How to Make Yourself More Human in an Automated World (With Kevin Roose) (Transcript)

How to Be a Better Human
How to Make Yourself More Human in an Automated World (with Kevin Roose) (Transcript)
July 11, 2022

Listen along

[00:00:00] 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.

[00:00:15] Chris Duffy:
Ok hi this is ACTUALLY Chris. This voice you’re hearing right now. This is really me. 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 even if that voice sounded like he was maybe not fully enthused about doing this show and needed a cup of coffee. But I am scared about that because I need this job! I don’t wanna be replaced with a hosting robot!

And that fear, that fear of automation coming for our jobs and changing the way we work, that is something our guest today, Kevin Roose, knows very well.

Kevin is a columnist for The New York Times and the author of a recent book called Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation. So Kevin has written a ton about how technology might impact our jobs and the way we work in the future. And he’s a guy who really understands my terror when I heard that computer version of my voice. Because when it comes to worrying about automation and your job, Kevin has been there himself. Here’s a clip from his TED talk.

[00:01:14] Kevin Roose (TED Talk):
I was in my mid-twenties the first time I first realized that 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 last 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.

[00:02:18] Chris Duffy:
You might be surprised, after hearing that clip of Kevin, to learn that I always feel optimistic after I hear his thoughts. And that's because Kevin believes that if we exercise some agency over technology, we can make it something that works FOR us, rather than the other way around. And today, we’re gonna be talking about how to make that vision of the future a reality.

But first, we’re going to take a short break. We’ll be right back with Kevin after this.


[00:02:45] Chris Duffy: And we are back!

[00:02:46] Kevin Roose:
Hi, I'm Kevin Roose. I'm the author of Futureproof and a tech columnist at the New York Times.

[00:02:53] Chris Duffy:
Let’s start by talking about Futureproof. I actually want to talk about a lot of your writing and your other books as well. Um, but starting with Futureproof, what should regular people be doing to prepare themselves for the future of work?

[00:03:05] Kevin Roose: Well, a couple of things. One is I think we really need to figure out who is most at risk. So I think people need to look at what's happening in their industry, their profession, and, you know, automation and AI are making huge strides forward in every industry right now. Including some ones that we thought were kind of immune to it, like art and music, 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 that it could be automated and maybe automated soon?” And if that's the case, it doesn't mean that you should pack up and, you know, go plan for your second career, you know, mining 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.

[00:04:04] Kevin Roose:
And so 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 do basic reporting tasks 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. In my book, there's a, uh, a rule that I call “Leave handprints”, and this is about basically 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. Make it very clear to the people who are consuming your work, whether it's, you know, an audience—

[00:04:45] Chris Duffy: Well, okay, so I have a question about that piece because like you, you said at the beginning, 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 non sequiturs, 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 automatable, or is everyone at risk?

[00:05:37] 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. The question is just “which parts” and “how quickly”?

Um, so for example, there was a sort of interesting little flap just a couple of weeks ago when OpenAI, the studio pf this AI company in San Francisco released this program called Dall-E? Have you heard of this? It’s sort of like Wall-E, but Dall-E? It’s an AI that basically takes text and turns it into art.

[00:06:09] Kevin Roose:
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. And it’s incredible. It's 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 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 our industries and the creative industries have had recently, we sort of had this like “Automation for thee, 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. And so creatives are not as safe as we may have thought we were.

[00:07:33] 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 AIs: the ways in which it's built, but also its effects affecting unequally, right? That there's been a lot of talk about, like, racism in the AI programming, 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 a computer spitting out facts. And it seems like the results are very clear that is not the case. 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?

[00:08:13] Kevin Roose:
Yeah, well, AI is a big category, and it includes everything from like, you know, the Roomba that vacuums my house, to, you know, the supercomputers that run YouTube and Tik Tok and Facebook and all of these, these giant billion-plus user algorithms. And 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 300 YouTube videos about a toilet repair, the algorithm is pretty good at figuring out that you might want more of those and, uh, this is not a random example. I did just watch a bunch of videos about toilet repair.

[00:08:52] Chris Duffy:
The algorithm—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?” Why? I do not own—

[00:09:05] Kevin Roose: You’re being radicalized into lizard ownership.

[00:09:07] Chris Duffy:
I guess I have— at a certain point, like, fine, I'll get the, I'll get the iguana you sold me.

[00:09:14] Kevin Roose:
Right? So 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. There’s been a lot of research showing, for example, that these things called predictive policing systems. That a lot of police departments now use AI programs 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.

And because these systems are built off of decades’ worth of data that reflect biased policing practices, over-policing low-income neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods, systematic 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 crime block or a corner and it perpetuates this bias throughout the ages, except now it's, it seems objective, right?

[00:10:19] Kevin Roose: 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. I also, you know, there are many, many examples of algorithmic bias and for example, hiring.

