How to make yourself more human in an automated world (with Kevin Roose) (Transcript)
How to Be a Better Human
Monday, July 11, 2022
Robot Chris Duffy: You’re listening to How to Be a Better Human. I’m your host Chris Duffy and today we’re talking about the surprising ways that artificial intelligence and automation will affect both the future of our jobs, and our own behavior beyond the workplace.
Chris Duffy: Ok hi this is ACTUALLY Chris. That voice before, it’s actually computer generated based on audio of me from past episodes. And the fact that it’s even remotely possible to create a computer generated version of my voice is terrifying. I need this job! Don’t replace me with a host machine! Our guest today, Kevin Roose, is a columnist for The New York Times and the author of a recent book called Future Proof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation Kevin has written a ton about how technology might impact our jobs and the way we work. Kevin is a guy who really understands my terror at hearing that computer Chris open the show. Because Kevin has been there himself. Here’s a clip from his TED talk.
I was in my mid-twenties when I first realized I could be replaced by a robot. At the time I was working as a financial reporter covering Wall Street and the stock market, and one day I heard about this new AI reporting app. Basically, you just feed in some data like a corporate financial report or a database of real estate listings, and the app would automatically strip out all the important parts, plug it into a news story, and publish it – with no human input required. Now, these AI reporting apps, they weren’t gonna win any Pulitzer Prizes, but they were shockingly effective. Major news organizations were already starting to use them, and one company said its AI reporting app had been used to write 300 million news stories in a single year. For the past few years, I’ve been researching this coming wave of AI and automation, and I’ve learned that what happened to me that day is happening to workers in all kinds of industries, no matter how seemingly prestigious or high paid their jobs are.
Chris Duffy: You might be surprised, after hearing that clip of Kevin, to learn that I always feel optimistic after I hear his thoughts. That's because Kevin believes that if we exercise some agency over technology, we can make it something that works FOR us, not the other way around. Today we’ll be talking about how to make that vision a reality. But first, we’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
[00:00:00]Kevin Roose: Hi, I'm Kevin Roose. I'm the author of future-proof and a tech columnist at the New York times.
[00:00:07] Chris Duffy: So Kevin let's, let's start by talking about future proof. I actually want to talk about a lot of your writing and your other books as well. Um, but starting with future-proof, what should regular people be doing to prepare themselves for the future?
[00:00:22] Kevin Roose: Well, a couple of things. One is, I think we really need to figure out, uh, who is most at risk. So I think people need to look at what's happening in their industry, their profession, and, um, you know, automation and AI are making huge strides forward in every industry right now. Um, including some ones that we thought were kind of immune to it, um, like, uh, like art and music, uh, And caring for elderly people. I mean, robots are being deployed to do all of those things now. And so I think, um, we all need to really take a close look in the mirror and say like, is what I do for a living vulnerable is what I do for a living repetitive enough, um, that it could be automated and maybe automated soon. And if that's the case, it's, it's doesn't mean that should pack up and, you know, go, uh, you know, plan for your second career. You know, my. Bitcoin on Elon Musk's Mars colony or whatever, but it does mean that we should figure out how to. Adapt and make ourselves less replaceable. And so for, uh, for a lot of people, I think the first step is just sort of acceptance that this, you know, this could happen to me. And this, this was something that I sort of dawned on me about a decade ago, and I learned that there were AIS being taught to. Basic reporting tasks, um, including some of the ones that I did as a young journalist. And then the second thing I think we need to do is to, um, to display our humanity more in our work. Um, in, in my book, there's a, uh, a rule that I call leave hand prints, and this is about basis. Taking the work that you do. And instead of trying to erase yourself and the traces of sort of human frailty from it, um, leave those things in, um, make it very clear to the people who are, you know, consuming your work, whether it's, you know, an audience.
[00:02:16] Chris Duffy: Well, okay. So I, I have a question about that piece. Like you, you said at the beginning, I, there are lots of jobs that I would have thought are not at all vulnerable to automation or to AI. And then increasingly I wonder if that's even true if there is, if there are any jobs at all, because, you know, I would have never thought that writing and comedy, and for example, like using my own voice to host a podcast, I would've never thought that those were vulnerable, but now there are tools where people can. Type words into a script and it will make it sound like I'm saying them or, uh, you know, it's, it's kind of a meta joke, right. But there's like all over the internet is like, I fed 300 sitcoms into our neural network and look at what it spit out. And it is genuinely funny, mostly because it's like full of weird nonsequitors, but it just makes it clear that like it's possible for a computer to be funny, whether it's intentional or not. Are there jobs that are just not. Automateable or is everyone at risk?
