been the default option for search for about two decades now, but a lot of people, particularly younger people, now go to TikTok to find just about everything online, places to eat and drink, travel tips, movie reviews, historical facts. It's all just part of what has made the app so huge. And all the attention that TikTok is enjoying is also why the app has made US lawmakers nervous. We'll get to the real and imagined problems with TikTok later on in the show. But first, let's talk about its use as a search tool. Now, Lauren, for a couple of weeks, you forced yourself to only use TikTok's search box to find stuff online. Tell us about how that worked out.

Lauren Goode: So to be totally upfront, I did cheat sometimes and I used Google. I was a polysearcherist. It was just impossible to do our jobs and to only use TikTok, but I was determined to give TikTok a go. I had heard that TikTok was really popular among young people for search. In fact, last year a Google search executive said at a conference that he believed that 40 percent of younger people, approximately aged 18 to 24, are now turning to TikTok and Instagram for search instead of Google. This, of course, is very alarming to Google, and we're starting to see this thing happen where there's the rise of ChatGPT and Google feels threatened by that. For search, there's the rise of social search. Google has tweaked its app to make it look a little bit more visual and fun and hip to basically replicate the TikTok experience for search. So Google is hearing all of these competitors kind of coming up in the rear. And meanwhile, young people are just TikTok, TikTok, TikTok. So I was very interested in this. I wanted to give it a go so I spent a week trying to primarily use TikTok for search.

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Michael Calore: And so how did it go? Were you able to find most of the things that you were looking for?

Lauren Goode: I had pretty low expectations, so I ended up pleasantly surprised. I found that it was pretty great for how-tos. I used it to figure out how to pair a new AirTag with my phone. In some ways, I found that to … Yeah, Mike is laughing because he got me the AirTag because I lose my keys all the time, and he's really tired of me being like, "Mike, have you seen my keys? Can I use the spare key?" But in some ways, I found TikTok for how-tos to be better than YouTube even because YouTube videos tend to be pretty long. Some of the creators on YouTube are incentivized to do really long videos because that means the videos can support more ads. So I mean, sometimes it's like, yeah, how to change a tire, you really want to watch a whole long protracted thing. But on TikTok, when you search for something, all the search results appear in these video thumbnails, right? It's just a page of video thumbnails and then some word chips in between. And you can basically get what you need from a 30-second TikTok video, and you don't even have to click on it because the thumbnail is live. The thumbnail's audio starts playing immediately. So I found something like how to pair an AirTag. It was the perfect use case for a TikTok search. Other things were a little bit less satisfying, I guess. It's probably not great for super verified facts, like vocabulary words, breaking news events. I wasn't looking like how to find best San Francisco Bay Area financial advisors or something thing that I might use Google for. Mike, there was one day when I was trying to look up something that was relevant to our job. I was looking up information on Apple's business. I wanted to know how many retail employees Apple currently has. I found some funny parodies on TikTok of people having fun with the Apple retail experience, but I couldn't find the number of employees. So stuff like that, TikTok is still just going to fall short.

Michael Calore: I see. And how about location-aware searches?

Lauren Goode: Not great.

Michael Calore: Really? So if I searched for coffee shops near me, what would I get?

Lauren Goode: I did Best Coffee near me and one of the top videos was a coffee shop in Korea Town, Los Angeles. So not super close to me.

Michael Calore: And you can't find things right down the street.

Lauren Goode: No. I mean, there was one day when I searched for best San Francisco vegan restaurants, and so that was highly specific and I was able to find some recommendations, but you have to watch the video. Then you watch this influencer being like, "Oh my God, here's my day going through the vegan restaurants in San Francisco." And it's like, how much you trust this person? Is it spon con? Yeah, it was just a different experience when I was searching for local stuff, I would say.

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Lily Hay Newman: When you were talking about the length of YouTube videos, and for some things you really want to go through an entire tutorial, but for other things you just want a quick clip, I was thinking about how for a long time, certain how-tos Google has have had what we could maybe call a memoir recipe issue, where certain things you look up are these recipes or how-tos that begin with scrolling through thousands and thousands of words of just details about the person's family holiday where they made the recipe and their kids like it or don't like it or here's how … And you're just scrolling, scrolling. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Lauren Goode: Yes. I actually just went through this the other night. I was looking for an Italian baked fish recipe. And never ask an Italian person for a recipe because you'll hear all their history. I say this as an Italian American. But yeah, then after awhile you realized, oh, this is for the display ads.

