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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Stop Trying to Make New Twitter Happen

Hey look, there's a new Twitter alternative. The text-based Instagram offshoot Threads launched a week ago, and in the days since, the platform has racked up over a hundred million users. It's a huge showing for parent company Meta, one that has Mark Zuckerberg and other execs celebrating. Meanwhile, current Twitter owner Elon Musk is fuming as Threads threatens to unravel his platform's microblogging dominance. But despite its initial success, it's not yet clear whether Threads will emerge as the top social space. These early days of Threads may feel slightly less toxic than Twitter, but it's already being overtaken by cringey influencers and pseudo-sassy brand accounts. It's also just one more thing to sign up for and could stretch the tolerance people have for all these new microblogging platforms.

This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED senior writer Kate Knibbs joins us to unspool the question of whether Meta's new social service is too much, too little, or just right.

Show Notes

Read Kate's story about how it's time to stop making Twitter competitors. Read all about how Threads may be the thing that kills Twitter and how to run Threads on your desktop. Or, you know, don't sign up for Threads at all until it becomes clear how much of your data it is harvesting.

Recommendations

Kate recommends the book Natural Causes by Dan Hurley. Mike recommends Life Examined from KCRW. Lauren recommends season two of The Bear on Hulu.

Kate Knibbs can be found on Twitter @Knibbs. 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

Lauren Goode: Mike.

Michael Calore: Lauren.

Lauren Goode: I just got back from vacation, and I have to tell you, it is so nice being off social media.

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Michael Calore: I call bullshit. You were all over social media.

Lauren Goode: No, I wasn't.

Michael Calore: Yes, you were.

Lauren Goode: Was I? No.

Michael Calore: I followed your whole vacation by watching your stories on Instagram.

Lauren Goode: Oh, well. Yeah. A story here, a story there. But I was not spending any time on Twitter. It was almost like there was no news. Not at all. Nothing. I just fell into a black hole. There were no major Supreme Court decisions, no floods, no new social networks were announced. It was great.

Michael Calore: We should get caught up.

Lauren Goode: Why? Is there something I missed?

Michael Calore: I think one of those things in particular is something that we should talk about this week.

Lauren Goode: OK. Let's do it.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

Lauren Goode: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Lauren Goode. I'm a senior writer at WIRED.

Michael Calore: And I am Michael Calore. I'm a senior editor at WIRED.

Lauren Goode: We're joined this week by WIRED senior writer Kate Knibbs, who joins us from Chicago. Hey, Kate, it's great to have you back on the show.

Kate Knibbs: Thanks so much for having me.

Lauren Goode: You are one of our favorite friends of the pod, I have to say. I'm speaking on behalf of me and Mike here, because I speak for both of us.

Kate Knibbs: I'm expecting you to make some merch to that point, friend of the pod, favorite friend of the pod. Anything really cementing that fact. My sweatshirt size, it's medium. I'll give you a few weeks to come up with a design, but yeah.

Lauren Goode: That sounds great.

Kate Knibbs: I love it.

Lauren Goode: That sounds great. Could we do maybe do a hashtag collab around that too, if you wear it on Instagram? But we're going to put the Gadget Lab logo and your name on the back, so we need a 180-turnaround as part of the deal.

Kate Knibbs: I'm in.

Lauren Goode: All right. Well, that's settled. We're starting a merch business, folks. OK. Yeah, we need to talk about Threads. Threads, in case you were living under a rock the past two weeks, like I was, is Meta's newest social app, and it takes direct aim at Elon Musk's Twitter. Threads is linked to your Instagram account, so it makes signup pretty easy. But that also means it comes with the same data privacy concerns any Meta or Facebook site comes with. Will Threads become another platform for ads? Seems likely. But it's also been a huge hit so far, I have to say. I found out about Threads because while I was on vacation, blissfully unaware of the news, I started getting text messages from television producers at the BBC and other shows, saying, "Can you come out and talk about Threads?" I said, "Oh no, I have to check the news, don't I?" Lots of other people have been intrigued by it, too. Unlike other Twitter alternatives, like Mastodon and Bluesky, Threads has managed to gain over 100 million followers in just a week. The big question is, will this be the thing that finally replaces Twitter? Or at this point, are we all feeling the Twitter clone fatigue? We're definitely going to get to that. But first, Kate, you've been writing about Threads for WIRED, and just to start, I was hoping you could describe Threads. What does it look and feel like?