[00:03:14]Kevin Roose: Well, the way I like to think of it is not as occupational categories, because there are no occupational categories that are safe. So, so some of every job will be automated. Um, the question. Which parts and how quickly. Um, so for example, there was a sort of interesting little flap, uh, just a couple of weeks ago when open AI, the studio at this AI company in San Francisco released this program called Dali. Have you heard of this sort of like Wall-E, but Dolly it's a, it's an. Uh, it's an AI that basically takes text and turns it into art. So you tell it, I want an illustration of three bears playing ping pong in business attire on the moon, and it will generate an original piece of artwork depicting exactly what you have asked it to deploy. Incredible. It's really, really good. And it's the kind of thing where immediately illustrators and people who, you know, make art for a living saw this thing going viral on Twitter and thought to themselves like, oh crap. Like I thought I was safe and I am really not safe because that is essentially what I do. And this program is maybe not as good as me, but it's maybe 80% as good as me. And it's. It like so much cheaper and faster and you can get something instantaneously from a machine. And so that's the kind of realization that I think a lot of people, especially in. Industries and the creative industries have had recently, we sort of had this like automation for the, but not for me, attitude where we like thought we were immune because we make things with words and art and music. And that is just not true. There are AI programs being deployed now to, for example, create new levels in video games or to write music. A lot of the music that used to be written by studio musicians, like the songs you would hear, you know, over the loudspeaker in a supermarket. Those are now being written by AI. Um, and so we, we, creatives are not as safe as we may have thought.
[00:05:17] Chris Duffy: So, I guess then, it raises the kind of reverse question then, which is what is uniquely human and how can we be more of that? I know something that a lot of people are concerned about with AI. Is it the ways in which it's built, but also its effects affecting, uh, Unequally right. That there's been a lot of talk about like racism in the AI programming, um, and in the effects that, that the results that it spits out, there's this idea. I think a lot of people have that artificial intelligence is somehow more neutral and unbiased and just, uh, a computer spitting out facts. And it seems like the results are very clear that that is not the case. Um, I wonder how you think about combating that piece too, as we think about like how to make things more human, how do we make maybe AI, less human in that way?
[00:06:06]Kevin Roose: Yeah. Well, AI is a big category and an includes everything from like, you know, the Roomba that vacuums my, my house, um, to, you know, the super computers that, um, run YouTube and Tik TOK and Facebook and all of these, um, these. Billion-plus user algorithms. Um, and so it's, it's hard to generalize, but I would say that in general, AI is very good at using past data to predict future outcomes. You know, if you have, uh, clicked on, uh, 300 YouTube videos about, um, about, uh, toilet repair, um, th the algorithm is pretty good at figuring out that you might want more of those and. And this is not a random example. I did just watch a bunch of videos about toilet repair,
[00:06:52] Chris Duffy: But this is a side note, but just to say that the algorithm is absolutely convinced that I own a pet lizard, because one time I was doing research about lizards for a joke.And like for years it has been like, do you want a warming lamp for your pet lizard? I do not own. You're--
[00:07:05]Kevin Roose: --Being radicalized into–
[00:07:07] Chris Duffy: –Into lizard owners! I guess I am at a certain point, like, fine, I'll get the, I'll get the aquatic you sold.
[00:07:14]Kevin Roose: Right? So this is, this is a thing that. You know, is the AI is very good at, and that can be good and it can be quite dangerous. Um, there's been a lot of research showing for example, that these, um, there are these, uh, things called predictive policing systems that police a lot of police departments now use AI programs to. Uh, to try to guide their officers to quote unquote high crime areas. So basically use an algorithm to tell me where a crime is likely to occur.
[00:07:41] Chris Duffy: And coincidence. The high crime area is never the corporate office building where white collar crime is taking place.