Lily Hay Newman: Right, exactly. And I mean it's definitely most common with recipes, but you see it with a lot of things. So I was just thinking Google kind of has that problem with these certain types of how-tos. YouTube has that problem. Definitely, I'm like, why does it need to be 20 minutes to show me how to, I don't know, sew a button or something, whatever. And TikTok is maybe paring that down. But do TikTok videos have a duration limit?

Lauren Goode: Last year, TikTok actually expanded the limit. So you can now upload a video as long as 10 minutes. But the whole culture of TikTok is really around short video clips. It's pretty twitchy, so most of the results I found were short videos.

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah. No, I totally … that makes sense, and we can talk about this more later in the show, but I don't use TikTok myself. I don't have it on my phone, but I see TikToks posted on other social media platforms. So I'm one of those TikTok lurkers, or whatever it is. So it's been interesting to me that I have noticed that was my impression as someone who knows very little about TikTok that it's always very short. I assumed there was a constraint on how long the videos could be. But a few times lately I've looked at, I've clicked through to TikTok videos that were much longer than I expected or kept going, not 10 minutes. But I don't know if there's some sort of selection bias there because my sample is so small or if people are playing with the form slightly more now that it's allowed.

Lauren Goode: And yeah, I would say with search too, you generally are when you search for something, you're looking for a quick answer. You're not necessarily looking for something very involved. All of the apps we're talking about have some form of search or are deeply linked to search. YouTube is very linked to Google search and social apps like Instagram. Now, it has an underlying search function, but it's a social search. And so when you think about all of these apps, they are sort of verticalized in that way. And I found TikTok to be verticalized more than most because it's not really driving you to the open web in any way. TikTok search is a portal to TikTok. You're just getting more TikTok.

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Michael Calore: And I think that's the thing that is difficult for me as a middle-aged man who's been using open web searches my whole life to really understand people go to TikTok to search for things before they search for them on the open web because TikTok is their portal into the internet. It's like when they think about the internet, they think about their TikTok experience primarily before probably other parts of the internet. And to me, that's the really fascinating part is that that is the world to people. In the same way that 10 years ago maybe, or eight years ago, Facebook was the world to a lot of people. Or way back in the day, AOL was the only website that anybody went to. So it's sort of the same thing, but in this case, it's just a little bit more unhinged because we're talking about TikTok.

Lauren Goode: Did you say unhinged?

Michael Calore: Yeah. It doesn't have all of the stuff on it. It has a pretty narrow subset of stuff on it.

Lily Hay Newman: Shows what you know.

Michael Calore: Shows what I know. Well, I do want to come back to one thing, Lauren, at the beginning of this conversation, you mentioned that Google is feeling this pressure from TikTok because people are using it as a search tool. And they're feeling pressure from AI-powered searches that Microsoft is investing in OpenAI and ChatGPT and those technologies. So we probably will see Google's main search product fundamentally change to better compete with those in more ways than it already has.

Lauren Goode: And these are changes that we're likely to see both on the user experience side of things and under the hood because Google is reportedly calling a code red right now. It's so concerned about ChatGPT, it's so concerned about these consumer-facing AI apps that people are starting to gravitate toward that it's realizing it needs to … Google is one of the leaders in AI, but it hasn't necessarily utilized it in the same way that some of these other companies have. And so it's realizing that it needs to corral the troops and be like, how are we going to actually use all of this incredibly artificial intelligence that we have, that we have created, that we've patented, and deploy it in a way that keeps people in our search engine. But they have to also make sort of user-facing changes, and you see that evolution of Google happening right now because they're basically borrowing features from services like TikTok.

Lily Hay Newman: And one other thing I want to ask you both about is on Facebook search, I don't know if anyone has used search on Facebook lately, but it's not very usable. I find it's really difficult to find what you're looking for, even when you're trying to search in a social way, just like who do I know who lives in Paris or whatever, who am I friends with who went to this school or whatever. And I believe the reason for that is that Facebook had a huge sort of data privacy saga with the social graph that the search was just leaking way too much and compromising too much information by revealing, you could say … I think you used to be able to do queries like who are friends of my friends who live in this place? or something. And it would expose things that people didn't realize they had set to be revealed at multiple degrees of separation and things like that. So I think they had to really tighten that up. But as a result, it's really hard to use Facebook's search for anything helpful. And I wonder how all of this is going to play out for both Google and TikTok, what people are searching for and what results they get is a big data privacy question always.

