Our guests, Mat Honan, David Pierce, and Arielle Pardes, speak in their own words (with their own voices!) about what it was like to work at WIRED and make a weekly show about personal technology. It’s a fun stroll down memory lane, for sure. But this special episode also offers a rare look behind the scenes of Gadget Lab, so you can get a sense of how the show is made and how it has evolved over the years.
Read Mat Honan’s fever-dream of a guilt-ridden gadget reporter here. Read his story about Slack here. Read Arielle’s cover story about Chris Evans here. Find her story about breast pumps here and her story about tech workplaces in the pandemic here. Read Lauren’s cover story about Simone Giertz here. Subscribe to David Pierce’s Source Code newsletter here, and listen to the Source Code podcast here. Read Mike’s coffee machine review here. We have no recommendations this week.
Mat Honan can be found on Twitter @mat. Arielle Pardes is @pardesoteric. David Pierce is @pierce. 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.
If you have feedback about the show, or just want to enter to win a $50 gift card, take our brief listener survey here.
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[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
Michael Calore: Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Michael Calore, a senior editor here at WIRED. This week, we’ve got a special show for you. This is our 500th episode of Gadget Lab, and that is an astonishingly huge number. It’s hard, even for me to believe, and I’ve been here for most of these. Now, since this is such a huge milestone, we want to pay proper tribute to it. So we’re going to ditch the usual format this week and do something special instead. We’re going to invite on some of the past co-hosts of the show. We’ll check in with them and see how they’re doing. We’re going to ask them to talk about their memories of being on Gadget Lab, their memories of working at WIRED. It’ll be a fun stroll down memory lane. It’ll also be a rare look behind the scenes here, so you can get a sense of how the show is made and how it’s evolved.
So to set the scene a little bit, I want to take you all the way back to the beginning. Most people don’t know this, but Gadget Lab wasn’t always a weekly audio podcast. It actually started life as a video show sometime in the late 2000s. There was a rotating cast of hosts, usually somebody from the WIRED Gear team, and we would sit in front of the camera and talk about whatever the new gadget was that week. After a couple of years, there was a change in management at WIRED, and that video series was canceled along with a few other videos series. It was all very sad. And for a while, WIRED didn’t put out any videos or any podcasts for over a year. The feeds just went dark.
But we still had all of these subscribers, people who were loyal to WIRED and were expecting us to deliver something eventually. So in early 2013, I started talking to my coworker, Mat Honan about possibly doing an audio podcast, something we could just start publishing totally on the down-low completely under our boss’s radar, just so we could give the loyal WIRED audience something to listen to. Also, podcasts were exploding at the time in tech journalism, and we really felt like WIRED needed to have one. So let’s pick it up there with my first co-host on Gadget Lab and our first guest on today’s episode, here’s me and LG talking to Mat Honan.
[Transition music plays]
MC: Mat Honan, welcome back to the show.
Mat Honan: Thanks for having me. It’s been a while.
MC: So you are an executive editor at BuzzFeed News and a long time ago, right before that job, you worked at WIRED. What were your years at WIRED? Do you remember?
MH: Yeah, I started there in 2003 as a fact checker, Joanna Pearlstein hired me and I worked there in a couple different capacities until … I spent a year at Gizmodo sometime around 2011 and then came back as a fancy staff writer instead of just a contractor.
MC: So you and I rebooted the show and did it as like an audio podcast. I would you to take me back to your best recollection of the discussions that we had around why we should start a podcast and how it happened and all that.
MH: I mean, I like to think of us as creating it, even though it had existed previously. Can we just say that?
MC: Yes. Because to be fair, it was completely different in its previous incarnation.
MH: It had also died. So, I mean, choose your own definition of creation, but I like to say that I’m the founder of the Gadget Lab podcast. So my recollection of it is basically that we were … it was that we thought it would be fun and interesting, and that we were looking around and listening to lots of other discussions out there and thought that there was a space and a reason to do this. And so next thing you knew we were in a densely carpeted room with … I recall it being very dark, and there being lots of foam, and I don’t think it was an Apple headquarters, but it may have well been, the sound quality was so good. Yeah, and we always started doing it every week. And it was very fun, and actually one of the things that I really missed, still miss, about WIRED was getting to sit down with you once a week and talk about what’s going on.
MC: Share air.
Lauren Goode: What were podcasts like at the time? And how were people listening to them?
MH: Basically, what we would do was we would capture vibrations in a clay tablet and then nail the tablets to people’s homes, where if you put it on your roof and let the wind blow through it, you could hear our voices.
LG: It’s incredible.
MC: That’s completely accurate.
LG: It’s really incredible technology.
MC: Well, I remember a lot of the shows were like two dudes talking about the week in tech and-
LG: I really think we need more of those. Yeah.
MC: We were like, “We could do that. We’re two dudes.”
MH: Right. We have opinions.
MC: We have opinions about technology. And I remember just that, that was basically the impetus. It was like, “We should be doing this. We’re WIRED. We don’t have one of these going on. Everybody else has one of these going on. We should just start there.”
MH: Yeah. That’s basically the way I remember too, and I remember it was very little prep. We would typically have a list of stories, and then we’d come in with a story, we’d say, “Let’s talk about this and this.” We would just talk about it, but we didn’t really plan it out. I do remember it being shockingly easy to get that launched. I assume it’s much harder to launch a podcast now.
MC: So I think at the time, all you had to do, to publish a podcast was to upload it to the place where you had told Apple podcasts live on your server, and then it would generate a new RSS file, which then Apple would see and then distribute it through iTunes. And that was literally it. There was no Spotify dance, there was nothing else. It was just like, you used Apple’s publishing service to update an RSS feed and then everyone would just see that there was a new episode in their client.
LG: But I think what Mat was saying, Mat, feel free to interject, is that, it’s easier technically to launch a podcast now. The barriers are lower, but it’s harder to get attention for launching a podcast now, I think.