A lot of companies now use AI to screen resumes and that can be disastrous too it if it tends to select for, you know, only white men or people who went to Harvard or some other, you know, flawed criteria.

[00:10:44] Chris Duffy:
So I guess that leads to a question which is: 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 technology?

[00:10:56] Kevin Roose:
It's a really interesting question. I mean, I think that we have always been shaped by our technologies, right? There's this really fascinating study 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 some students at this college and they, they basically set them up with this experiment where they would be tested on how they liked a series 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, they’ll like give you sort of ratings based on how much they think you will like the song.

[00:11:39] Kevin Roose:
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 the star ratings more than they trusted their own subjective taste and experience. 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.

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.

[00:12:26] Chris Duffy:
I wonder how knowing that, 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?

[00:12:36] Kevin Roose:
Well, I am not a Luddite. I am not a technophobe. I have plenty of robots and gadgets in my house. But I do try to exercise real caution with the kinds of things, the kinds of decisions that I let algorithms and machines make for me. I wrote a story a few years ago 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 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. I think our phones kind of started out many years ago as, like, assistants? Like they were there to sort of be helpful with whatever you wanted to do.

[00:13:25] Kevin Roose:
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 restoring balance in our relationship with the devices in our lives is really important.

So, you know, right now I'm—I just had a kid, and I'm very cautious 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.

[00:14:01] Kevin Roose:
And that’s maybe makes me sound like, you know, a paranoid freak, but it's part of how I try to reduce the influence that machines have on my life. For example, I don't use YouTube autoplay. I turn that off so that when I'm watching a video, it doesn't just automatically start playing a new video,‘cause that's something that I've found I'm very susceptible to.

I’m careful about Tik Tok. I actually, I've been meaning to write about this. I have this sort of, like, 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. And so I try to sort of cleanse my timeline a little bit that way.

[00:14:48] Chris Duffy:
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 were 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 you.

[00:15:08] Kevin Roose:
Yeah well, I, this was for the New York Times book review earlier this year and I had gotten assigned to review this book. Eric Smith, the former CEO of Google, and Henry Kissinger had written a book about AI together.

And I read, 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, and then a light bulb went off and I thought, “What if a robot could help me?”

So I use this app called Sudowrite, 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 text, 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 Sudowrite. 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.

[00:16:05] Kevin Roose:
Like it was not great. Like it was not perfect. And it took me a couple sort of tries to like tune it, to get the right kind of output. 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, “This review was written by an AI” and then printed it.

And it was, like, perfectly serviceable. And I don't think people objected to it. It is a little bit of a stunt, but this is going to be happening more and more. 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. And that will be an important inflection point and kind of a scary one if you're in the words business.

[00:16:42] 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 that have to do with just your own brain, but you also are a 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 technology?

[00:17:12] Kevin Roose:
I'm excited that he will have access to so much more information. I mean, we, 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. 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 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 Tik Toks. 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.

[00:18:11] Kevin Roose:
And then 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 and never create anything. 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 Geocities fan pages for Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I maintained when I was a kid.

I built websites. I, you know, did little flashy animations. I coded a little bit. Like it was 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 really damaging.

[00:19:08] Chris Duffy:
I find that for myself, and I'm not a parent. And I find that even just as an adult who likes to think that I kind of am like, more fully formed and not as malleable as maybe a young teenager is, 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 people? That I feel 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, 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 it. 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, or 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 engage, 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.

[00:20:17] Kevin Roose:
Totally. And you asked about reasons for optimism and sort of things I'm thinking about with respect to my son growing up with technology, and I’ll add one more, which is that I think, I think this generation of sort of Gen Z, people who got their first smartphones and their first social media accounts as teenagers sort of during this last wave of tech, 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 like a bunch of people driving fast cars with no seatbelts who just, like, didn't have the tools to like, cope 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 thing that we all do. I think you never want to be like the first generation 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 I think with any luck he will be using like the second or third or fourth or tenth version of this stuff rather than kind of being on the frontier where no one knows anything.

[00:21:36] Chris Duffy:
So Kevin, obviously there is, there's no going back to a world where using technology like smartphones or the internet 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?

[00:21:50] Kevin Roose:

[00:21:51] Chris Duffy:
And why, why or why not would you? Why wouldn’t you want that?

[00:21:52] Kevin Roose:
No, I don't want us to go back to a world with no internet, no social media, no smartphones. You know, I think. I think, you know, these things have had enormous costs, but they've also had a lot of benefits. And 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. 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.

And so I think I'm still, you know, maybe I'm a starry-eyed optimist. 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 tasks, and it uh, it leads to a society that is, you know, more abundant and more fair.

[00:22:44] Kevin Roose:
There's a great book that 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 do philosophy all day. And the robots just take care of everything we need. So 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.