[00:07:46]Kevin Roose: Correct? Correct. And, and because these systems are built off of decades, worth of data that reflect biased policing practices, over-policing. Um, low-income neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods, um, systematic, you know, uh, sort of over policing of those areas. It is more likely to tell an officer, Hey, if you go to this corner on this street, at this time, you are very likely to see a crime in progress. And of course, where do the, the crimes, you know what, like if you put a police officer on a corner, they're more likely to see a crime happening there, which then feeds back into the algorithm, which then tells them this is a really high. Block or a corner and it perpetuates this bias throughout the ages, except now it's, it seems objective, right? Because it's coming from a computer rather than from the brain of a police officer. So those are the kinds of things that I worry about. Um, I also, you know, there are many, many examples of algorithmic bias and for example, hiring. Companies now use AI to screen resumes, um, and that can be disastrous to it if it tends to select for, you know, you know, only, only white men or people who went to Harvard or some other, um, you know, flawed criteria.
[00:09:02] Chris Duffy: So I guess.. that leads to, to a question which is, um, in what ways are the same things that make us human and make us special and unique. Also what make us susceptible to being shaped or manipulated by tech.
[00:09:16]Kevin Roose: It's really interesting question. I mean, I think that we have always been shaped by our technologies, right? There's this famous quote that sometimes attributed to Marshall McLuhan or sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, who knows, who said it, but it's something like we shape our tools and after that our tools shape us. So there's this really fascinating study. And that came out of the university of Minnesota. A few years ago. And basically they were interested in this question of whether algorithms sort of reflect our preferences or whether they shape our preferences. And so they took, um, some, some students at this college and date, they basically set them up with this experiment where they would, uh, they would be. Uh, tested on how they liked a series of, of songs. Like whether they liked a series of songs that were played for them. And then they sort of manipulated the star ratings, like, you know, how, you know, Spotify or any of these disabilities give you sort of ratings based on how, how much they think you will like the song. And they sort of manipulated these ratings. And so that they didn't really have any real connection to people's actual preferences. And then they forced people to sort of listen to the whole songs and it turned out that. The, the sort of star ratings influenced people's judgment of the songs, regardless of whether or not they actually liked them. They, they trusted that the star ratings more than they trusted their own subjective taste and experience. Um, and so I think there's this way in which we are kind of outsourcing our judgment and our preferences to AI, which may or may not actually have. Our best interests and a good picture of what we're like as people in mind. Um, and so I think that that worries me almost as much as like the factory automation and stuff. It's like this kind of internal automation that I think we all feel kind of tugging on us every day.
[00:11:06] Chris Duffy: I wonder how knowing that, and, and also just your reporting on tech in general, how has it changed your relationship to what you use in your day-to-day life?
[00:11:17]Kevin Roose: Well, I am. Uh, I am not a Luddite. I am not a technophobe. I have plenty of robots and gadgets in my house. Um, but I do try to exercise real caution with the kinds of things, the kinds of decisions that. Algorithms and machines make for me. Um, I, I wrote a story a few years ago, um, uh, where I did a 30 day phone detox and with the help of a professional phone rehab coach, because I was like, I was like horribly addicted to my phone. Like we all are, this was pre pandemic, which, you know, I, I should, I need to probably do it again. But it was really instructive and it was really instructive about which of my cues I was taking from my phone. Um, I think our phones kind of started out many years ago as like assistance. Like they were there to sort of be helpful with whatever you wanted to do. But then at some point in the past, like few years they got promoted and became our bosses. And now they just tell us, like, pay attention to this thing and get mad about this thing. Get freaked out about this new, you know, story. And I think that they, um, I think. Restoring balance in our relationship with the devices in our lives is really important. So, you know, right now I'm just had a kid and I'm very cautious of, of like what kind of media I'm consuming about that. Whether I'm in, you know, the Facebook group, where all the parents share the craziest scariest things that have happened to their kids, like whether it was sort of like, I'm very guarded about what I let into my consciousness. Um, and. That's uh, maybe makes me sound like a paranoid freak, but it's, it's part of how I, how I try to reduce the influence that machines have on my life. For example, I don't use, um, YouTube autoplay I turn that off. Um, so that when I'm watching a video, it doesn't just automatically start playing a new video. Um, cause that's something that I've found I'm very susceptible to. Um, I'm careful. Uh, tick-tock, I actually I've been meaning to write about this. I have this sort of like a Tik TOK amnesty policy where like every like few weeks I delete my Tik TOK account and start a new account just to like clear out the algorithm, like whatever, like junk I've been watching. I don't want like to be fed just more of that. Like I want like new junk. Um, and, and so, uh, I try to sort of cleanse my, my timeline a little bit then.