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Kate Knibbs: I would love to describe Threads in the most deranged way possible, which is, it is definitely like the love child of Twitter and Instagram. But the love child resembles its father, which is Twitter, I would say. Yeah, it's a Facebook version of Twitter. There's nothing that's revolutionary about Threads' user interface. If you know how to use Twitter, or even if you don't know how to use Twitter and you only know how to use Instagram, you're going to log on to Threads and understand it. It has the feed with text posts from people. The biggest difference for me is actually the content of the posts. Right now, I'm seeing a lot of cheerful posts from brands, celebrities, and the various mommy influencers who have made their way into my Instagram life, and way less posts from the leftist shitposters that I follow on Twitter. It's just got a different vibe going.

Michael Calore: Are there links being shared, photos, GIFs, things like that? Because to me, that's core Twitter.

Kate Knibbs: Yes.

Michael Calore: Sharing news stories. Yeah?

Kate Knibbs: Yes. OK. Full disclosure, I was basically dragged kicking and screaming onto Threads. I think I tweeted something along the lines of, "Threads is for losers. I'm not doing it." I really have to eat my words because I realized it was just not going to be a very smart thing to do as a person working in media, to be a refusenik for the new hot platform. I'm glad that I did sign up because there's a lot going on. There's lots of links being shared. I am honestly very surprised by how quickly it's taken off and how active it is. What have your experiences been like so far?

Lauren Goode: I'm looking at Mike because I'm waiting for him to say the thing.

Michael Calore: Oh yeah, I'm not on it.

Lauren Goode: What? Mike is the refusenik here?

Michael Calore: I haven't signed up yet.

Lauren Goode: Yet?

Michael Calore: Yet. I'm sure at some point I'll have to dip my toe in, but it came along at a time when I was very busy working on other things. I literally pushed my hands away from my body and said, "Not now."

Lauren Goode: As in, "Don't pick up the phone and do it. Don't do it." Because it would take two seconds. You just do it from your Instagram account.

Michael Calore: It's tied to our—

Lauren Goode: Well, you download the app.

Michael Calore: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: You download the separate Threads app container from the App Store, and then it's just, do you want to connect to your Instagram? And then there it goes. It would be very simple for you to do it.

Michael Calore: It would be.

Lauren Goode: But I respect it. You were creating distance for yourself, space, if you will.

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Michael Calore: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I'm not on it. Like I say, yet. I'm sure at some point I will feel compelled to go straight with both feet into Threads. But right now, I am suffering from fatigue of signing up for new social networks. I understand that this one helps with that fatigue because it does a lot of the work for you when you sign up. Because it's connected to Instagram, is that right?

Lauren Goode: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. It is, yeah. Let's put a pin on that fatigue and come back to it later on in a therapy session.

Michael Calore: OK.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, I'm jotting down notes right now.

Michael Calore: Happy to do that. What are your impressions of the new social network, Lauren?

Lauren Goode: I'm going to out myself as someone who is of a certain generation of the internet by saying this, but the thing that, I don't know, bums me out is that there's no web or desktop app at this point. You can't access it from a browser, and a lot of the tweeting I've done over the years has been from a browser tab. A lot of people were very into TweetDeck. TweetDeck went away. I went back to the browser. I have a bunch of tabs open at the same time. I'm reading lots of news stories. I'm checking email. I'm working on my own stories. I really just like having Twitter on a browser. To not be able to replicate that with Threads and have it be mobile only just feels to me like an early limitation of it. I've tweeted a few really inane things, but I haven't gotten to the point yet where I've started using it like a serious news person who's sharing our story links and putting pithy thoughts out there into the world. I'm just like, "Is this thing on?” basically. I think the last thing I posted on Threads was, "So, there's really no desktop app?" Yeah, reposting feels the same. I think I reposted something Kate posted. I keep wanting to say tweeted. We haven't figured out the vernacular for it yet either, which is part of it. People have had some really punny things they've come up with, like threading or needle-pointing. Or, I don't know, stitching? Stitches? I don't know. It's—

Kate Knibbs: Crocheting? I don't know either.