MH: Yeah. And also like I assumed that if you launched a podcast now, there would be a PR plan around it. And there might be paid placement for ads somewhere for it. There’d be all kinds of things that go with serious media ventures, which podcasts have become.
LG: So Mat, you wrote a lot of really impactful pieces during your time at WIRED, but during that time that you briefly went to Gizmodo before coming back to WIRED, you wrote a piece about the fever dream of a guilt-ridden Gadget reporter. And I just remember this as the story that everyone was jealous of, everyone wished they had written, because you so nailed it. You so captured the mood of what it was like covering CES at that particular time. When you look back at that piece now, how do you feel about it?
MH: Well, I’m still glad I did it. I mean, honestly I was just trying to capture the way I felt that day, and the way I was feeling, and I had a terrible hangover and everything was really monotonous. And as you all know, I had to trudge across several miles of convention center floor, and there were so many other people doing the exact same thing, it seemed pretty pointless. And I was talking about this last week with another reporter here in San Francisco. I do feel like sometimes I owe the world a debt, given my relentless promotion of rare earth metals and other things that are in these phones. And I think I was also struggling a little bit with feeling guilty in my role about what I was doing there.
MC: I think we all feel that to an extent. There comes a time when you’re reviewing the 18th Android phone in four months and you’re like, “This has to stop.”
LG: Right. Because there’s such superficial upgrade cycles at this point too. We’re just being lured into these upgrades and new purchases without really thinking about their usefulness or their longevity, because that’s what the companies who make them want us to think. They want us to think we have to constantly upgrade. What do you think it is about that particular CES, Mat, or really CES in general, right, all of this external stimuli and stuff happening, that made that piece just pour out of you?
MH: Well, I think I should say, before I wrote that, I had pitched … And maybe I even wrote, I don’t think I wrote it though … a story to a WIRED editor named Chris Baker about the pointlessness of CES and that the most interesting stuff was happening outside of CES. I already felt that way. I felt like, “OK, if there’s something really cool, it’s not going to get released here. It’s going to be Apple doing their thing, or Microsoft doing their thing, or Google. The story that I remember pitching Chris Baker on was about the flip cam. Do you guys remember the flip cam?
MC: Oh yeah.
MH: Which was … I may be getting my history wrong here now, but it wasn’t announced at CES. And I just felt like a lot of what you’re here for is the newest OLED TV, which is not something super interesting and you’re just being a transcription device for whoever’s OLED line that year. “Oh, this year it’s the Samsung. Got all the great OLEDs.” And I don’t know. I just wanted to say something different. I wanted to say something real, I guess, and I felt like that was real.
MC: What do you think is the biggest, most important, or most notable change in technology journalism that you’ve seen over the past several years?
MH: I mean, I think the best thing is that people aren’t taking folks at their word anymore. I think a lot of that was caused by Theranos. And like these, a lot of the preposterous claims that used to just go unchecked, get checked now. I do think at times that it can go overboard and there’s almost a knee jerk tendency to be overly skeptical or overly critical about tech. I can’t imagine what the last year would have been like if we didn’t have the internet, you know what I mean? Or even all kinds of broadband video.
But it’s been interesting to see how people have really gone from a kind of a hero worship to a reflexively critical stance, which has been a big change. And I don’t even necessarily think that’s so much of a media change. When you look at sort of attitudes or seemingly attitudes among people who have grown up with smartphones and the internet and a lot of these other things, they tend to approach them more critically, as they’re not as wowed by them, which makes sense, just the same way that I’m not wowed by a TV. So I guess that makes sense. It does seem like a cultural shift.
MC: Yeah. I mean, there was a period of time when we were kids, where a computer was something that absolutely wowed us. Everything about the early internet was a wow moment, the first time you logged on with a modem, the first time you got an email in your inbox from somebody you didn’t know. Now, that’s like the most unwelcomed thing in the world, but at the time it was like, wow. It took half a lifetime to wear off.
MH: I remember when I was in college I spent hours and hours probably on a Saturday or something, getting my first dial up connection working, and just being amazed that I could do that at my house versus a computer lab somewhere and thinking it was just like this life-changing thing that I could now … 14.4 modem handshake got me a webpage in 20 minutes or whatever. And I think I carried a lot of that through my life, I still do today, but it does seem like it’s a shift. I mean, my God, I can’t imagine being confronted with a smartphone as a teenager, I probably would have done terrible things with it.
LG: I think what’s been interesting is that, in a way tech is no longer quite as verticalized from a coverage perspective as it was, even just a decade ago. I mean and I think probably at some of the legacy publications, some of the very established newspapers or just institutional magazines, it’s still like a tech vertical, right? Or there’s like the tech sector, or if you’re an investor and you’re reading the Wall Street Journal, you’re looking at tech stocks. But the way I think about tech now is that it’s just infused in everything. It’s in healthcare, it’s in the transportation industry, it’s affecting and deepening social inequalities. Now it’s just completely infused in our lives.
MH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so ubiquitous and not just tech, the internet is so ubiquitous. I have no idea how many internet connected devices are in my house, but there must be several dozen, some that I may not even think about or know and when you think about all the different things that, on a daily basis are just like delivered to you via the internet … I don’t mean like groceries, or Uber eats, or whatever, but just the weather. It’s bizarre.
LG: Speaking of tech being everywhere, one of the other really excellent pieces you wrote for WIRED was about Slack. You were very early to Slack and you had a profile of Stewart Butterfield. At the time you were writing about it, I mean, you obviously were writing about it because you knew that there was something about it that was going to catch on, it was catching on, but did you ever have any idea that it would affect our work environments this much?
MH: I did not have any notion that it was going to change the way that we work as much as it did. And honestly, looking back on my assumption that it was like a better version of email was probably pretty naïve. And I think a lot of the way that I was thinking of it was like, well, I’ve used Hipcamp and this is much better than that.
MH: HipChat, sorry. Yes.
LG: HipChat is better.