[00:13:46] Chris Duffy: Oh, so, so you wrote a book review with the help of artificial intelligence, which I think kind of goes to the idea of flipping the script of like the artificial intelligence and phones and technology used to be something that we're our assistants. And now they're more like our bosses. Yeah. Tell us, tell me about the process of writing a book review using AI to help.
[00:14:07]Kevin Roose: Yeah, well, I, this was for the New York times book review, um, earlier this year and I had gotten, assigned to review this book. Um, Eric Smith, the former CEO of Google and Henry Kissinger, um, had written a book about AI together. Um, and, um, I read, uh, And I was sort of dreading reviewing it cause it was like kind of boring. And I was like, I'm not really like really, I got to come up with like a thousand words about this book. And then I had a light bulb went off and I thought, what if a robot could help me? So I use this app called pseudo, right. Which is basically like a, it's basically a super powered version of the autocomplete on your iPhone, where like you put in a little bit of. And it like spits out the next, you know, however many hundred words you want. So I wrote a little intro and then I fed it into super right. And it spit out like, Seven or eight paragraphs of analysis of this book that, you know, it had not read and just was sort of guessing at, and it was pretty good. Like it was not great. Like it was not perfect. Um, and it took me a couple sort of tries to like tune it, to get the right kind of output. Um, but eventually it was like, you know, as good as anything I would have written. And so I just slapped an intro on it and disclosed, you know, Review was written by an AI and then printed it. And it was like perfectly serviceable. Um, and I don't think people objected to it is a little bit of a stunt, but this is going to be happening more and more there's there's already, um, I think we're going to reach very soon if we haven't already the point where more texts on the internet is written by AI than by humans. Um, and that will be, uh, an important inflection point and kind of a scary one if you're in the, in the words business.
[00:15:53] Chris Duffy: So thinking about the future. You have kind of an interest. I mean, there's a lot of reasons why you have an interesting perspective on the future, um, that have to do with just your own brain, but you also are new father. And I think a lot of people, when we think about the impact of technology, it's not just for our own lives, it's for the next generation. So I wonder when you think about your son growing up in this world, what are you excited about for him? And what are you worried about when it comes to sickness?
[00:16:24]Kevin Roose: Well, I'm excited that he will have access to so much more information.Uh, I'm not one of these people who thinks that, you know, children have, should have no access to technology and no access to even phones at the right age. Um, it was really important for me as a kid to have that stuff. And I think it's important to find ways to co-exist with it for, for kids growing up today, I am scared about the kind of loss of autonomy that I see happening in a lot of. Parts of culture, but there, there have been some studies that have shown that it matters what you're doing on these screens and on these devices, you know, playing Minecraft is not the same as like watching a zillion tech talks, um, um, you know, connecting with your friends. You know, inside Fortnite or, you know, on a group chat or on Snapchat is different than, um, you know, posting selfies on Instagram for other people to kind of like, and comment on. And then, uh, so I think, I think just sort of being discerning about what kids are doing on social media and encouraging them to do things that involve being creative. There's so much, I mean, it's so possible to be a totally passive person on the internet and just lurk and scroll. You know, create anything. Um, and for me, what was, you know, what was important about the internet as a kid for me is just the ability to make stuff, to create stuff. I had a modestly successful ring of geo cities, uh, fan pages for Buffy the vampire Slayer that I maintained when I was a kid. Um, I built websites. I, you know, did little flashy animations. I coded a little bit like it was a really a sort of sandbox for me. And I think there are ways to do that, you know, today a lot more ways actually, but there's also this kind of other way to experience the internet, which is like as a totally passive consumer. And that I think is, is really damaging.