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Lauren Goode: Lily, bringing it back to data privacy. I love it. I think—

Lily Hay Newman: I'm trying to do the transition for everyone.

Lauren Goode: I would say that if the past two decades of search have been just about serving up what you're looking for, the next era of search is going to be about understanding you and even generating some information or some searches for you. We've seen this move toward personalization over the past 10 years or so. And so all these companies are racing to figure out how they can personalize your searches and get to know you better to serve you, to basically understand you. And then with ChatGPT and other applications it's about actually creating the thing for you. It's not about crawling the web and pulling in web pages. It's about crafting the answer seemingly out of thin air, right? It's generating it.

Lily Hay Newman: With ChatGPT, one thing that's different is you can really ask it the exact question you really want the answer to. Whereas with Google, there's a way to craft queries to try to get the answer you want. But with ChatGPT, it's that natural language thing where you can just directly ask it anything and let it deal with figuring out what you're trying to say. That's sort of built into it. So I mean, that personalization starts to, it's coming and going. They're trying to serve it to you and you also get to ask in the exact way you would want to. It's your dream search engine.

Michael Calore: I can search my dreams. All right, let's take a break and we'll be right back.

[Break]

Michael Calore: TikTok is obviously very popular, but it's also become popular to criticize. Over the past few years, and especially over the past few months, TikTok has been scrutinized by the US government and other governments around the world. This is mostly because TikTok's parent company ByteDance is based in China and therefore has to abide by that country's notoriously intrusive national security laws. TikTok has said that the data of its US users are stored on US servers, but recently the company admitted that some of its employees improperly access the data of US journalists. Because of these concerns, TikTok is now being banned in some schools and on some government devices. Debate over a wholesale ban of the app in the US is heating up again in Washington, DC, for what feels like the fourth or fifth time. Lily, you cover cybersecurity at WIRED. Are these fears about TikTok as a security threat founded?

Lily Hay Newman: There are a few basic or conceptual things here. One is the potential that the government of China could force ByteDance to force US TikTok to use the platform for influence operations. That this mysterious algorithm that powers TikTok and chooses what you're going to see and what the order of the videos is going to be and stuff could be exploited to spread certain types of information or seed certain types of information. And I think that concern is real, but I would just add we've already seen that from many governments on many social media platforms. That's the whole thing that's been going on for all these years that we've been talking about. And that was the sort of big revelation is that social media platforms can be weaponized by different governments or different interests—whatever those may be—for disinformation, misinformation. So it's not to say it's not a concern, it's just like we just need to zoom out even farther and see the even bigger context that that's already a problem anyway. And the Chinese government is one of the actors or the players in that already on many platforms. One thing I wonder about the influence operation point, just before we go to the other point, is whether the US has concerns that there is sort of an imbalance, like a power imbalance because of TikTok's popularity in the US that perhaps US intelligence feels that they don't have a similar mechanism that they control so completely to influence the Chinese population if they chose to or to spread influence through a platform that is very popular in China or Southeast Asia more broadly. For example, WeChat is the incredibly popular and ubiquitous communication platform but also social media platform in China. And it's completely possible, even perhaps probable, that US intelligence has some type of persistence within WeChat, but it's not a US company. They don't own WeChat, so it's a completely different thing. So perhaps there's some asymmetry there that's driving some of this concern.

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Michael Calore: It's a doomsday gap like in Dr. Strangelove.

Lily Hay Newman: Right, you see what I mean? Maybe. So I just want to raise that. That's sort of when I'm sitting here stroking my beard about why everyone's flipping out about TikTok, but maybe that's part of it. But then the other just general point is data collection and just an entity owning an app that everybody has downloaded on their phone. It's not to say that the TikTok app is currently weaponized or currently a backdoor into your phone or anything like that, but it opens up the potential that a rogue actor or whoever owns an app could use it for ill.

Lauren Goode: I think that's always been my next question about TikTok. Let's say that our data is not entirely stored on US servers, let's just say, and that the Chinese government does end up with access to all of the US user data. And you mentioned these potential harms or ills—what actually could happen there? What's the worst-case scenario?

