We discuss Google’s latest hardware, both the Pixel and the Pixel XL, as well as Google Home, Daydream View and more.
It’s October and we’re still seeing new products from the tech giants. Google recently announced its new Pixel 7 phone to compete with Apple, but it also unveiled the Pixel Watch, its first smartwatch release since last year’s acquisition of Fitbit.
Gadget Lab, WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu joins us this week to talk about Google’s new phones and smartwatches.
Lauren Goode: Mike.
Michael Calore: Lauren.
Lauren Goode: Mike, you have what I want.
Michael Calore: Which is what?
Lauren Goode: Which is a Pixel phone.
Michael Calore: Ah, yes.
Lauren Goode: That you use all the time as your daily driver.
Michael Calore: That’s right.
Lauren Goode: I would use a Pixel phone, except …
Michael Calore: Except what?
Lauren Goode: The green bubbles.
Michael Calore: The green bubbles.
Lauren Goode: The green bubbles.
Michael Calore: Well, you should know that if you get a Pixel phone, that problem goes away. The green bubbles cease to become a problem for you and they only become a problem for your iPhone-owning friends who see that as a problem.
Lauren Goode: But there’s so much social shaming around that.
Michael Calore: Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter because you have the better phone, and you live in a world where that social shaming is completely moot.
Lauren Goode: I guess I’m wondering whether or not the new, new Pixel would be worth that sacrifice.
Michael Calore: Do you think it would, if there was a super awesome new feature in the new Pixel phone that would make you want to buy one? That it would be worth it?
Lauren Goode: Well, there already is a really super awesome feature on Pixel phones that I use on a secondary device, but that has not yet made me switch my SIM and turn that into my daily driver.
Michael Calore: I see. What would it take?
Lauren Goode: It would have to drive my car for me.
Michael Calore: Maybe it can.
Lauren Goode: All right, we should find out.
[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
Lauren Goode: Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.
Michael Calore: And I’m Michael Calore. I’m a senior editor at WIRED.
Lauren Goode: And WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu is our friend of the pod today. He’s joining us from New York City. Hey, Julian. Great to have you back on the show.
Julian Chokkattu: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Lauren Goode: OK, it’s October, which means we’re still in the middle of silly season over here, and no, I’m not talking about the whims of Elon Musk and whether or not he actually wants to buy Twitter, although that is still happening, and it’s still ridiculous.
We are in hardware season right now, which is when some of the world’s biggest tech companies reveal the flagship hardware they’ve been developing for the past 18 to 24 months. And today we’re talking about Google. Yes, Google. The search engine and the ad business. They make hardware too, of course, and this week they’re hosting an event in New York City.
We happen to be recording this podcast a day before the Google hardware event. So if Google ends up surprising everyone by announcing new AR glasses, we’re not going to be talking about it today.
But both Julian and I have been in briefings about some of the new hardware, so let’s get right to it. Julian, the next Pixel phone. Tell us about it. Is it going to make me want to switch?
Julian Chokkattu: Maybe. But overall, there aren’t really a ton of crazy changes here with the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. A lot of the real improvements are in the software. So for example, Google says it’s made Night Sight, which helps you capture low-light images two times faster, thanks to the new Tensor G2 chip that’s in there.
And there are changes like a new feature called Photo Unblur, which I think is really cool. Basically, it lets you change any old existing photo that you might have in your Google Photos library: It will make it look not blurry, which is kind of crazy. And there were a few examples they showed us that looked a little too good to be true, to be honest. So we’ll have to see how it works out, but that’s one new feature.
There’s also Cinematic Blur, which lets you take Portrait Mode-style videos. So there’s Portrait Mode, which adds a blur effect to the subject, but now you can do that with video. It’s very similar to what a lot of other phones have, like the iPhone has Cinematic Mode, for example.
And another new feature is Super Res Zoom, where Google says it’s doing a lot more processing to make your zoomed out photos look a lot better. This is sort of a staple feature, but essentially Google’s saying it’s making it even better, so you can go up to 30 times zoom on the Pixel 7 Pro and get a pretty crisp shot still at the end of the day.