[00:18:29] Chris Duffy: You know, I find that for myself and I'm not a parent. And I find that even just as a, as an adult who likes to think that I kind of am like more fully formed and. As malleable as maybe a young teenager is I, I still find that when I am using the internet and I'm using it as a way to put things out and to produce and to connect with.eel good about, right. Like when I'm like, oh, here's something that I wrote and I want to publish it. Great. I love that. I love that. If I can't find a, uh, you know, a newspaper or magazine that will publish something, I can just put out my thoughts and people will still read it and engage with that feels good. And the part that feels bad and feels like it starts to shape me and maybe make me feel inadequate or feel like I'm not doing enough or constantly competing with a bar that is ever shifting higher. And impossibly is when I just start. Passively consuming. So when I'm scrolling through Instagram, I'm scrolling through Tik TOK, or I'm just looking at other people's accomplishments, then I feel bad. But when I put things out and creatively engaged, then I feel like, oh, this is an amazing tool where I can be talking to you from hundreds of miles away. And we can have an actual conversation that, that never makes me feel bad. That part of it.
[00:19:40]Kevin Roose: Totally, totally. And you asked about reasons for optimism and sort of things I'm thinking about with respect to, to, you know, my, my son growing up with technology and I'll, I'll add one more, which is that I think, I think this generation of. You know, so gen Z, people who got their first smartphones and their first social media accounts as teenagers started during this last wave of tech, I think, I think those were basically the, like, you know, the, the sort of Guinea pigs for this giant social experiment. And I think we're going to look back on that and see, and like, look back and see like a bunch of people driving fast cars with no seatbelts. We just like, didn't have the tools to like, Cope with, um, with what was now possible. So I think, unfortunately there's like a generation of, of kids who grew up without any real safeguards or knowledge about what they were even doing to themselves by like living on these platforms. And I think that by the, I hope that by the time my kid is of age to start using this stuff, like we've built up a little bit more. Sort of knowledge and awareness and, you know, sort of immunity and resistance to like this, uh, this thing that we all do. Um, I think, you know, just, just, you know, you never want to be like the first-generation to be like, uh, to be like building with stuff. It's always nice to like work the bugs out, um, and, and use the second version of the product.So, yeah. I think with any luck he will be using like the second or third or fourth or 10th version of this stuff rather than kind of being on the frontier where no one knows anything.
[00:21:13] Chris Duffy: So Kevin, obviously there is, there's no going back to a world where using technology like smartphones or the internet it's is not essential to participation, right? We're not going to go back to that world, but if that was possible, is that something that you would even want. No. And why, why or why not? Would you, why would you,
[00:21:30]Kevin Roose: No, I, I don't want us to go back to a world with no, uh, no internet, no social media, no smartphones. Um, you know, I think. I think, you know, these things have had enormous costs. Um, but they've also had a lot of benefits and, um, I am very critical of certain social media companies. And I don't think, you know, I don't think a world without, for example, Facebook would be significantly worse. It might be significantly better. Um, but I do think that on the whole. You know, we just need to figure out how to make this technology work for us rather than us working for it. Um, and so I think I I'm still, you know, maybe I'm a starry-eyed optimist. Um, but I still believe that there's a world in which we use all of this stuff for its highest purpose. And it frees us from routine and repetitive. You know, tasks and it, uh, it leads to a society that is, you know, more abundant and more fair. There's a great book. Um, came out a few years ago, which I mostly just loved the title of called fully automated luxury communism, which is about how sort of robots and AI could produce this kind of utopian society, where we just all sit around and make art and, and, uh, do philosophy all day. And the robots just take care of everything we need. Um, so I'm, I'm still. I don't think we'll ever get fully there, but I think we can, I think we can do better than we are now. And that's what keeps me motivated.
Chris Duffy: We’ll take a quick break and then we’ll be back with more from Kevin Roose right after this.
Chris Duffy: And we’re back, we’ve been talking about the impact of technology on our work. And if you find yourself increasingly worried about that impact, here's a clip from Kevin’s TED talk that can help us understand how we might move forward:
“If you like me sometimes worry about your place in our automated future, you have a few options. You can try to compete with machines. You can work long hours. You can turn yourself into a sleek, efficient productivity machine. Or you can focus on your humanity and doing the things that machines can’t do: bringing all those human skills to bear on whatever your work is.