Lauren Goode: Crocheting.

Kate Knibbs: I actually haven't threaded yet, or I haven't posted on Threads yet, so you definitely haven't rethreaded me. But I would love a rethread whenever I finally figure out what my personality is going to be on this.

Lauren Goode: Of course.

Kate Knibbs: We've had to download quite a few of these Twitter replacements in recent history, so it's like, "All right, am I going to do what I did on Twitter? Am I going to be a whole new Kate?" It's hard to settle on something.

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Lauren Goode: Right. Right. It is not chronological, right? It is an algorithmically determined timeline?

Kate Knibbs: Yes, it's an algorithmically determined timeline, which is similar to Twitter, and which I deeply despise. If there's going to be a Twitter killer, I beg them to just let us have an option at least where we see all of the posts from all the people that we follow in the chronological order that they post them. But yeah, that's not what it is.

Michael Calore: Yeah. I feel like most social networks, when they launch these days, are using that as the default. And then the reverse chronological, where you'd only see the posts from the people that you're following, is the secondary option. I know Instagram has it now. Twitter shows it to you in a tab format, where you can switch between tabs. It's the same on Bluesky. I do feel like that's probably coming to Threads. Also, to your point, Lauren, I feel like the desktop version, the web browser version, is probably coming. DMs, hashtags, a lot of those things are probably coming to it. The question is, at what point will it feel mature? I'm not on it, so I can't answer that question. But does it feel fully grown now, or does it still feel very much like a work in progress?

Lauren Goode: Definitely work in progress, I think. And there are still a lot of questions about how it's working on the backend too. It's been reported that Instagram's terms of service apply to Threads. That makes me wonder about data-sharing on the backend. It makes me wonder if a user's data on Threads is being used the same way it's being used to inform the Instagram experience. Also, ads. When can we expect ads on Threads? Kate, what's the latest on that?

Kate Knibbs: I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I believe it's been reported that Meta is definitely planning on rolling out ads and is just waiting until it’s reached some sort of critical mass. But there's no marker that they've announced, like, "We are going to reach 200 million users and then roll out ads." It's undetermined right now, but it's definitely coming. Also, I just want to say I agree with you about the web browser thing. As a fellow elder millennial, I don't like tweeting or posting or doing anything on my phone. I'm also really excited for there to be a desktop version. I was really excited when a desktop version of Bluesky emerged for that reason too. My phone's too small. My thumbs are too big. I'm too old. I can't do it.

Lauren Goode: Yeah. Yeah. I also feel an obligation to be careful when I tweet, to think about words—also, you have character limitations—and just not fire off something stupid or just shitpost. I'm thinking. I'm crafting the thing that I want to put out there. It's just easier to do on a desktop.

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Michael Calore: I wonder who the company is trying to appeal to with this launch right now. Because it's trying to appeal to users, obviously wants millions of people to sign up for it. But with the terms of service and with what we've seen so far, it's keeping things very family-friendly. The head of the product, which is Adam Mosseri, who also runs Instagram at Meta, has said that they're going to be actively devaluing news and political discussions on Threads, which makes me think that the things that could make it turn into a toxic experience for people are purposely being pushed to the side to keep the happy stuff and the family-friendly stuff at the fore. That makes me think, OK, they're making it safer for brands. They're making it safer for companies to want to go there. Because companies wouldn't necessarily want to dive into a platform and adopt it right away as a place where they would post if all the discussion is around politics, or all the discussion is around Trump and QAnon and these hot-button topics. By devaluing that, they make it a safer place for more people, and particularly for people to spend their money. Is that right? Does that feel right?