Michael Calore: Cameras where it’s at, right? We do this every year, where they talk about all the great improvements to the chip and the great improvements to the design, but then we spend all of our time talking about the camera because that’s really where the innovation seems to be happening.
Julian Chokkattu: Yeah. And one of the cooler improvements that I’m looking forward to test is that there’s some apparently really good improvements with Real Tone, which was their feature that, when you took a picture of a person of color, too often the image came out either a little too dark or just not great looking in a way that didn’t affect people with lighter skin.
Google has now improved Real Tone a little bit more, so even in darker situations you’ll get an even better result. Which honestly, I thought the results were pretty good in the Pixel 6, but based on some of the sample photos I saw, it’s exciting to see that it can get better. And so, that’s one of the features that I’m interested in just checking out for myself.
Lauren Goode: And Google loves touting those kinds of features because it ties into their custom silicon and the way that they’re using different cores of this chip to power features that are specific to their hardware, because they want Pixel to be representative of the most optimized version of Google hardware and software that you can get. And so the camera is very much like a tangible or visual element of, “Here’s what we can do with this Tensor chip that we’ve developed.”
Julian, another thing that Tensor is enabling now are different forms of bio authentication. Before, on the Pixel 6, there was the in-display fingerprint sensor, different from a fingerprint button that you might have seen on old phones. This was in the display. And now there’s another option. Tell us about this.
Julian Chokkattu: Right. There’s now Face Unlock, which, if you remember the Pixel 4, they made a huge deal about having Face Unlock there. And it was this secure method that you could use with credit card apps and all sorts of financial authentication, for example. Here, it’s not that. It’s just like a basic face unlock that a lot of Android phones have. They do say that it’s secure enough to … It’s not going to be able to spoof it with an image or anything like that. But they’re not letting you use Face Unlock when you want to open up your banking app or if you need to send some money and you want to confirm yourself.
So basically, you’re only going to be able to use Face Unlock to unlock your phone and unlock some sensitive apps, but not everything that you might be able to use a fingerprint sensor for, and that’s just because they don’t really have the sensors in the selfie camera to capture the right amount of data, the 3D data that something like an iPhone can with its TrueDepth sensors, for example. Which is kind of a shame, kind of a bummer. But I guess it’s nice to have two options than just one. So, I’m not complaining too much.
Lauren Goode: Yeah. And as a result, Google has the tiny little hole punch camera, whereas on iPhone they have the notch still or some version of the notch, and that’s where they pack all of those sensors and IR sensors and things that capture the face data, whereas Google’s decided just to use their camera, which has some depth sensing, but yeah, to Julian’s point, they’re not getting the full picture.
Julian, what are some of the cool AI features we’ll see on Pixel 7 that are not camera-related? I mentioned earlier, the app I love to use on the Pixel phone is the voice recorder app, which is really helpful for journalists and does live transcriptions as you’re recording a phone call, recording any kind of audio. Is there anything like that on the Pixel 7 that people can look forward to?
Julian Chokkattu: Yeah. Actually, there are three really cool features, one of which—Pixel phones are known for some of their phone calling capabilities. Kind of weird that we have to say that because it’s a phone, but there are some specific things in here.
One of the features that Google has been known for is when you are calling a 1-800 number, for example, until now, right now what happens is it’ll go through the actual call, and on the display it’ll show you, “Press 2 to call this person.” All of that stuff will be shown on the screen as the recording is played out.
But with the Pixel 7, the Google Duplex technology that is powering all of this is essentially calling 1-800 numbers constantly, and they’re making sure that these numbers or these outputs that are tied to number 1, number 2, number 3, they’re all the same, and they’re caching all of that data.
So now, when you call a 1-800 number, the numbers that show up on your screen will immediately populate, so you don’t have to wait to hear your Delta robot say, “Press 1 for this help department. Press 2 …” All of that stuff will just show up on the screen immediately, so you can much more quickly get to where you need to go, or at least that’s the idea.