MH: I mixed up my HipChat and my and my Campfire, and was because I’ve used Campfire, and I like it a lot better than that. But I didn’t really see how it would break down the walls that we have between our personal and our work lives quite as much as it did. This is may be me coming from a white male perspective, I certainly had no idea that it would be used in as many sort of nefarious harassing ways as it’s been used. I thought it was like a really cool communications platform being built by interesting people who had a track record of doing interesting stuff. And I did think it was going to be big and everywhere, but I didn’t think it was going to have a lot of the … I just didn’t consider a lot of the other effects
LG: So anytime we hear that, Mike, do you want to do the sound effect really quickly? Anytime we hear the …
[MC makes a noise with his mouth that sounds uncannily like a Slack notification]
LG: … we should blame Mat Honan.
MH: That’s not even remotely true. That was a really fun story to write. And Mark Robinson, who was my editor on that piece, just did a remarkable edit on that, turned it into something something special, that it wasn’t when I filed it.
MC: It holds up. Well, Mat, thanks for thanks for joining us on this little stroll down the digital memory lane. Thank you for using the internet to connect your face with ours.
MH: I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for having me. I hope you’ll have me back some time when it’s not an anniversary show just because I’m a fun guy whose company you enjoy.
MC: We will.
LG: Mike loves fun guy.
MC: I do. It’s pronounced fungi.
LG: He loves those too.
MH: Oh, I know.
[Transition music plays]
MC: All right, we’re going to take a break and then we’ll be right back.
MC: After Mat left to go to work at BuzzFeed News, I hosted this show solo for a while, but pretty soon we had a couple of new regular co-hosts. We’re going to hear from one of them right now. You might know her if you’ve been listening to the recent episodes because she was our guest just last week, WIRED senior writer, Arielle Pardes. So here’s me and Lauren Goode talking to Arielle.
[Transition music plays]
MC: So Arielle, you are currently a senior writer, writing mostly for our culture desk. Before that you were a senior associate editor on the Gear desk with us.
Arielle Pardes: It’s true.
MC: And you were a regular fixture on this here show, the Gadget Lab show. Do you have good memories of that time?
AP: I do, but I still can’t figure out why you invited me on, in the first place, to be totally frank.
LG: Only for today or in general?
AP: No. In general. I felt for many episodes, certainly the majority of episodes, that I was a co-host, that I had no business being in the room with such smart, engaged, knowledgeable gadget freaks because … And this is a big secret. I don’t know if our listeners are prepared for this kind of a bombshell, but I don’t actually like gadgets.
LG: Well, the thing we probably don’t want to tell our listeners. So everyone just plug your ears really quickly is that, we don’t really either, Mike and I. It’s just an occupational hazard that we have to use a bunch of them, but you should hear Mike and I talk when the microphones are off.
AP: The secrets are all coming out.
LG: That’s right. So what has been your favorite story to work on in all of your time at WIRED?
AP: Oh gosh. What a difficult question. I’ll answer with two very different stories. I think one of the stories that I feel most proud of is actually the first story I wrote for WIRED. I think it was the first, which was about how all of a sudden there were a bunch of startups trying to reinvent the breast pump, this gadget that many women rely on every year in America to express milk after pregnancy. And this is like a piece of technology that hadn’t meaningfully been updated since. I don’t know, the industrial revolution.
And so I pitched this to Mike and Mike, very generously, let me write about it. And I love that story along with many of the stories I wrote when I was on the Gear desk, because they were about ways that gadgets really shape how we live our lives, and what we’re able to do, and how comfortable and free and human we feel when we move through the world. And this was an area that was getting real innovation for the first time ever. So I loved working on that story. I loved talking to women about all the weird mechanisms they were using to try to make a better breast pump. So I love that story. My favorite assignment for WIRED would probably have to be interviewing Chris Evans in his home for reasons that I don’t feel I need to elaborate on.
LG: OK. So my final question for you, we’ll get back to the other ones, was going to be, has Chris Evans sort his toilet paper problem? Because this is what America really needs to know.
AP: Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have him on speed dial. We don’t talk quite as often as one might imagine, so I don’t know. But I do wonder sometimes because toilet paper became such a hot issue in the pandemic. It was hard to come by and I do worry about him.
LG: What was it like going to his house?
AP: I was very nervous, but I was also reminding myself that I’m a professional and that’s your job, like one’s job is to talk to people and listen to them. I mean, I’m sure, Lauren, you’ve interviewed some of the most high profile people in technology and it’s kind of the same thing, right? Just because someone is extremely powerful, or extremely wealthy, or has made decisions that have shaped millions of people’s lives, they’re still just a person. So one has to remind oneself of that. But yeah, I was super nervous and … And also his skin is just so nice. I found myself getting really distracted by that.
LG: I have to say there was like a period of time when, I think either five or six covers in a row at WIRED, were written by women and it was really cool. And I remember we laid them all out on a desk in the office and took a photo and we’re like, “This is awesome.” And the month before I had written the profile of Simone Giertz, and that had ended up on a cover, and I was like, “We’re keeping the street going. This is so exciting.” And I was really excited about my cover and Simone was a lovely person to profile. And then I heard, Arielle was doing the next month’s cover and I was like, “What’s your story on?” And she was like, “Chris Evans.” I was like, “Oh my God”. I was like, “You’re going to his house? Or is it …” And then, she told me the toilet paper story, and everyone’s got to go read the profile. It’s great. And oh, also he’s trying to save democracy, but aside from that … Yeah, it was fun to experience it through you, Arielle.
AP: Yeah. Speaking of like catching up with people we’ve profiled, have you caught up with Simone lately?
LG: I have actually. Yeah, I saw her a couple times, post profile, before the pandemic, then we went for a hike during the pandemic and she has since moved to LA. So I haven’t seen her now, I guess since the summer, but she’s great. She adopted a three-legged dog and she’s starting some new projects that I sometimes hear about and … yeah. So one of the things that you cover frequently is kind of the intersection of products and people, I like to say. So you write about tech, but you also write about the people who make the tech. And especially during the pandemic, you’ve written about topics like remote work and the persistent inequalities in Silicon Valley, and I’m curious, what has surprised you most about Silicon Valley and its culture during this whole time.