Kate Knibbs: I think so. It definitely seems like they are trying to create a Disney version of Twitter.

Michael Calore: Oh, yeah.

Kate Knibbs: As safe as possible. The fact that they have come out and flatly said that they're devaluing news and politics makes me tremble in my journalism boots though. Because it's like, OK, I get not wanting to have the whole thing devolve into a political shouting match, but one of the big appeals of Twitter was that it was a place where you logged on and saw conversations about the news, links to the news, sometimes news being broken. If that is not only not being prioritized, but being actively de-emphasized, I think it's going to make Threads a place that I like a lot less than I liked Twitter when it was at its best.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, and good luck deprioritizing politics as we get closer to 2024. It seems like they want Threads to be a reflection of a world that doesn't exist.

Kate Knibbs: A world full of lots of different direct-to-consumer brands selling us a lot of mattresses and not a lot of politics. I don't know. Yeah. I feel this was one of the reasons why I was so against Threads when it was launched, because I didn't like the whole brand-friendly vibe at all. It's also why I'm surprised that it's taking off in this way. Actually, I'm not as much of a hater as I thought I was going to be when I wrote my article about how I was just sick of all the Twitter replacements and there needed to be no more. I am sick of the Twitter replacements, and I do think there needs to be no more, but maybe Threads is better than I thought it was.

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Lauren Goode: All right, Kate, so it sounds like you're coming around. But you did still call for a moratorium on new websites trying to replace Twitter, and we're going to talk more about that after the break.

[Break]

Lauren Goode: All right, so Kate, you wrote a story for WIRED about Threads being yet another Twitter alternative. You listed in your story all of the social networks that we've been encouraged to join as of late. This list is ridiculous, but not exhaustive. "Bluesky, Mastodon, Post News, Spoutible, Cohost, Hive Social, T2 Social, Spill, in addition to some of the conversation platforms that are aimed at more right-wing users, like Truth Social, Gettr, Gab, as well as the platforms that are more geared toward real blogging, like Tumblr and Substack." Are we at peak social media?

Kate Knibbs: I sincerely hope we are at peak social media. The reason I wrote that story was to basically beg people to stop signing up for new platforms, so that they're less likely to continue to proliferate. Because I am just incredibly sick of having to start from scratch and trying to build an audience, and it feels very fractured. It's not as fun as when everyone is in one central hub. I feel, personally, we should just cap it now. No new social networks. Let's figure out what's going to be the new Twitter from what we've got going already. When I wrote that, I was really hoping, I'm still honestly really hoping, that Twitter can survive and make a comeback. It's obviously never been perfect, but it would just be easier on everyone, I think, to not have to start from scratch. I think for all its faults as a company, I would probably prefer a world where a more responsibly helmed version of Twitter exists and is thriving, as opposed to a world where all of the major social platforms are owned by Meta. That's very concerning for me. I just think that we can figure a winner out from what we've got going on right now. No new platforms. That is my stance. I'm sticking to it. Although I will say since I wrote that article, I still think Threads is a little bit dorky, a little bit cringe. I would prefer Bluesky, but let's be real, Bluesky is still invite-only and has a fraction of the audience. It certainly seems like Threads is the front-runner for the Twitter killer. I'd rather exist in a world where there is a Twitter killer or a Twitter replacement than a world where there's no microblogging platform at all. Because I honestly love it. I eat it up. I look at it all the time, even when I'm on vacation. I have found jobs and friends through microblogging, and I don't want it to go away.

Michael Calore: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: Meta is promising that because it is using a certain type of protocol for sharing, that eventually Threads is going to be compatible, if it's not already, with some of the other networks we're talking about, like Mastodon, like Bluesky. Theoretically, we'd be able to just tweet and post and all of that, and it would be shared across all of these networks.