The other cool new feature is that if you have someone in your life that frequently likes to send you audio messages, like my mom, she just loves pressing that voice record button and sending an audio message. They are now able to transcribe that automatically. So now if you get a text message that’s an audio message, it’ll just automatically be transcribed.
Caveats, though: This only works with Google’s Android messages app, so unfortunately my mom is going to still have to just send me voice messages, and I will have to listen to the whole thing. And I totally am listening to the whole thing, Mom.
And lastly, they’re also now bundling in the Google One VPN for all Pixel 7 devices. Currently there’s a VPN that you can use if you pay for Google One, which is Google’s storage program. But now it’s free if you have a Pixel, so it’s nice, but also not so nice because there’s no Google One VPN for desktop, so you’re kind of just stuck to using it on your phone.
Michael Calore: At least it’s a small step in the right direction.
Lauren Goode: I don’t know if this is enough to switch. I’m not going to lie.
Michael Calore: So you’re still hung up on the green bubble thing?
Lauren Goode: I am.
Michael Calore: I’m telling you, it’s invisible to you. It’s only visible to other people and you just don’t have to think about it ever, so you never think about it. People complain, and then you say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Lauren Goode: Mike, when you send me photos from your Pixel, it is the most annoying experience ever because if you’re just using SMS, it shows up as a Google photo link.
Michael Calore: Really?
Lauren Goode: You and I communicate via Signal, which is fine because we can send each other files, and it’s all encrypted and all that, for all the trade secrets we’re exchanging.
Michael Calore: Yeah, sure.
Lauren Goode: Yes. But no, I mean looking at rich media or a multimedia, when someone from an Android phone is trying to send you something, it’s not a great experience. I don’t want to be that person.
Michael Calore: I know. That sucks for people who aren’t on Android.
Lauren Goode: We’re going to try this later. And by the way, this is also, it’s a very Western world problem.
Michael Calore: Yeah.
Lauren Goode: Messages is incredibly US-centric. Around the world, people are perfectly fine using WhatsApp, Messenger, Signal, Telegram. In China, there’s WeChat. Messaging apps abound. But here in the US, we’re very stuck on our iPhones. I am very stuck on my iPhone. I’m very stuck in the blue bubble world.
Michael Calore: The problem that you’re describing, not being able to properly read media messages on an iPhone if they come from an Android phone, is a problem that exists in the world of iOS. I don’t—
Lauren Goode: Right, it’s an Apple problem.
Michael Calore: Yeah, I don’t have that problem on a Pixel. Although I guess occasionally somebody will send me a video from an iPhone, and it looks like crap on my phone. But there’s always ways around that I can download it and watch it. There’s ways of fixing it.
Lauren Goode: No, this is very much an Apple thing at this point. The ball is in their court because Google has supported a standard known as RCS that involves buy-in from the carriers and other phone manufacturers, and Apple is the holdout.
Apple’s like, “We’re not supporting this because why would we support this? We have a superior product. It is called Messages, and it runs on our data network and everything’s secure.” And blah, blah, blah. And whenever I ask Google about RCS, they say, “You should really ask Apple about that.”
Michael Calore: It’s the Capulets and the Montagues. It’s going to result in chaos until somebody pulls the plug on both of them.
Lauren Goode: Well, I have to say, like Julian, I did see the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro last week, and they’re pretty sexy phones.
Michael Calore: Mm-hmm. What about the watch?
Lauren Goode: All right, let’s talk about the watch. We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the gadget turducken that is Fitbit and Google’s newest Pixel Watch.
Lauren Goode: All right. There was more news beyond just Google’s new smartphone this week. The company also officially announced its long-rumored Pixel Watch. This is its brand new watch, and already it feels a little bit behind the times. Julian, what’s your take on this?
Julian Chokkattu: I mean, I like how it looks. They have a really nice design here that reminds me of some Swiss watches because the glass that covers the display is domed, and so this gives off this very luxurious look to it. So every time I saw someone at the briefing wearing a watch, I was like, “I want that on my wrist.” Which is a very good thing to have, a feeling to emanate from a device that, if you want to wear it, I think that’s a success.