[00:23:12] Chris Duffy: Okay, we’re gonna take a quick break and then we’ll be back with more from Kevin Roose right after this.


[00:23:25] Chris Duffy:
And we are back. We’ve been talking about the impact of technology on our work. And if you find yourself increasingly worried about that impact and what that means, here's a clip from Kevin’s TED talk that can help us understand one way that we might move forward:

[00:23:39] Kevin Roose (TED Talk):
If you, like me, sometimes worry about your place in your 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.

[00:24:04] Chris Duffy: 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 crypto and also Web3. And, um, you know, I've heard you say this, um, that basically there’s this element of how everyone made fun of social media when it first started, and were like, “It's a joke. Ha ha look how dumb this is. Oh my gosh, this is a, 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 Web3, 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. Is that, first of all, is that like an accurate assessment of how you feel about this and why you’re reporting on it?

[00:24:56] Kevin Roose:
Yeah, totally. I mean, that is the essence of why I think this stuff is important. I'm not a crypto fan. I'm not a crypto skeptic. I'm sort of a crypto moderate when it comes to all things, crypto and Web3. One of my deeply held beliefs though, is that the people who are involved in the early days of a technological shift get outsize input into what that technology eventually becomes. 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 force, you know, one of the biggest forces in politics and culture. And, you know, elections are won and lost on social media and it shapes the fate of, you know, democracies. 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.

[00:26:03] Kevin Roose:
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, 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.

[00:26:44] Kevin Roose:
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 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 with it.

[00:27:07] Chris Duffy:
So, what do you think that a regular person who's not a tech reporter and not living in Silicon valley, what should they do to engage with crypto and with these issues right now?

[00:27:18] 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 Web3 and DeFi and NFTs and all the other stuff that ran in the New York Times back in March.

[00:27:32] Chris Duffy:
It’s incredible. 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.

[00:27:41] Kevin Roose:
Yeah. It was a, it was wild. I just, 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. 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.

So I would start there. It's called “The Latecomer’s 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.

[00:28:13] Kevin Roose:
I found that my own understanding of crypto really kicked up a couple notches when I accidentally sold an NFT for a lot of money in a charity auction last year. 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 I 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 and made me learn about this stuff.

[00:28:43] 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? Is it being better stewards around regulation, 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 it could be?

[00:29:08] Kevin Roose:
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. It is a thing that you feel like you have some agency over. If you're signing up for some new service or new social network or new product, 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, you want to understand what's in your information diet and what forces are operating there.

This idea in the tech world is 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 somebody’s birthday Facebook page or something like that.
[00:30:02] Chris Duffy: We stored your credit card. 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 things are a little bit too easy and it tends to put me onto autopilot. 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, even if it's a little more expensive. Um, trying to, like, be a little bit more thoughtful about what I consume. 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. Make your feelings known in a way that's, you know, thoughtful and, and respectful.

But I think we're entering into an age where the tools in our society are more important than they ever have been, and so 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 deciding how to live in that world.

[00:31:10] Chris Duffy:
Um, this show is called “How To Be a Better Human”. So, what are you personally trying to do right now to be a better human in your own life?

[00:31:18] Kevin Roose:
Well, right now I'm trying to raise a son.

[00:31:22] Chris Duffy:
That's a big one!

[00:31:23] Kevin Roose:
Which feels sort of cliche, but also like truly, truly terrifying and challenging and, and you know, tests me in all kinds of ways that I sort of feel like it's forcing me to be a better human, you know. To respond with compassion and empathy at 3:00 AM when there's a meltdown happening as I did last night, that feels like it's stretching me in some new ways. So 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, an idea? Anything.

[00:32:00] Kevin Roose:
I am an obsessive evangelist for this app called Freedom which is basically the only reason that I have been able to get anything done for the past five years. 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 me go on social media for the next, you know, X hours. Do not, let me check my email. Do not let me, you know, surf YouTube.” 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 food for your brain are.

You can set it to just cut that off systematically for any length of time you want. And so it's how I write. It's how I focus. 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.

[00:33:01] Chris Duffy:
Amazing. 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.

[00:33:11] Kevin Roose: It has been a real pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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 today’s guest Kevin Roose. Hiis latest book is called Futureproof, and you can also check out his podcast with the New York Times. It’s called Rabbit Hole.

On the TED side, this show is brought to you by Sammy Case, and Anna Phelan, both of whom are not robots.

And from Transmitter Media, we’re brought to you by Isabel Carter, Farrah Desgranges and Wilson Sayre, all purely human. 100% human.

For PRX Productions, the show is brought to you by the unautomated, fully analog Jocelyn Gonzales, even though she uses digital tools, and Sandra Lopez-Monsalve, also 100% flesh and blood. She’s a human. She’s not digital bits.

Thank you so much for listening, and we will be back next week!