AP: I have become pretty obsessed with what I would describe as the atomization of Silicon Valley. I’m very interested in covering Silicon Valley as a place and as a culture that is tied to a place, but I think in the last year, many people have seen that place means something different than it used to, or it can, in a time when everyone is at home and living inside of their computers. And so, something that I found really surprising is just how much the ethos of Silicon Valley, and the culture, and the habits, and the practices, have started to spill out of that region and into other places, which is very interesting for me, because as someone who’s interested in what does it mean to be part of the tech world or the industry.
Well, suddenly that includes a much broader swath of the world than it did before. So I found that really surprising. What has been surprising the last year? I mean, everything has been surprising in the last year, right? I couldn’t have called any of this, I couldn’t have expected any of this. I wrote a story, early in the pandemic, about what startups and larger tech companies were doing about all of their perks, now that people were working from home, and I was really heartened to see that a lot of companies had given up the office chef because there is no office.
But they’d found ways to give back to their employees in ways that are really meaningful, like helping out with childcare credits or providing someone who can come clean your house once a month, which are still sort of these fancy rich people benefits. But it seems like maybe we’re getting away from the world where Silicon Valley is all ping pong tables and beer on tap and is more about treating people well in their realities, which include less glamorous parts of life.
MC: You’ve also written a fair amount about the Time Well Spent movement. This was one of the big sort of reactions in Silicon Valley among the big tech companies to the tech backlash. People felt as though technology was taking over our lives in ways that made everybody uncomfortable and feeling less than human. So a lot of these companies and the people in the research institutions in Silicon Valley started this movement where we could keep our devices from taking over so much of our attention and win back a little bit of time and mental space for ourselves. It’s been about two and a half years since that all started and I’m just curious if you have any opinions about whether or not it’s actually working or helping.
AP: Yeah. This is an interesting question. I’ve actually been meaning to look up what the Time Well Spent thought leaders are thinking these days, because it seems to me like there was this real groundswell of support for the idea that we’re spending too much of our time and attention on our screens and not enough time and attention on people we love, or reading books in print, or … whatever it is that makes a fulfilling life. I think that a lot of people were on board with that idea and then this curveball came, which is the pandemic where, now the only way you can be with the person you love is on a screen. For the last year, that’s been the case for many people.
And so I don’t know where this leaves us. I think it’ll be really interesting to see, in our post pandemic, post vaccination world, where people start to redraw the boundaries around their personal technology, whether that’s a little further out than it was before, maybe you actually have a more positive relationship with the time that you’re spending on Zoom or on FaceTime or even on Instagram. I found that really surprising in the last year, how much Instagram has been a valuable tool for keeping in touch with people that I don’t see very often because I can’t see anyone very often. But it’s also possible that the backlash comes back in an even stronger forum where people are now so sick of being on their computers and being on their phones, that there could be a sort of Time Well Spent part too, where people go full Luddite and just want to be in the real meet space and not in the digital space.
So I don’t know, but I think it’s an amazing question and I’ll be curious to see where things land, but … I mean, I can say for myself like, I was pretty on board with the idea that we should be spending less time on screen pre-pandemic and now I have all those stupid Apple reminders on my phone that are like, “Only spend 30 minutes a day on Twitter,” and every single day they pop up and it’s like, “You’ve reached your time limit on Twitter.” And I just ignore it like a petulant teenager because what am I going to do? Not spend time on Twitter? Come on.
MC: Yeah. That was the big mantra at the beginning of the pandemic, was like, “Don’t beat yourself up if you’re spending a lot of time online, don’t beat yourself up if you’re just watching like four hours of Netflix every night.” You need something to keep you occupied, but the central problem that they were trying to fix was that the design of the apps are, they’re designed to be sticky, right? They’re designed to keep you in them as long as possible. That hasn’t changed. Our habits around the apps have changed.
AP: Yeah, exactly. The whole critique of this movement is that people are not in control to the extent that they should be. And in fact, you have teams of incredibly smart designers and engineers who are using data to influence your decisions without you even knowing it. And so I think, yeah, the wrong answer to any of this is to say that an individual should just use their phone less or not beat themselves up when they want to use their phone more, because we’re talking about systems here. Systems people, they need to be overthrown, or maybe not. I don’t know.
LG: Arielle, thank you so much for joining us on this very special anniversary episode of Gadget Lab. We hope you’ll come back again soon. We’ll probably ask you to come back on the show very soon. And in the meantime, we’ll be sure to link to all of your stories in the show notes.
AP: Always a pleasure to join you guys, because you are some of my favorite people, but it’s especially a pleasure to be on with you Lauren, because for many years now, people have confused our voices and as such have attributed really smart things to me, that actually you said, and so it’s always a pleasure to be here with the hope that someone is going to … Yeah, mix us up again and then give me credit for some genius insight you’ve had.
LG: It works both ways. So thank you very much.
[Transition music plays]
MC: When Arielle first started at WIRED, she joined the show a little bit after another co-host had stepped in, David Pierce. David came to WIRED in 2015 with some professional podcasting experience under his belt. So he basically walked into our Ramshackle little studio in the WIRED office, took one look around and started making a list of things that he wanted to upgrade, get rid of, or change. And if you know, David, you know he loves his list making apps. So we wanted to bring David on to talk about that transition. Personally, I remember it as the time period when the show actually started sounding like a real, fully professional operation, and it’s all thanks to him. So here’s me and Arielle Pardes talking to David Pierce.
[Transition music plays]
MC: David Pierce, look at you. Welcome back.
David Pierce: Thank you. It’s so nice to be back. I have so many memories of that weird little closet all of which make me both happy and sad at the same time.