But overall, it just feel like it is largely playing catchup in a lot of ways. There’s been so many other smartwatches, like Apple Watch, Samsung has a lot of great watches. But here, a lot of the Pixel Watch features are … yes. It exists now, finally. There’s heart rate tracking, there’s ECG, there’s SBO2, sleep tracking, a lot of which is relying on the Fitbit technology that’s been in Fitbit watches for the past several years. And of course there are some quirks. There are two fitness platforms on the watch. There’s Google Fit and Google Fitbit. So—
Michael Calore: Oh, no.
Julian Chokkattu: I asked them why, and they said, “It’s just the way it is.” And basically, they really want you to use Fitbit. And they made that pretty evidently clear because they spent maybe one second on Google Fit. So I would not be surprised to hear that in six months, Google Fit is going to die in favor of Google Fitbit. I don’t know whether I should be saying Google Fitbit or just Fitbit, but you get my point.
But yeah, there’s also some things that you’ll have to unlock with Fitbit Premium. So there’s a subscription play involved if you want some more data and insights and such. One thing I don’t like too much about the Pixel Watch is that they’re going all in with the Apple-like way of making a lot of things proprietary where they don’t need to be proprietary. The straps, for example, are proprietary straps.
So unlike on most wireless watches where you can just swap out the bands for any cheap band, now there are very specific Pixel Watch bands that you can only use, and maybe at some point they’ll open that up to third parties. But for now, I believe it starts at $49 for a strap.
Another proprietary thing is the charging mechanism. It is a magnetic charger, but it is not using QI charging. It’s just a specific type of wireless charging, and that’s because the back of the Pixel Watch is also domed or a little curved, and so they want to make sure that it’s going to charge and it won’t charge on a QI wireless charging pad. So yeah, just things that Apple does, that doesn’t seem like very Google-y things to do and in favor of a more open device that works everywhere with everything.
Michael Calore: And how much does it cost?
Julian Chokkattu: Right. So it’s $349 for the Wi-Fi version and $399 for the LTE version, which, at least there is an LTE version. So that’s nice.
Michael Calore: That feels like $50 too expensive, I think. Even at $349, it feels like if they can get the watch under $300 because they’re playing catchup, because there are other smartwatches out there that are much more capable that are at that $300 price point. And because there’s one between $300, $400, that is much more capable. I’m talking about the Apple Watch, it does feel kind of expensive at $350 and $400.
Julian Chokkattu: It’s also more expensive than Samsung’s Galaxy watches, which, they have a long history of producing watches that people like. So why would someone not go with them? Yeah, I do think it probably could stand to be a little cheaper.
One thing I might as well point out is that the case is stainless steel, so that is usually an upgrade on an Apple Watch, for example, where it starts with aluminum. Partly why that price is probably a little higher.
Lauren Goode: Mm-hmm. I’m not impressed.
Michael Calore: By the Pixel Watch?
Lauren Goode: No.
Michael Calore: Yeah. And you are a smartwatch person.
Lauren Goode: I am. Yes. Yeah, I’m not, and I’ve covered them for years. I’m just not impressed by this for a few reasons. One, it is expensive for what it is. Two, it lacks some more advanced health sensors, for example, it is doing heart rate tracking, and they’re claiming that it is some of the most accurate heart rate tracking on the market because the sample rate is higher.
So typically with a smartwatch, particularly when the people who make the watch want to conserve battery life, they will sample your heart rate at a certain rate when you’re not in active mode and then when you go into workout mode. When you’re looking for a more accurate tracking, they up the sample rate, but that tends to suck up more battery life.
In this case, Google says that it’s sampling your heart rate all the time, and so it’s supposedly more accurate over time. That’s great. But there are no temperature sensors. They’re not doing menstrual cycle tracking, which is something the Apple Watch has had for at least a couple of generations now.
The software feels like this whole idea that it’s, like, Fitbit nested and Fit nested in this Pixel Watch, and then somewhere in there, there’s probably some Pebble DNA too, because Fitbit acquired Pebble many years ago. Based on a short briefing, I don’t see how this software appears to be anything super special.