[00:23:07] Chris Duffy: So I I'd love to talk a little bit about something that I know you've done a lot of recent work on in explaining and in doing research on, which is, um, crypto and also web three. And, um, you know, I I've heard you say this, um, that, that basically the. This element of how everyone made fun of social media when it first started. And we're like, it's a joke. Ha ha look how dumb this is on my gosh, this. You know, it's pictures and they get to comment on them. And then the systems became incredibly powerful and all of the issues with them are deeply entrenched and really hard to fix. And I I've heard you say that you're basically trying to avoid that same thing happening with web three, where right now people treat it like a joke, but there's also obvious issues. And if we don't engage with them now, by the time we do it will be so much harder to fix them. Uh, is that first of all, is that like an accurate, uh, assessment of how you feel about this and why your report.
[00:24:04]Kevin Roose: Yeah, totally. I mean, that is the essence of why I think this stuff is important. Um, I'm not a crypto fan. I'm not a crypto skeptic. I'm sort of a crypto moderate. And when it comes to all things, crypto and web three, um, one of my deeply held beliefs though, is that the people who are involved in the early days of a technological shift, um, get. Outsize input into what that technology eventually becomes. Um, so in the early days of social media, as you said, when the people were sort of mocking like, oh, who wants to see pictures of my brunch and like, you know, why would anyone tweet about what's going on in their neighborhood? Like, it was just, it was just not seen as a serious thing. And like now obviously, like it's the biggest, uh, forest, you know, one of the biggest forces in politics and culture and, uh, You know, elections are won and lost on social media and they, it shapes the fate of, you know, democracies. And, um, and so I think that right now we have this very nascent crypto industry that, you know, seems in a lot of ways, like something you shouldn't take seriously. Like it's got a lot of indicators of like, there are a lot of scam artists. There are a lot of, uh, you know, there's a lot of fraud. There's a lot of just really stupid stuff. And I think the temptation is to kind of dismiss it all and like, hope that it goes away and that you never have to understand it. And you can just kind of like, it's one of these tech trends that just like comes and goes. And I think that's a real mistake because if this does work, if the crypto people are right, if this is technology that sort of reshapes, finance, and culture and ownership and art and all the things that they think it will do. I want there to be people on the ground floor of that who are thinking about these risks and these big questions. And what happens if crypto takes over the world? How do we make sure that it doesn't just become, you know, six white guys in San Francisco, like getting all the money again? Um, how do we actually make this the Mo the best version of itself that it can be? So I want people to engage with it, whether or not they're skeptical and maybe especially if they are skeptical. I think it's good for people to understand and engage.
[00:26:25] Chris Duffy: So, what do you think that a regular person who's not a tech reporter and not a living in Silicon valley? What should they do to engage with. Crypto and with these issues right now?
[00:26:35]Kevin Roose: Well, uh, first things first to self-promote a little bit, I did write a very long, um, 14,000 word explainer of crypto and web three and defy and NFTs and all the, all the other stuff, um, that ran in the New York times back in March, you can see it's incredible.
[00:26:52] Chris Duffy: And it's also, I think, at least in my memory, the only time I've ever seen an entire section of the paper written by one person, truly incredible.
[00:27:01]Kevin Roose: Yeah. It was a, it was wow. I started and I thought it would be a short little thing and then it just kept going. Cause it turns out it's sort of complicated. So, um, that, that's sort of my attempt to give people who are a little bit intimidated by this topic. Like just an easy way into understanding, like the basic contours of what's going on. Um, So I would start there. It's called the latecomers guide to crypto and it's on New York times website. And then I think just sort of experimenting with it a little bit. Like I wouldn't, you know, I'm not a financial advisor. I would be the last person you should ask about what to invest in. Um, but yeah. I found that my own understanding of crypto really kicked up a couple notches. Um, when I accidentally sold an NFT, um, for a lot of money, I'm in a charity auction last year. Um, and all of a sudden I had all this crypto that I was not keeping, but that I was sort of transferring to a charity and it really forced me to learn how the stuff worked, because all of a sudden I had this like, you know, pot of money that was, you know, The custodian of that, I had to figure out like how to keep secure and how to transfer. And it really sort of threw me into the deep end, um, and made me learn about this stuff.
[00:28:12] Chris Duffy: Well, for people who are listening and are sold on these ideas about the promise, but also the potential perils of a future technology, how can we be. Participants in the future of tech, uh, is it being better stewards around regulation or, or how do we get involved and how do we make it so that the future is what we want it to be rather than what we fear.