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Kate Knibbs: I only have a loose understanding of how that would actually work on a technical level. I believe it's called Activity Pub.

Michael Calore: It is.

Kate Knibbs: That is what they're saying. If you go on the internet right now, Threads has released a blog post to that point, saying that it's going to be interoperable with other platforms. I don't really believe that it's going to happen though. Meta doesn't have the greatest track record for telling people the truth in the first place, or for following through on its more idealistic projects. It'd be great if that happens, but I'm definitely not holding my breath for it to happen.

Michael Calore: Yeah. I think we can probably take them for their word that you'll be able to use a client on your desktop, or on a mobile device. They'll be able to read feeds from all of the different platforms that are using Activity Pub. Basically, it's a lingua franca for social media. It says things like, "Kate posted this text at this time. Mike liked Kate's post," with a link to the post. "Lauren responded to Kate's post with this GIF." If you have a client, you can see all of these things happening, and I think we'll be able to read all of them. It's the writing part that I worry about. The fact that, will I be able to post in one place and have it appear on four different sites that are all using Activity Pub? That's up to the companies to decide how much data they want in versus how much data they want out. A big part of the appeal of launching a new social network is having a bunch of people locked onto your platform, a bunch of people reliant on your platform and using your platform. If you remove that ability for people, then it makes it more fluid, which is great for the user, and it's great for open data on the internet, but it's worse for companies like Meta or companies like Twitter. Because then you're like, you're not on a Meta site. You're not in a Meta app. You're not in the Twitter app. You're just existing in your own app that maybe you wrote yourself, or a website that is using these APIs to allow you to publish and read things. I think it's great that they're standing behind their decision to use the open data standard that a lot of these other ones are using, but it all comes down to the implementation. As we've seen before with the different wars between Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, it's very easy for these companies to just make a decision to shut everything off, to silo themselves off. Once they get big enough, they're like, "You know what? We don't need y'all anymore." They shut the door, and the only users who go in are the users who are able to interact. That's a very possible future, and it's something to watch for and to advocate against happening if you care about these things.

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Lauren Goode: Kate, you also write in your story, "I've seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, copying and pasting to skeet a tweet. It's no way to live." This was tongue in cheek, but it does hint at something bigger, which is not only the efforts we might have to go to to post on multiple platforms, but the way that we now think in 280 characters or filtered photos, the way that social media has changed our attention spans and our perceptions of ourselves. I think we, as journalists, are especially guilty of this because we love real-time news, and news in general. And that fuels entire segments of these platforms. But I'm wondering, what is the solution, in your mind, for creating healthy social networks, ones that are easy to use but also offer valuable and valid information? Because I think the networks themselves are not going away, but we're seeing this fracturing of them right now.

Kate Knibbs: I'm really of two minds about it, because part of me thinks that maybe society will end up benefiting from a more fractured, niche constellation of social networks, instead of what we've had in the past, which is a few major networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Maybe we will all be better off as people if we end up spending most of our time in a birding forum, instead of on Twitter or Threads, and it continues to fractionalize. I can see a world where that's possible, but honestly, the more that I've thought about this and what Twitter's benefits to society have been, I do really hope that there is one reliable place that we can go to for news in the future and just to get our silly jokes off or whatever. I do hope that there is one Twitter competitor, or Twitter itself, that emerges as the premier microblogging site. Because for starters, it is madness to be spending all this time copying and pasting a thought to all these different platforms. Because now you're trying to think of this fractionalized audience versus just what we did for years, which was smash that post button on Twitter. Now, how you go about creating a healthy, nontoxic version of this one microblogging platform to rule them all? I don't know. I wish I did. I don't know if it's possible, unless you change human nature. I just know that—

Michael Calore: Well, you just pick one. That's how you do it. You just pick one. You're like, "I'm only on Mastodon now."

Kate Knibbs: Yeah. But I don't know if that's a way to make Mastodon suddenly not have a Nazi problem or anything like that.

Michael Calore: Right.