MC: I also have a lot of memories of that weird little closet, because I’ve been standing in this weird little closet for about a year now.
DP: That’s true. Compared to the closet you’re in now, that closet is enormous.
MC: Oh man. So when did you when did you start at WIRED?
DP: So I started at WIRED in January of 2015, and then I was in New York, when I started at WIRED, and then I moved to San Francisco in April of 2015. And then I think you started allowing me on the podcast, a couple of months after that. It took a little while before you were like, “This guy’s not trouble. We can let him into the room.” But after that.
MC: No, not at all. We roped you in immediately, didn’t we?
DP: There was like a probationary period for David. There was an unofficial, like, “Let’s make sure this guy’s not going to prison or anything,” and then I was allowed to be on.
AP: Do you remember the first episode that you recorded?
DP: No. I should have looked this up before I came on. I’m sure it was momentous and important, and I don’t remember.
MC: I remember that when you came on the show, it was pretty rinky-dink. We had bad equipment, a bad signing room, and the first thing you did was you made it like not nearly as rinky-dink.
DP: I just remember saying, “What if we introduced the show every week?” Because it was just the beginning of the show, we’d just be talking. It was like you turned it on in the middle. And I remember my big artistic insight, was like, “What if you just said welcome to the Gadget Lab podcast?”
MC: It was a choice. That was an artistic choice. I was like, “You know what? We’re not going to be like every other technology podcast. We’re not going to have a theme song. We’re not going to introduce ourselves. You’re just going to get it in your feed, you’re going to click on it, and it’s just going to be people talking at you.” And you were like, “Hey, what if we introduced each other and what if we had a theme song, and what if we put some structure into the show?”
DP: I also-
AP: Oh, David came up with the idea for the theme song.
DP: Well, the amount of credit that I get for the theme song is saying to Mike, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a theme song?” And then, if memory serves, like six minutes later, Mike comes back and it’s like, “Oh, I wrote 45 possible theme songs. Would you like to use any of these?” And they were all amazing. And I just picked one at random and that became the Gadget Lab podcast theme song. It was great.
MC: And we all love it.
MC: It’s our version of the Dick Wolf sound in Law and Order.
DP: It’s good sound.
AP: It sounds remarkably like that.
DP: It has a real vibe to it. That’s why we picked it. It was the one that felt sort of the coolest and sexiest of all of them. I was very into it.
MC: Oh, you’re warming my heart over here. Well, OK. So of all the changes that you instituted to our institution, what do you think is the most lasting contribution to the podcast?
DP: So the thing that I still find myself loving, and I get no credit for this, except that I like made us have the meeting that I think led to this, if I remember correctly, was the recommendations thing that, at the end, everybody’s just going to say something that they love. That was your idea, I’m pretty sure, in, “How do we structure this podcast a little more, conversation?” I’m pretty sure you were the one who was like, “Let’s just end with recommending stuff we like.” And that’s still as a listener now, it’s consistently a thing that I love, and I’ve found books and TV shows and weird apps, and Arielle is always sending people to new places to get their horoscope, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of the show. It was fun to do when I was on the show, and it was really fun as listener. I think that’s structurally sort of the thing that I liked the most.
AP: That’s quite a legacy. In fact, I would say that some listeners only come to the Gadget Lab podcast for the recommendation. So one hell of a legacy.
DP: Again, I get no credit for it. My job was literally what Mike described, I sat down in a room one time, I was like, “What if we just paid attention to this a little bit more for a second?” And then Mike had 50 great ideas, and now the podcast is awesome.
MC: I’m sure I grumbled a lot. I’m sure I was like, “Oh God, no, that just sounds like work.”
DP: Yeah. There was a lot of that, especially at the beginning. And we would be sitting there right before we started recording and you’d be like, “Do we have to do the whole loop introduction thing?” And it’d be like, “Yes, Mike, all you have to do is just say welcome to the Gadget Lab podcast, I’m Mike Calore,” and you’d be like, “Fine.” And then it would be great every time.
MC: So you’re at Protocol now.
DP: I am, indeed.
MC: Or as we refer to it, Techilitico.
DP: Techlitico, Polititech, Techlitico, it’s all fair game.
MC: Do you do a podcast there?
DP: I do. It has had many forms in the time that I’ve been doing it. A strange thing about podcasts is it turns out that they’re a very different beast than most other formats. Learning how to make one has been a really interesting process, learning how to grow one is a really interesting process. It’s all been very strange, but I host a podcast, it’s called Source Code. It’s not nearly as good as the Gadget Lab podcast, but we also haven’t done 500 episodes yet, so I have some time to catch up, but we’ll get there.
MC: You also do a newsletter, right?
DP: I do.
DP: Every day.
MC: Every day? You do it every single day?
DP: Six days a week. I had somebody when I was-
AP: It’s so good.
DP: When I first signed up to write a newsletter, there was a person in media who pulled me aside and was like, what I always tell people who are signing up to do a daily newsletter is that, “You have no idea how many days they are.” And I didn’t really realize what that meant. And now, were are at 15 months into writing a newsletter every single day, and there are just a lot of days.
MC: See, David, I should tell you that I subscribed to both your podcast and your newsletter, and I’m saying these things, and I’m asking you these questions as prompts, because I’m here to serve the listener.
DP: Wow, well, that’s very kind of them. I make it easy for them because my newsletter and my podcast are both called Source Code. You can find them both at Protocol.com and you can be as cool as Mike Calore and get them every single time they come out.
MC: Man. Thank you. One of the things that you wrote about at WIRED and that you spent a lot of time talking about is your relationship with messaging, particularly direct messaging and like messaging apps and also email, and just communication through the phone, through the desktop. Are you still obsessed with that?
