What could be better about the tools?
If you look at my iPhone screen, you’ll see Gmail, Google Calendar, Spotify, Google Maps, and Alexa for voice stuff, so I suppose Apple could improve its software. Operating system updates are like a periodic hazing ritual. I’ve mostly blocked out the switch to iOS 11, but sometimes I remember and the night sweats begin again.
You write about start-ups, and the successful ones are a signal for where the tech industry is heading. What tech trends do you see emerging?
After Dollar Shave Club sold to Unilever for $1 billion, investors got excited about companies that make (hopefully) cool, new brands in old categories — like workout gear, makeup, shoes and pantry items — and sell their stuff directly to customers.
It’s not tech as we think of it — hardware and software — but the tech industry is trying to find ways to impact everyday activities like driving, eating and shopping. Basically it feels like venture capitalists are funding a large R&D lab for future Amazon and Walmart acquisitions. I’m not super hopeful about returns here, since these are lower-margin businesses than software companies. But some will get out the door fast enough to make money for early investors.
The Amazon Echo has also been a killer product, and it has reignited enthusiasm for voice-activated tech and for the internet of things, a world where all of our devices send information about us back to the internet to be mined by strangers for purposes we don’t know. Can’t imagine what could go wrong.
You’ve written extensively about gender discrimination toward women in tech. Do you think the situation is improving?
The fact that women and men are willing to talk openly about abuse, harassment and bullying is a huge improvement. People worry that men will now cut women out of business altogether, but they weren’t welcoming them into positions of power when everyone was docile and silent, so it’s obviously time to try something new. The conversations are uncomfortable, and the discomfort is also an improvement. Few people in power who feel comfortable with the status quo push for systemic changes that level the playing field.
Things are far from being solved, but venture firms are scrambling to hire women. They’re trying to invest in founders who are not white, male Stanford alumni. Will some of these women be bad investors and will some of these founders fail? Absolutely. And I hope they’re treated as kindly as the white guys who are dead weight at their venture funds and who mismanage their companies, but are given third and fourth and fifth chances. The change is always slow and imperfect, but it has to start somewhere.
Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?
Have I mentioned how much I love my Amazon Echo? I’m sort of lost without it. When I stay in hotels, I find myself asking inanimate objects to tell me the weather and play NPR and add carrots to my shopping list.
In addition to its being the greatest kitchen assistant ever, I’m increasingly asking Alexa to tell me my schedule, the weather and the news at the start of my day. I can see a day when my phone is the second device I interact with in the morning. My husband mostly uses it to listen to music. I know this because I can look on the Alexa app while I’m at work and see what he’s been playing. Low-key surveillance is good for relationships, right?
Snap sells camera-embedded sunglasses known as Spectacles. Are these a fad or here to stay?
Spectacles are already hanging out in history’s dustbin, but Snap has been super upfront about the fact that it sees hardware as a big experiment. If you believe you’ll have to try and fail a lot to make a killer product, it’s not a bad idea to work on fun, lighthearted and relatively cheap products that you can quickly learn from.