Kate Knibbs: I think step one is deciding on which network is going to be the one, but the step two—making it better than what came before, and less dysfunctional and toxic than Twitter, or what Threads is probably going to end up being in a week once people figure out how to be mean on it—is a much thornier issue. But anyways, step one is, I think we need to just pick one. That's my thesis on the Twitter Clone Wars.

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Michael Calore: For me, unfortunately, it's still Twitter. I say unfortunately just because a lot of the changes on that platform have me pretty dismayed. But I can tell you that there was something that I needed to do for work on Monday of this week, and I went to Twitter and I got all the answers that I needed. There was severe flooding in the Hudson Valley, in Upstate New York, and in Vermont, my second home state. I was really curious about what was happening in Vermont. I looked on Bluesky, and I looked on Mastodon, and I looked on Twitter. I got all of the information that I needed on Twitter, and I got nothing on Bluesky and very little on Mastodon. You also may be aware, I don't know if you know this, but I'm a fan of the band Phish. Their tour started, and I wanted to chat about their summer tour, and the only place that those conversations were happening was on Twitter. It's like Twitter is still king for things that are happening now. For things where you need a lot of information, all of that information exists on Twitter. There's just not the depth of users, there's not the depth of links being posted on the other platforms. The other platforms are great for jokes, they're great for meeting new people or finding new communities, but for those embedded communities, those ones that you've spent years literally cultivating, they're still on Twitter, and I am not sure they're going anywhere.

Lauren Goode: I didn't know you were a Phish fan! (That's a joke. That is a joke.) I'll have you all know that just earlier this week, I was telling Mike that I am going to Taylor Swift. I said, "She's really good at creating an environment that people want to be in." He said, "Oh, what is that? Like a Sephora?" I said—

Michael Calore: No. I said, "Yes, I'm familiar with that environment. It feels just like a Sephora."

Lauren Goode: Yeah, pretty same thing. And then I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. How many hours of your life and dollars in your wallet have you spent going to Phish concerts over the years?"

Michael Calore: That's a very funky Sephora, by the way.

Lauren Goode: He said, "They're really good at creating an environment too, an atmosphere." I said, "Oh, what? Is that like a Hot Box porta-potty?" Yes, he's a Phishhead, everyone.

Kate Knibbs: I'm never telling you guys what music I like. I don't want you to come for me.

Michael Calore: Oh, it all comes from a place of love. Don't worry, Kate.

Lauren Goode: Yes, truly, this is how Mike and I dialog, which is why we are such fun podcast cohosts. Don't you all agree? Kate, it's been awesome having you talk about Threads, but don't go anywhere because when we come back, we're going to do recommendations. And I have a feeling yours is not going to be another social network. Everyone should stay tuned.

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[Break]

Lauren Goode: Kate Knibbs, tell us how to be cool.

Kate Knibbs: I will definitely tell you how to be cool as long as your idea of cool is reading a nonfiction book from 2006. If you're on board with that, then we're good.

Lauren Goode: Great.

Michael Calore: Perfect.

Kate Knibbs: It's this book called Natural Causes. It's by a science journalist named Dan Hurley, and I'm reading it right now as research for a story that I'm working on. But it's one of those nonfiction books where every single sentence blows your mind. It's about this vitamin and supplement industry in the US and why it devolved into a Wild West. I think it's essential reading for everyone who wants to understand why our medical system is so messed up right now and bifurcated with Big Pharma, and then this whole booming alternative health marketplace. It goes back to the roots of why they split off in such a major way. Honestly, I want to recommend it in part because it's great, and in part because with the rise of RFK's candidacy, I think that all of us should spend some time really learning about what alternative medicine is good for and what it's not so good for. Yeah. Anyways, Natural Causes by Dan Hurley. You could probably buy it at any major bookstore. I bought it secondhand, and it's a wonderful, bracing read.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Lauren Goode: Great.

Kate Knibbs: Really, honestly, making me want to throw away every supplement I have.

Lauren Goode: Does the book touch on vitamins, as well as supplements?