DP: Yes. Truly, it’s the only thing I care about. And I remember there was a story I wrote at WIRED, I forget what the headline was, but it was basically … the thrust of the piece was like, “We need to pick one messaging app and we all need to use it. And I don’t care what it is, just tell me which one, so I can use it because I’m tired of using 58 messaging apps to talk to all my friends.” And I still, to this day, get emails about that story from people being like, “Which one was it?” And I was like, “I don’t know. There’s like 50 more new ones that I have to use since I wrote that story.” But no, I think messaging is still the most interesting thing in the world. How we talk to each other, is it bizarre unsolved problem?
And it’s been even more this way with … I spend my life on Zoom now, which is good at some things, but fundamentally kind of a terrible product and they’re all terrible. And we just have not made any real progress in this, what does it mean to connect virtually thing, and I think it is like the most important question in the world
MC: That, and maybe solving the Middle East.
DP: Yeah, no, it’s really, it’s like that and Snapchat spectacles, which is the thing I remember forcing you to talk about 25 episodes in a row on the podcast.
AP: They’re the future and the past.
DP: Yeah. They’re definitely not the past, that I can tell you for sure. They’re also not the present according to everyone whoever emailed me about stories I wrote about spectacles, but they are the future, I promise.
AP: Did you ever make a recommendation that you would like to take back?
DP: Oh gosh. I’m going to say no, if only because nothing has ever really come back to haunt me and I figure as long as nothing leads to me being viciously attacked on Twitter, it must’ve been fine.
DP: I think I’ve recommended a lot of shows over the years that turned out to have like three good episodes and then not be very good. I’ve definitely recommended books that I had read six to 12 pages of, but nothing has really caused me any trouble yet. So I’m going to stand by everything. I feel good about it.
AP: Wow. Good.
DP: Yeah. I have a question for Mike, which is really the only reason I’m here.
DP: And I want to know, Mike, who was your favorite Gadget Lab podcast cohost
MC: My favorite Gadget Lab podcast cohost?
DP: If you say me, I’m not going to believe you and I will ask you again.
MC: Oh, geez. That’s a hard one.
DP: I always thought Mat was my favorite. Mat’s like annoying in the sense that everything he does is wonderful, and I just wish he’d do more of it. Every time he writes, I’m like, “Oh, you’re the best writer I know, you should probably write more often.” And then he’s like, “No, I have 85 other things I’m better than you at, that I have to go do before I can write again.” It’s just very upsetting, and I feel that way about the podcast too.
MC: Hard one because everybody is so good and everybody has their strengths, but because she’s in the room and I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say it, I’m going to go with Arielle Pardes.
DP: Good answer.
MC: Lauren is fantastic, you’re fantastic, but Arielle is the one who always makes me feel like dumber than I am because she’s so smart.
DP: I think that’s a compliment. Right, Arielle?
MC: Yeah, it is. Yeah.
AP: That’s a terrible answer. I feel like I am the only Gadget Lab host ever who has cared not at all about gadgets.
MC: Oh, you have a very unique relationship with gadgets because you understand the emotional connection and you understand, what you get out of it is what you put into it. It’s not just about consumerism with you, it’s not about like owning something, it’s about, how it understands you and how it fits into your life. That’s good stuff.
DP: I mean, I still remember that from when Arielle interviewed at WIRED, sitting in the conference room with Arielle and she’s like, “Is it going to be a problem that I don’t really care that much about gadgets and I’m applying for a job on the Gear team?” And we were both like, “No, it’s probably fine,” and it turned out great.
MC: At least you still come on. You can’t escape the show. We just keep bringing you back on.
AP: I know. What’s up with that? Let me out of here!
MC: David. I have one final question for you.
MC: How’s Finn?
DP: Finn is wonderful. Finn is eight years old now, and he got-
MC: Finn is a dog just in case you don’t know this.
DP: Finn is a dog. And we got a new dog, we got a pandemic dog, who is one and a half and is two times Finn size. He weighs eight pounds, she weighs 20. And she is just full crazy all the time. Which, on the one hand, has been good for Finn because he’s like eight and kind of an old man and crank, and she keeps him young. But on the other hand, it’s very clear that he would love for us to just dump her on the side of the road and go home so he can sleep. So it’s been an interesting transition but he’s good. He’s kicking it downstairs on the couch right now. He’s happy as can be. He’s going to be very sad when we all have to go back to offices again. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
MC: Oh yeah. There’s going to be a big traumatic day for everybody’s pets.
AP: Oh my God.
DP: Really, there are articles about how to transition your pet for you to … You literally just have to leave and go stand outside for an hour so your pet can get used to being away from you. It’s very intense.
AP: David, I have a final question for you as well. It has been, by my count, six years, since you first started railing about us needing one messaging app, going forward.
DP: I believe that’s correct.
AP: Let’s just settle this once and for all, what’s it going to be?
DP: The answer is WhatsApp. I hate that the answer is WhatsApp. I wish the answer weren’t WhatsApp, but the answer is WhatsApp. We all need to get it. Most people already have WhatsApp. Is part of the reason I think this is exciting. Basically everybody has it on their phone because they’ve used it at one point. It’s simple enough to figure out, it does all the stuff, it’s owned by Facebook, but also the people who run it, I think hate that it’s owned by Facebook, which I find very productive and useful. So I think the answer is WhatsApp. I’d love for it to be Signal, I’d love for it to be some open source, decentralized blockchain, but it’s … forget all that. The answer is WhatsApp. Just WhatsApp being forever.
AP: It doesn’t bother you that it’s ugly?
DP: It’s so ugly. But you can change the background of your chat that at least makes it less ugly. So you can get it to a C . And I figure a C is better than I’m going to do anywhere else.
AP: OK. It’s settled.
DP: And when WhatsApp inevitably gets hacked, please don’t blame me. That’s a recommendation I will take back.
MC: You know what? The funny thing about it is that, even though you talk about how much you love messaging and how much you want us to all settle on one messaging protocol, I frequently send you messages and never get a reply back. So I’m going to call you out on that.
DP: That sounds like a lie. Also, Twitter DMs, not the best.
DP: And by not the best, I mean, David is not the best Twitter DMs, but Mike, I love you and you know that.