Now, the one thing that I think Google should lean into and where there may be a future for this watch, is if Google does introduce new AR glasses anytime in the near future. Maybe this becomes an additional sensor on your body that somehow informs what’s going on on your glasses or some other kind of heads-up display.
The feature that Google did show off that looked cool was, you can use an app on your watch as the view finder for the camera on your phone, on your Pixel phone, so you can literally see on your wrist what you might see from your phone’s camera if you set it up somewhere else.
I can imagine a world where you’re wearing a heads-up display and the thing on your wrist becomes a control for what you’re capturing or what you’re trying to say through your face computer, basically. Something like that would be cool. But as it stands right now is a $349 smartwatch that’s about five years too late to the market. Not impressed.
Michael Calore: Yeah.
Julian Chokkattu: Yeah. I think a part of the problem is that there’s just no groundbreaking feature here as well, as I was saying, it’s like playing catchup. And so if they had come out the gate with something new that this watch did that other watches didn’t do, then it’d be one thing.
For example, fall detection is coming to this watch, but in the next three months, not out of the gate. It’s things like that, that just feels cool, it exists and now is an extra option. And I think that’s really the saving grace is that now, we have an extra choice in a smartwatch when you’re looking to buy for something.
Michael Calore: Yeah. And you’ve been deep in the Wear OS world for a while, I think. Are we just calling it Wear, now? I don’t know. With just like, with everything else Google.
Julian Chokkattu: They have flip-flopped so many times on their own brand name that I don’t know anymore. I think it’s just Wear now.
Michael Calore: OK, so if this is a Wear 3 watch, how does it compare experience-wise to the other Wear 3 watches, and what is the app support like?
Julian Chokkattu: Wear 3. So basically there’s maybe two to three Wear 3 watches out there. Samsung, Montblanc has a $1,200 crazy watch that no one should buy. I’m sorry.
Michael Calore: Because I mean it.
Julian Chokkattu: And a lot of those features are catching up across the board. So for the most part, by the end of this year, a lot of the Wear 3 features should be the same on all the watches.
App support is getting better. I will say that hopefully the Pixel Watch is another way to further emphasize that, the Wear OS Play Store is growing and that hopefully other developers will start to come on it, because it is one other aspect of the Pixel Watch that isn’t as great as the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch has a lot of different apps that you can use, whereas there’s not a ton of options on the Wear Play store. So it’s not great, but hopefully it’ll look better.
Lauren Goode: That doesn’t matter though. That’s my take.
Julian Chokkattu: Doesn’t matter.
Lauren Goode: No, that doesn’t matter. Third-party apps don’t matter. Because either you are building a smartwatch because it’s incredibly functional, like a Garmin watch, it’s going to last you as you climb Mount Everest, right? It’s that sort of thing. OK, maybe not Everest, maybe Kilimanjaro, maybe just a Wednesday morning surf session, right?
It’s going to do something for you that’s very specific or it’s an ecosystem play, where the maker of the smartwatch is doing it because they want you deeper into their ecosystem. And so it is their native apps and their integration with other devices that matter the most.
It is much more important, if you’re wearing an Apple Watch, that it does something functional for you around Messages, or turn by turn and Apple Maps or whatever it is. Then it does show you that your Uber has arrived. That’s helpful. Sure. But it’s not the most important thing.
You don’t need to order pizza from your Apple Watch necessarily from a third-party app. It’s how the built-in apps work. That’s like … I don’t know. I just think Wear OS as an App Store platform for third-party apps could go away and I don’t think many people would notice. But if Google did something that was a killer Google app experience on the Pixel Watch, then that would be a bigger selling point.
Julian Chokkattu: And there are things that they have done over the past year to make that better. They actually made first-party apps for the Wear platform. Google Maps finally showed up this year. YouTube Music showed up this year, Google Assistant is finally back, and now with the Pixel Watches, they’re also launching a Google Home app, so you can toggle on your smart lights from your watch and such. So they have done some of that, but of course there is a long way to go as well.
Lauren Goode: Julian, thanks so much for these insights on the new Google products. Let’s take another quick break and then we’re going to come back with our recommendations.