Kate Knibbs: Yeah. Because it's basically the vitamin and supplement industry. Vitamins though, in general, aren't as dangerous. If you take too much vitamin D, you're just going to pee neon yellow for the most part, but some of the supplements that are being sold are very potent. It's not that they're snake oil and don't do anything, it's that they do a lot of things. They're not regulated at all, even though they're essentially as powerful, if not more powerful, as some of the most common over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It's really disturbing me. Anyways, I could talk about that for four hours, but I'll just say you should read the book if you're interested.

Lauren Goode: Great recommendation. Thank you so much for that. Mike, what's your recommendation?

Michael Calore: My recommendation also has to do with health. It's a podcast. It's called Life Examined, and it's a production of KCRW, which is the big public radio station down in Los Angeles. If you listen to KCRW, then you've probably heard this show because they play it a couple of times every weekend. It's a weekly show hosted by Jonathan Bastian, and his guests every week are people who work in health and wellness and philosophy and science. There's a lot of journalists, there's a lot of other people in media, like podcasters and writers, but the topics all have to do with mental health kind of stuff. Recently, there was an episode about Buddhist meditation. There was a great episode, a discussion about why children cut off their parents. When you become emancipated as a teen and when adults are like, "OK, I can't hang out with my parents anymore," and they cut them off, why that happens and the types of healing and damage that results from that. There was a whole episode about clutter, which I really loved because I'm one of those people who thinks a lot about clutter. It's a really great show because it's very wide-ranging. There is hard science on the show, and then there's also stuff about spirituality and things that might be a little bit more woo. It really gives you a good balance of all of the discussions that are happening around health and wellness in our society. Very well done. The shows are an hour long, and of course it's free because it's a public radio jam. So you can ask for it on your smart speaker.

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Lauren Goode: Nice. It's called Life Examined?

Michael Calore: Yes.

Lauren Goode: From KCRW?

Michael Calore: Yes. Yes. Very good.

Lauren Goode: Get it wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Michael Calore: What is your recommendation, Lauren?

Lauren Goode: My recommendation this week is a recycled recommendation from one of our episodes a few weeks ago. Our loyal listeners will remember that we just talked to Jason Del Rey, the author of a new book about Walmart and Amazon. At the end of that show, Jason recommended a TV program in part because he appreciated that the actor on the show, the lead actor, is, as Jason put it, a short king. And Jason himself is a short king. The show, after all that preamble, is The Bear. It's on Hulu and FX. It's the second season of The Bear. I have not yet watched the season finale. I'm saving that. There are 10 episodes, but I've watched the first nine. And it is in fact very, very good. It's about the restaurant industry, but it's really about the characters in this particular program. And each episode feels like its own capsule. There's one episode in particular that has this amazing, star-studded cast, a handful of really great cameos, but it's also probably one of the most intense and disturbing episodes of the season. It's just really beautifully done. I really like it.

Michael Calore: Can I tell you about the weird synesthesia that I have watching this show?

Lauren Goode: Sure.

Michael Calore: I've worked in the restaurant industry, a very long time ago, previous career, but it has a lot of very particular smells. A lot of them having to do with people. Not necessarily the food, but the people and the close quarters, and the disinfectants and the dishwashing machine. Watching this show, because it takes place in a restaurant kitchen, largely brings back a lot of those smell memories for me.

Lauren Goode: Olfactory memories?

Michael Calore: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, that's interesting.

Michael Calore: It's weird, but I try to finish my dinner before we start watching it so that I can fully remember some of those smells. It's bizarre. There's no other show—

Lauren Goode: Wow, it's a real trip for you.

Michael Calore: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: Huh.

Michael Calore: Yeah. I wonder if there's anybody out there listening who watches The Bear and also can smell The Bear. I don't know, skeet at me?

Lauren Goode: Yeah. I felt that way a little bit during the “Fishes” episode.

Michael Calore: What do I say? Thread at me?