Lily Hay Newman: So some of the data that a company would get access to, theoretically anyone could have access to if they were wanting to scrape everything off of a site and just get everyone's information. But incidents of scraping happen all the time on all social media platforms. So things like what you're doing, what you're up to, what you're depicting in your videos, who's in your family, who shows up in your videos, stuff like that. And then additionally, the service has access to the personal information you use to make an account, things like your location, data related to your IP address, potentially other data that you're approving to share with the app. And taken in combination, all of that starts to provide a profile of a larger picture of who you are and what you have going on in your life. So it means that for a Chinese-owned company like ByteDance, they're potentially getting a lot of information about Americans. And not just Americans, about people who use TikTok all over the world. But I also just want to add on this point that tons of information is available about all of us and able to be grabbed or bought in a bunch of ways anyway. There's a lot of information that governments and nations can sort of hoard from their own domestic surveillance or international surveillance. There's a lot of information they can gather from criminal forums, data breaches. There's a lot of information they can buy from data brokers and marketers. And China, in particular, has been incredibly aggressive about breaching foreign companies, including US companies and government agencies, and stealing huge, huge, huge amounts of data about people all over the world and about Americans. So again, it's not to say stuff with TikTok isn't important to think about and talk about and that there isn't a potential threat there. It's just like we also always need to zoom out even farther and look at the even bigger picture that if we're worried about this, it's just one portion of a broader concern about the amount of data China has on each individual in the US or each individual in the world.

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Michael Calore: I think a lot of the sort of fear that's being stoked has to do with the fact that it's an app that young people are particularly heavy users of. So the fact that my children's data is being sucked up by China feels like more of a threat to a lot of people, which is why we're seeing bans in schools. And by the way, the bans in schools are basically the school's Wi-Fi just blocks the domain. So if you want to just use it on your own cell service, you can use it on your own cell service or you can find other obfuscation methods that make it look like you're not looking at TikTok and still look at TikTok. So the school bans are very, what's the word? Anodyne, is it the right word? But I think that's why we're seeing the conversation start there. It's starting with legislation to protect the children. Won't somebody think of the children? There's a lot of that, but I do think it's important to understand that adults should be worried too, but they should not necessarily only be worried about TikTok.

Lily Hay Newman: Right. And we've seen a lot of bans in the US say things like TikTok can't be on government phones. Or certain states have said TikTok can't be on state devices or things like that. And fine, I mean, that seems fine. We ban a lot of things on government devices. For example, the antivirus maker Kaspersky is banned on government federal devices because it's owned by Russia. And Mike, when you were talking about kids, won't someone think of the children? No, I think it ties into something else you've said before, which is that when we were talking about search, about how TikTok is really sort of a portal or the platform that younger people are thinking about when they think about the internet, it's the way station to everything or the on-ramp. It's worth noting that when that's your orientation, you're not necessarily thinking about, well, what does it show about me if I show what vet I take my family dog to in a video, a funny video. Because that's the internet to you. You're just thinking, I'm posting for my friends culturally. This is what everyone does. I'm posting for the world. I want people to see my daily life. And so even though it isn't unique to TikTok, TikTok may have some special considerations because of its ultimate ownership. And it's just useful or sort of helpful for kids to be aware of that and just for all of us to be having this conversation so that everyone has the opportunity to think through these things critically, including the teens who absolutely are capable of getting what we're talking about here.

Michael Calore: Fully.

Lily Hay Newman: Fully.

Lauren Goode: I agree with you that I think teens who are old enough to be on TikTok and wield all these social media tools, they're certainly old enough to grasp some of the concepts we're putting forward, and yet I think some of them would still probably choose to use these apps rather than heed the government concerns.

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Lily Hay Newman: I don't think the US government has fully made the case to the US public of why they're so concerned about this. I'm not saying we can't imagine some of what they're talking about, and we just talked through a bunch of things, but they either know something that we don't or they don't. And it would be helpful to have a little bit more of an understanding or some sort of qualitative nudge from the White House or Congress on how pressing is this concern and what are we specifically talking about?

Michael Calore: I think we'll get both of those things because we do know that there's an executive order coming at some point, most likely. And there will probably be congressional hearings about TikTok bans, potential TikTok bans that hopefully would lay out on national television all of the concerns and how dire they are.

Lily Hay Newman: Because congressional hearings do always clearly and directly lay out exactly …

Michael Calore: Crystal clarity every single time.

Lauren Goode: Senator, we sell ads.

Michael Calore: Senator, I'm not selling your data.