Lauren Goode: Julian, our friend of the pod, what is your recommendation this week?
Julian Chokkattu: Yeah. I’ve been going to the gym lately, and what I do when I go to the gym is I sit on an exercise bike and I watch a show, and one of the shows that I’m watching right now is called Cyberpunk: Edgerunner. If you’ve—you might have heard of the word—well, that’s the word—cyberpunk is fairly well known.
But there was a popular game that came out, I think, a couple years ago called Cyberpunk 2077, which had a bit of a mixed launch because it launched pretty broken. But basically the show is an offshoot of that game set in the same sort of world. And as you might glean from the name, it’s in a very dystopian future where people augment their bodies with all types of different tech and gear and metal parts and weapons and things like that.
And so I haven’t finished the show yet, but it is an animated show I should say, and it’s on Netflix. But from what I’ve watched so far, it’s very good. It’s very good. It’s very gripping. There’s great music. The art style is really incredible. And the story somewhat may be predictable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. And so if you haven’t watched an animated short or series in a while, maybe you watch this one.
Lauren Goode: Awesome. Is that the one with Keanu Reeves? Am I making that up?
Julian Chokkattu: That is the game, which had the famous “You’re breathtaking” moment that kicked off that announcement.
Lauren Goode: What was it? Your breathtaking moment?
Julian Chokkattu: When they showed off the game for the first time, Keanu Reeves came onstage and someone had yelled, “You’re breathtaking.” He yelled back, “You’re breathtaking.”
Michael Calore: Yes. He’s so good. He’s so good. The man knows how to take a compliment.
Lauren Goode: Well, thank you for that recommendation, Julian. I’m glad we were able to work Keanu Reeves into this episode. We should probably do that every week.
Michael Calore: Yeah. When you host. Sure.
Lauren Goode: Mike, what’s your recommendation?
Michael Calore: My recommendation is a book that I’m almost finished with. I’m on the very last chapter. It is called Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Mark Kurlansky is a nonfiction book writer. He writes a lot of historical books. He wrote one about paper. He wrote one about salt.
This book is all about cod, the fish, the Gadus form, the giant Atlantic animal that is so prolific and so easy to catch and so easy to sort of predict where it’s going to be that it has fueled society in the North Atlantic.
Cod, the fish, has made civilization possible in places where farming can’t be done. It’s easily preserved by salt. We all know Portuguese bacalhau or Spanish bacalao or Italian baccala. So all through the Mediterranean, all through the North Atlantic, cod is the thing that sustained people for 10 centuries.
So this book goes back a thousand years and tells you about the story of cod. It’s fascinating. I did not think that it was going to be as interesting as it was, and it turns out to be a total page turner. It was written in 1999, and I think it won the James Beard book award. So it’s received a bunch of accolades and it’s a very old book. However, it’s a timeless story.
Lauren Goode: I really thought you were going to say it received a bunch of a-cod-lades.
Michael Calore: A-cod-lades.
Lauren Goode: That was really bad. I love cod!
Michael Calore: Yeah.
Lauren Goode: I love salted cod. People have very strong opinions about that. Bacalhau. Either they like it or they really don’t like it. And I could eat it when I’ve been to Portugal, I could eat it every day, every single day.
Michael Calore: Yeah. There are a lot of recipes in the book, weirdly, just—
Lauren Goode: Oh, really?
Michael Calore: Every chapter kind of has—because it hops through time, right? So the book goes all the way back to the 10th century and the 11th century and talks about the Vikings. So there’s recipes that sort of approximate how the Vikings ate it. And then as you get into—
Lauren Goode: That’s why it was salted, right? It was salted for preservation.
Michael Calore: Salted for preservation.
Lauren Goode: Right.
Michael Calore: Right. Lasted a very long time. So then there’s recipes from the 1400s and the 1700s and the 1800s and modern day recipes. It’s a lot of fun.
Lauren Goode: That’s fascinating. How did you come upon that book?