Lauren Goode: Yeah. My family used to do a lot of the fish on Christmas Eve, but then there also had to be sauce, or gravy, as some Italian families call it. That tangling of sense was very real, and the sauce splattered everywhere. I was like, "Oh, yeah." It was very familiar. But I don't think I specifically thought about it from a smell perspective, although maybe that's what it was, actually. Then I was like, "Oh, I'm remembering something."

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Michael Calore: For me, that scene that you're talking about, the smell that I would've smelled while watching it was not the smell of the sauce cooking. It would've been the acrid, burned sauce smell mingling with the cigarette smoke. It's not the food that I'm smelling when I'm watching the show, because I don't know what those things necessarily smell like. Because they're so fancy and they got all the foam on them and everything. I don't necessarily know what those smell like, but the very familiar smells of the environment, of that working and environment.

Lauren Goode: Well, because the fine dining experience is supposed to essentially smell like air, or at least look that way.

Michael Calore: Yes. Well, Kate, you're a Chicago person. Have you watched the show?

Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Kate Knibbs: Oh, yeah. Yeah. “Fishes” also brings me back. I'm not Italian American, so the exact things that they were cooking wasn't what I usually have at my Christmases. Although my cousins are the Aletos, so they are. They sometimes bring that into the mix. I was waiting actually for them to say the word mostaccioli. Do you know what that is, Lauren?

Lauren Goode: No. What is mostaccioli?

Kate Knibbs: OK. Yeah, so it's what Italian Americans in Chicago call penne.

Lauren Goode: Oh?

Kate Knibbs: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: Oh, huh.

Kate Knibbs: I would get it in New York, and I'd be like, "Oh, I like this mostaccioli." Everyone would look like I was insane because it's a weird regional Chicago thing. That's a little side note. But anyways, yeah, The Bear, it conjures a lot of emotions for me as a person from a blue-collar bungalow belt family in Chicago. Sometimes it cuts a little too close to home, but I love it. It's a great television program.

Lauren Goode: It is.

Michael Calore: Good pick.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, it is. I'm like, "Yeah, that is a good recommendation."

Kate Knibbs: I never worked in food services, but my husband was a line cook for a long time, which is why we always drink out of these quarts, which is apparently a kitchen thing. So I've taken some little bits of kitchen life into my own.

Lauren Goode: Oh, yeah.

Michael Calore: Kate, audio medium. I will describe that you just held up a quart container, a plastic quart container, filled with ice water.

Lauren Goode: Wait, I missed it. Wait, let's show it. Hold it up again.

Kate Knibbs: You're all—

Lauren Goode: Oh, all right. All right.

Michael Calore: Which is how they drink on the show, and that's how people consume water and stay hydrated in many, many kitchens.

Lauren Goode: Stay hydrated. I've worked at two restaurants, and I don't remember seeing that.

Michael Calore: I think it's a newer thing.

Lauren Goode: OK.

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Michael Calore: Maybe we're a little too aged.

Lauren Goode: Aged. Well, Kate, this has been a real delight. I think we probably should have just done the whole show on our recommendations and ignored Threads because that was really fun.

Kate Knibbs: I think it's time for a spinoff Gadget Lab Presents Recommendations Lab. Just food for thought. Maybe you can think about it more while you're preparing all that merch that you're making for me.

Lauren Goode: Oh yeah, that's right. The sweatshirt. Yes, that's right. Our favorite friend of the pod. I love this. Yeah. Food for Thought might even be a good name, but I'm guessing it's been taken already. Well, all right, great. Next week, join us again because we'll have a new show, apparently. Should we tell Condé Nast? No.

Michael Calore: Nah.

Lauren Goode: Thanks to all of you. Mike, thanks for being a great cohost, as always.

Michael Calore: Thank you, Lauren.

Lauren Goode: Thanks to all of you for listening, especially if you've listened this long. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter and Mastodon and Bluesky and Threads. OK. Yeah, just check the show notes. We'll put our info there. Our producer is the excellent Boone Ashworth. We'll be back next week.

[Gadget Lab outro theme music plays]

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