MC: I love you too.
DP: Happy 500th by the way. Congratulations. That’s a big accomplishment, man.
MC: Oh my God.
DP: 500 of these, that’s nuts.
MC: David, thanks for coming back.
DP: Thank you, you guys. Have me back anytime.
[Transition music plays]
MC: OK. Let’s take another quick break and then we’ll be back with one more guest in the hot seat.
MC: So now we’ve arrived at the final segment of today’s special 500th episode, Spectacular. It’s a conversation between the current cohost of this show, myself and Lauren Goode. I didn’t really want to do this, but she talked me into it, so here it is. Now enjoy while I go hide in a closet.
[Transition music plays]
MC: Lauren, when did you start at WIRED?
LG: I started on April 9th, 2018.
MC: Wow, you remember the exact date?
LG: I remember the exact date. It was a Monday. I had just gone away the weekend before, and it was my birthday, just before then. So I guess I’ll always remember that.
MC: Oh, well happy belated birthday.
LG: Thank you. The WIRED anniversary is more exciting.
MC: Did we have you on the show your very first week at WIRED?
LG: I don’t remember. I think that week is just a blur. I remember starting and I came in with a fresh notebook, and the first two pages I had were just filled with questions for you and Arielle, because we were all sitting in the same sort of Gear desk pod. And I remember being like, “All right, these are the questions I need to ask.” My editor, my first week in the office, and get answers to. And I kept saying to you, “Can we babysit at some point and go over these?” And you’re like, “Oh yeah, sure. But have you checked out the cafeteria? There’s really good lunch.”
And I’m like, “Yeah. OK. Yeah. Cool. Sounds great.” Later on, I was like, “I have these questions here. Do you think maybe we could go through these?” And you’re like, “Yeah. So what are you thinking about for your first story?” And I’m like, “Oh, right.” It was just the most chill onboarding I’ve ever had. It was a very MC onboarding process where I was like, “I need to understand the operations of how this is going to work.” And you were like, “Just have some food and chill and write some stuff.”
MC: See, Most people would consider that a bad onboarding experience.
LG: Well, I didn’t qualify it. I guess I said I was chill.
MC: Well, thank you. I appreciate you recognizing my chill.
LG: Yeah. I think it’s one of my favorite qualities about you.
MC: I do remember being a little bit nervous because we had just said goodbye to David Pierce and Arielle was on the team, and Arielle and I were doing the show together, and we were excited to get you in, but also we didn’t know what the energy was going to be like. I should have not felt nervous at all though, because you were a seasoned podcasting professional by the time you arrived at WIRED.
LG: Oh, that’s very nice of you to say. I mean, I was coming from doing a two-year podcast with Kara Swisher where she and I were just jawing in a room once a week. And yes, she often wore her sunglasses while we were taping indoors, and so just walking in and seeing your eyes really was just a treat. It was such a treat, you and Arielle. I mean, every podcast has its own vibe and I was trying to go with the Gadget Lab flow while also inserting some of my own ideas into the room, and I remember it being fun right away, for sure.
MC: I remember being a more professional right away. You’re always the person who insists that we retake it to get it as perfect as possible, you’re the person who will interrupt me and rewrite question for me in the moment, which I absolutely appreciate. These are things that everybody else who I’ve ever worked with on the show, it’s just slipped right by and it has … “Just let me word salad, marble mouth my way through this, and it’s going to be fine.” You’re like, “No. Here’s how you do it.”
LG: I just like to put out the caveat that this is only in my professional relationships.
MC: I’m sure.
LG: Mike we’ve been to dinner, you know. This is only in Google Doc land. So Mike, we’ve interviewed a few different people now who have been on the Gadget Lab podcast, but you are the OG. In this room, you’re the one who’s been at WIRED the longest, you’ve been on the show the longest, so I wanted to throw some questions your way. Do you remember the very first episode of Gadget Lab and what you talked about?
MC: So I wasn’t on the very first episode. Like I’ve said before, this show stopped and started a few times before I joined it with other production teams, other hosts and other directors. I do remember pretty early on, I sat in an episode where we were videotaping it, because we used to videotape the show, where we were talking about coffee and we were doing a demonstration about coffee, and we had MH on demonstrating how to make coffee with an AeroPress. There was a period of like 10 seconds where we just sat there staring at the AeroPress. And I remember thinking to myself, “There are a lot of people who are watching this video, but there also are a lot of people who are going to be listening to this as audio. And just getting a little bit of panic, but also just forgetting about it instantly and not worrying about it, which is the only way to do it really when you’re stuck in that situation.
The other thing I remember is we also had a guy on, I think he was a fellow or an intern at WIRED, and he demonstrated how to use a sausage as a stylus on a smartphone touchscreen.
LG: Oh, that’s-
LG: Oh, sorry. I’m having a visceral reaction to that.
MC: So, those are the kinds of things that we did on episodes way back in the day. They were like 15 minute episodes. So we would have somebody come on and demonstrate something for us and talk about it-
LG: Yeah. It was a literal sausage fest.
MC: It was a literal sausage fest. It absolutely was. Although I should say we had some really smart and amazing women from the WIRED newsroom on the show like Christina Bonnington and Alexandra Chang, and it was a big family.
LG: So one of my favorite parts of our show is recommendations, which I would probably say 80 percent of the time, I’m figuring out as we are signing onto Zoom and getting ready to tape, I’m like “Oh, what else have I been doing this week other than working? Oh, right. I should probably recommend that.” How did recommendations start?
MC: Well, we talked about this earlier in the show with David, a little bit. But I do remember us coming up with the idea of having a show and then something that was consistent at the end, and recommendations felt like the natural way to end it. And I really love it because it lets people bring their personality onto the show, particularly like when we have somebody who’s not a host, right? Like somebody from the newsroom who comes in and they talk about the story they wrote that week and it’s 20 minutes of them talking about their story, they’re super up to speed on all of these topics, and then we get to recommendations and they recommend like their favorite yoga mat or like a dog treat that their dog really loves.