Lily Hay Newman: Well, that's what I'm curious to see, and I think teens or anyone else who's feeling like, OK, I kind of get it, but what exactly are we talking about? I just think that's a very valid way to feel.

Michael Calore: All right, let's take a break and when we come back, we'll do our recommendations.

[Break]

Michael Calore: All right. This is the third part of our show where we recommend things that our listeners might enjoy. Lily, you are our guest in person. Please tell us what is your recommendation?

Lily Hay Newman: OK, so my recommendation is the book “You Are Not Expected to Understand This”: How 26 Lines of Code Changed the World. This is a self-serving recommendation because the book is a collection of essays edited by the incredible Tori Bosch who works at Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University, and I am one of the authors in the collection.

Michael Calore: Hey, now.

Lauren Goode: Yay.

Lily Hay Newman: But I also think the book is really great because since all the chapters are by different authors, I got to read and enjoy it too. And I was really impressed with some of the stuff that's in it. It's a collection that's looking at these individual lines of code that were really influential. So the one I wrote is about the tracking pixel and the ubiquity of this image file or single pixel that no one's ever seen. It's like this viral thing that … it's like, did you open an email or did you load a web page or whatever? And it just is this hidden specter everywhere on the internet. So that's the one I wrote about. It's always a fun time with stuff I'm writing, but there's also things about the … They're laughing because it's so true. There's also stuff about the Apollo 11 code, the most famous comment in Unix history, the operating system Unix, stuff about Internet Relay Chat, IRC for people who have been IMing since the old days. And popups, just awesome. It's really fun, very interesting, and kind of runs the gamut. And it's not all about privacy concerns, though there's good representation of that stuff if you're into that. So yeah, I highly recommend the book, and I just think it's a cool grab bag kind of thing.

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Michael Calore: “You Are Not Expected to Understand This”?

Lily Hay Newman: Yes.

Michael Calore: That's what it's called?

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah.

Michael Calore: I wonder if there's an essay in there about the first banner ad.

Lauren Goode: Wasn't that on WIRED?

Michael Calore: It was. It was on WIRED.com.

Lauren Goode: Read it on WIRED. Now you're creating conflicting interests for me. Read it on WIRED.com first. We also came up with, was it crowdfunding or crowdsourcing?

Michael Calore: Crowdsource.

Lauren Goode: Crowdsource, yeah.

Michael Calore: Crowdsourcing.

Lauren Goode: Mark Robinson.

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah, yeah. To be clear, WIRED is great.

Michael Calore: WIRED is great, but also this book is great.

Lauren Goode: And congrats on being a part of it.

Lily Hay Newman: Thanks.

Lauren Goode: That's really cool.

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah, it was very, very fun and just a really great group of authors, and I think Tori did an amazing job editing it, so.

Michael Calore: Lauren, what is your recommendation?

Lauren Goode: My recommendation is a book of a very different nature. It is called, brace yourself for the title, I'm Glad My Mom Died. It is a memoir by the child actress Jeanette McCurdy. I just finished it this week, and it's as great as everyone's been saying it is. Jeanette was on iCarly on Nickelodeon for I think about a decade. She played Sam, the character Sam on that show. But the book is really about how she was coerced into being a child actress. It wasn't something that she particularly liked to do. She had a really domineering stage mom who also encouraged her to have an eating disorder. It was a really complicated and abusive relationship. And Jeanette is now, she's well past her iCarly years. She's a writer; she's a podcaster. She's decided to put aside acting because it isn't really where her heart is. And she decided to write this memoir about her experience as a child actor in Hollywood and about her mom. And it's really good. It's brutally honest. It's uncomfortable at times. Some people described it as funny. There are moments of humor, but I didn't find it actually funny. It's pretty dark at times, but it's a really worthwhile read, so I recommend that.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Lauren Goode: I'm Glad My Mom Died.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Lauren Goode: Mom, if you're listening, this book is not about you, nor is my recommendation. My mom does listen to this podcast, so the other week she was like, "You mentioned my stove," so I know that she listens.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Lauren Goode: Mike, what's your recommendation?

Michael Calore: I'm going to recommend classic Doctor Who.

Lily Hay Newman: Nice.