[00:28:35]Kevin Roose: It could be. Yeah. I think the first step is to learn is to really understand what's happening on the technological frontier so that you feel comfortable weighing in. So that technology is not just a thing that happens to you. Um, it is a thing that you feel like you have some agency over. You know, if, if you're signing up for some new service or new social network or new product, like, like figure out what is happening under the hood a little bit and be a more educated consumer, the way that like, you know, you want to understand what's in the food that you eat. Um, you want to understand what's in your information diet and what forces are operating there. this idea that. In the tech world, I'm sort of known as like friction, which is basically like, how do I, and it's usually used in the context of tech products that are trying to get rid of friction. So making it as easy as possible to like watch a video or order something or like, you know, comment on. Birthday, you know, Facebook page or something where you stored your credit card.
[00:29:46] Chris Duffy: So it's just one click to buy.
[00:29:48]Kevin Roose: Exactly. But I've been sort of trying to systematically introduce a little bit more friction into my life. Cause I think like things are a little bit too easy and it tends to put me on to autopilot. Um, and so I've been, you know, Taking the long way to go somewhere and like, not following the Google maps fastest route every time, like maybe getting something from the hardware store down the street, instead of ordering something from Amazon. Uh, even if it's a little more expensive, um, trying to like be a little bit more thoughtful about what I, what I consume, um, And then I think, yeah, just, just engaging in the democratic process, you know, elect people who understand this stuff and are thoughtful about it. Um, make your, your feelings known, um, in a way that's, you know, thoughtful and, and respectful. But I think, I think we're entering into an age where. The tools in our society are, are more important than they ever have been. And so, um, it's incumbent on people to understand that and to weigh in and to not just, you know, wake up one day and find that the world has changed around you. And you had no part in, uh, in deciding how to live in that world.
[00:31:02] Chris Duffy: The is called how to be a better human. What are you personally trying to do right now to be a better human in your own life? Okay.
[00:31:10]Kevin Roose: So the, well, right now I'm trying to raise a son. That's a big wish which feels, uh, sort of cliche, but also like truly, truly terrifying and challenging and, um, and you know, tests me in all kinds of ways. Yeah. That I sort of feel like it's forcing me to be a better human, um, you know, to respond with compassion and empathy at 3:00 AM. Uh, when, when there's a meltdown happening as I did last night, um, that feels like it's stretching me in some new ways. Um, so that's, that's one of the ways I'm trying to be a better human.
[00:31:48] Chris Duffy: That's a huge one. That's a really, really big one. And then what is something that has helped you to be a better human? Whether it's a book, a movie, a piece of music and idea, anything.
[00:32:00]Kevin Roose: Um and obsessive evangelist for, uh, this app called freedom, um, which is basically the only reason that I have been able to get anything done for the past five years. Freedom. Freedom is an app it's on your computer, it's on your phone and you basically tell it like, I like do not let. Go on social media for the next, you know, X hours. Um, do not, let me, um, check my email, do not, let me, um, you know, uh, surf YouTube, uh, and you can put in sort of custom sites that you custom lists of sites that you wanted to block, whatever your time-wasters are like. And your sort of just, I don't know, junk junk food, um, for your brain are you can set it. Cut that off systematically, uh, for, for any length of time you want. And so it's how I write. It's how I focus. Um, I have no self control, so I need to outsource that to this app. And luckily this app has, is very good at, at implementing self control for me. So that is my shortcut to being a better human amazing.
[00:33:11] Chris Duffy: Kevin. Thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you for all the writing and all the thinking that you've done about this, but also just for talking to us about it. It's really been a true pleasure here.
[00:33:20]Kevin Roose: It has been a real pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Chris Duffy: That is it for today’s episode. I am your host Chris Duffy and this has been How To Be A Better Human. Thank you so much to our guest Kevin Roose, his latest book is called Futureproof, you can also check out his podcast with the New York Times called Rabbit Hole. On the TED side, this show is brought to you by Sammy Case, and Anna Phelan. And from Transmitter Media, we’re brought to you by Isabel Carter, Farrah Desgranges and Wilson Sayre. For PRX Productions the show is produced by Jocelyn Gonzales and Sandra Lopez-Monsalve. And ME Chris Duffy. We’ll be back next week!