LG: Yeah. I love it. So it sounds like it was a real collaborative effort between you and David to come up with recommendations. You guys are like the Larry and Sergey of recommendations.
MC: Oh no. I prefer to say Laurel and Hardy.
MC: Or maybe Jerry and George.
LG: That’s a good one. So you have worked at WIRED in a lot of different roles, what has been your favorite job at WIRED and why?
MC: Honestly, the job I have right now.
LG: OK. I mean, understandably because you work with me, but really why?
MC: That’s exactly why. Yeah. Being a writer is a lot of fun and I was just a writer for a long time, but being an editor, I think suits me a little bit better. For a couple of reasons, one, being a writer, it can be kind of a grind as you know. You show up every day and you have to produce something and that can … Some days it’s easier to do that then than others, for sure. When you’re an editor, there’s a lot of other things involved. There’s some management, there’s some meetings, there is interacting with people, there’s tossing ideas around. So the job I have now, I really like, because I get to edit stories, I get to write stories, I get to host a podcast, I get to share my ideas, I get to see some of those ideas land on the website tomorrow, and some of them land on the cover of the magazine in three months, and some of them end up in your ears every Friday.
So I like it. I like the variedness that you get from doing the job I have now. So, in the past, I’ve dealt with freelance budgets, and I’ve dealt with staff writer jobs, and I’ve had audio jobs and video jobs, and I think that this one at WIRED is the best one.
LG: It’s also part psychology, what you do. I mean, I tell people that a lot, when people aren’t familiar with the journalism industry and they say, “What exactly do you editors do?” And I think that most people probably have some understanding of what line editing is, the fact that your editor is going through your copy and red penning it and telling you to change things or do more work on it. But really what you’re doing is you’re just managing a lot of personalities, and those of you who are loyal listeners of the show know that I loved The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan documentary, and I loved how Phil Jackson in particular, managed the players on that team and how he handled personalities, like Dennis Rodman, right? And I like to think of you as our Phil Jackson, Mike.
MC: That’s great. Thank you. I appreciate that. I would say I’m more like Frank Zappa.
LG: I am not surprised you would say that.
MC: My ideas go over everybody’s head, and-
LG: I just thought you were making a musical reference.
MC: No. People look at me and they go, “Oh yeah, that guy? Yeah. I don’t know. He’s an acquired taste.”
LG: OK. Two more quick questions for you. What was your favorite Gadget Lab episode of all time?
MC: This one.
LG: OK. Good answer. Who is your favorite Gear writer of all time? You’ve edited a lot of people.
MC: I really have. Geez. I don’t know. I mean, Lauren Goode’s pretty good.
LG: You don’t just have to say that because I’m on the Zoom.
MC: Arielle Pardes is pretty good.
LG: She’s excellent.
MC: David Pierce is pretty good, Mat Honan’s pretty good.
LG: Yeah. Mat’s great.
MC: I used to edit Mike Isaac’s reviews.
MC: Those are pretty good. I don’t know. Let me say me.
LG: Oh, OK. That’s true because you were a writer.
MC: And I still am. I still review products.
LG: And you do still write about things, so …
MC: I published a product review this week.
LG: OK. What was that on?
MC: It’s about a coffee maker. You should go read it. I’ll put it in the show notes.
LG: We’ll link to it in the show notes. I’m off this week. So I’ll add it to my Instapaper. OK. Here’s a bonus question for you. Who was your favorite Gear fellow of all time? Now, our fellowship program at WIRED, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a six month residency where we bring in folks who are interested in writing for WIRED, we pay them, they’re trained, and they do all kinds of cool things around the newsroom. And we’ve typically had someone on our Gear desk helping us with the podcast. So who’s your favorite Gear fellow?
MC: So I know that this is going to sound cheesy because I just said that this is my favorite episode and that Lauren you’re my favorite writer. But my favorite Gear fellow is the guy who’s looking at me right now, smiling sheepishly and that’s Boone Ashworth, because he is … Of all of the people that we’ve had come through, we’ve had some fantastic fellows over the years, and all of them have done a really good job with the podcast, but the podcast has been growing and growing over the course of however many years we’ve been doing it. And when Boone took the helm, it was reaching a point where it was like just tipping over to being actually professional and he has maintained that professionalism through a year plus of working with us. So I would say the one and only Boone Ashworth, our producer and the last WIRED fellow that we’ve had on the Gear desk.
LG: That’s right because the fellowship program was stalled during the pandemic.
MC: That’s right.
LG: Boone, we appreciate you, we love the work that you do. Boone is also an excellent writer, and he also has a one-eyed cat named Gandalf, who we love very much.
MC: You lucked out, man. All it took was a global health emergency for you to be stuck with us in these little boxes on our screens, listening to us talk and do retakes and say things 10 times to get it right in your ears every week.
LG: Also shout out to Pia Ceres, who was our prior fellow, who’s now currently working in the WIRED newsroom as well. She’s full-timer with us, and Josie Colt who was before Pia, and she is now working as an artist in Vermont, I believe. Correct?
MC: That’s right. Maine, I think. And geez, who else? Paul Sarconi.
LG: Oh yeah, that’s right. I didn’t overlap with Paul when he was a fellow, but I now have the pleasure of working with Paul.
MC: Michael Doran, Gordon Gottsegen, April Glaser-
LG: April Glaser is doing great work in NBC News.
MC: It’s just been a long string of people who are now making magic elsewhere in the world and we love them all.
LG: Well, Mike, I love working with you, so thank you. And I’m proud to be a part of this 500 episode of Gadget Lab.
MC: Thanks Lauren. We’re going to do another 500 together.
LG: Oh boy. Let’s hope it’s not in a pandemic.
MC: No. Sooner or later, we’re going to sit in a room together and we’re going to talk into microphones and actually make eye contact, no sunglasses, no masks. It’s going to happen.
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