Michael Calore: Doctor Who is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. It started in November of 1963; the day after the JFK assassination was the very first Doctor Who broadcast in the UK. I love old Doctor Who because I grew up on it. It was on, I think on Sunday afternoons on my local PBS channel the whole time that I was in grade school and junior high school. And my Doctor Who fandom has perpetuated well into middle age. So I think it is a really fun science fiction show because a lot of the themes that we see in modern science fiction originated in this sort of soup of radio dramas and television shows and novels that were not taken seriously in the middle of the century. Doctor Who was one of the first series that was taken seriously by adults; it was still seen as a kids' show well into its run, but obviously also very popular with the kids' parents because everybody would watch it together. So as a child, I loved Doctor Who, and as I've grown older, its themes have only become richer. So for a very long time, you couldn't watch all of the episodes unless you bought all the DVDs, right? We're talking thousands of dollars to buy all of the DVDs or the Blu-rays of all the old episodes. Now you can watch almost every single episode of the show's original run, which was from 1963 to 1987 on the internet on BritBox.

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Lauren Goode: I didn't even know there was such a thing as BritBox.

Michael Calore: Yeah, BritBox is like all the BBC stuff.

Lily Hay Newman: I love BritBox.

Michael Calore: Then I think also some ITV. But yeah, BritBox is awesome. It's $8 a month and you can watch all the Doctor Whos. So each episode is 25 minutes, but it's serialized. So a story will play out over three or four or five or six episodes. The stories are all different lengths. So you can decide that you want an hour-and-a-half Doctor Who experience or you want a two-and-a-half-hour Doctor Who experience every time you watch the show. And you can pick the very old black and white ones. You can pick the super awesome cheesy ones from the '70s, or you can pick the ones that were very cutting edge and also still cheesy from the '80s. So yeah, highly recommended if you haven't gone back and watched some of those.

Lily Hay Newman: This is a great recommendation. Also, what's the current … There's a new doctor, right?

Michael Calore: Yeah. So it's rebooted.

Lily Hay Newman: I mean, I know this is the thing with Doctor Who, but what's the current …

Michael Calore: The doctor regenerates. The doctor regenerates.

Lily Hay Newman: It's been the same doctor.

Michael Calore: The doctor doesn't die. They just assume a new life and they assume a new body, which is a brilliant, brilliant way to write in recasting the title character of your show. By the way, the reboot started in 2005 when they revived the show with Christopher Eccleston playing. I think it's the ninth Doctor, and now we're up into the teens of doctors.

Lily Hay Newman: I see. So just because a new doctor starts doesn't mean it's sort of a new show.

Michael Calore: Correct.

Lily Hay Newman: The show can just be running with new doctors.

Michael Calore: Correct. And some of the supporting characters overlap, so there will be supporting characters that hang out with doctor number three and doctor number four and doctor number five. So yeah, it's a whole universe.

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah, I appreciate this recommendation because I have really been wanting to delve into Doctor Who. I feel like no one will be surprised to learn that I'm a Trekkie.

Michael Calore: A Trekkie or a Trekker?

Lily Hay Newman: Yeah, I've watched all of all Star Trek, including very painfully bad Star Trek, and enjoyed it. So I feel that Doctor Who is really next and honestly a massive oversight in my personal viewership. So thank you for this.

Michael Calore: Great. I'll recommend specific cereals to you if you're interested.

Lily Hay Newman: Yes. And Lauren, I definitely will not share my BritBox password with you later from both a security and account-sharing standpoint.

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Lauren Goode: Please don't, that would be so wrong.

Michael Calore: That would be ethically dubious.

Lauren Goode: Well, I look forward to not watching BritBox when I'm not reading celebrity memoirs.

Michael Calore: Or searching on TikTok.

Lauren Goode: Or searching on TikTok.

Michael Calore: All right.

Lauren Goode: Did I destroy the nerd credit of this podcast?

Michael Calore: No.

Lauren Goode: OK.

Lily Hay Newman: You're really helping us, to be honest.

Michael Calore: Yeah. All right. That is our show for this week. Lily, thank you again for joining us.

Lily Hay Newman: It's my pleasure to be here.

Lauren Goode: It's so great to have you in studio.

Lily Hay Newman: Thanks.

Michael Calore: And thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter and TikTok and Mastodon. Just check the show notes.

Lauren Goode: Lily's not on TikTok.

Michael Calore: All of us.

Lily Hay Newman: Were you listening during the podcast? Readers can check.

Michael Calore: Our producer is Boone Ashworth. We will be back next week. Goodbye.

[Gadget Lab outro theme music plays]

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