Michael Calore: I think what it was, is that Kurlansky’s books, he’s written so many of them that a couple of them have been recommended to me, and the ones that were recommended to me, the subject matter maybe wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I did look at all the other books he had written and that one just jumped out at me as like, that’s probably an interesting story.
Lauren Goode: Nice.
Michael Calore: Yeah.
Lauren Goode: Yeah.
Michael Calore: So yeah. Cod.
Lauren Goode: So it was a catch.
Michael Calore: It’s a total catch. I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.
Lauren Goode: Thank you.
Michael Calore: Lauren, what’s your recommendation?
Lauren Goode: I have two recommendations.
Michael Calore: OK.
Lauren Goode: Neither are totally finished. My first recommendation is a book by our colleague Emily Dreyfuss, along with Dr. Joan Donovan and Brian Friedberg, and it’s called Meme Wars. That’s M-E-M-E Wars, like a meme. And we’ve had Emily on the show before.
So Emily used to work at WIRED, and then she left WIRED. Now she’s at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, which is where she was working on this book. And we had her on the show last year to talk about memes. So if you go back into our back catalog, you’ll find that episode.
The book is out. It’s fantastic. I had the pleasure of speaking with Emily and Joan Donovan at the Commonwealth Club here in San Francisco last night. And sometimes as a journalist, you’re hosting a talk, it goes over an hour, and after a while, maybe you zone out just a little bit, or you start thinking about the next question you’re supposed to ask.
It was not, I mean—I was completely engrossed for over an hour, and everything that they were saying, and the line that they’re able to draw from the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2012 to the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, DC, and how memes have become such an important part of the culture wars and the political culture wars that we’re currently experiencing, and the ways in which memes have become weaponized and in some cases led people to very real-life actual violence.
It’s a sobering book. And so I read most of the book in preparation for this talk, and it’s fascinating. It’s so, so good. And I think one of the things that’s interesting about it is, it’s about the people behind the memes too. These operators, or even just these average internet users who have managed to bring power to these memes.
Because we hear about these events. As news people, we hear about them as these sort of disparate news events that happen, and it’s like there’s a meme attached to it, but how the machine actually works is really what this book is about. So I recommend that. And my second recommendation, sorry to have two this week, but …
Michael Calore: It’s cramming them in there.
Lauren Goode: I’m really cramming them in. By the way, my recommendations are not uplifting. I’m just going to let you know. I should have caveated from the top. These are not fun. The second thing I’ve been doing is watching this 24-part series.
Michael Calore: Oh god.
Lauren Goode: On the Cold War. Mike is like, “Really?” OK. I talked to you doing about this the other day.
Michael Calore: You made fun of me for getting really into six books from Norwegian autofiction author Karl Ove Knausgård.
Lauren Goode: Yeah, because his book is called My Struggle. I am allowed to make fun of that, or at least raise an eyebrow at it.
Michael Calore: Yes. That’s what he wants.
Lauren Goode: OK. Yes.
Michael Calore: So anyway, about your 24-part documentary about the Cold War.
Lauren Goode: Yes. OK. It was produced by CNN in the late ’90s. I believe it was 1998 that it was released. And I may have found it somewhere on YouTube. I don’t want to get it taken down, so please, YouTube, don’t take it down before I finish watching it. But someone has published it in its entirety on YouTube.
And it’s a fascinating glimpse at history that is still—we are still very much affected by today. I mean, it’s so obvious, everything that’s going, I don’t even want to get into it. I’m like, I’ll just say it’s a really well reported and straightforward account of the Cold War and all of its forms and factions in all of the countries involved, in a way that I’m just finding fascinating.
Some of it I’ve read about in school. Some of it I probably didn’t learn enough about growing up, or I only learned certain sides of it from crummy history books. And so I highly recommend, if you have the time at night and you can’t sleep, checking out the Cold War documentary from CNN somewhere on YouTube. It’s out there.
Michael Calore: Or if you’re at the gym sitting on an exercise bike.
Lauren Goode: Sure. Why not?
Michael Calore: You can either watch a video of …
Lauren Goode: Yeah. STA will get your heart rate up.
Michael Calore: Yep.
Lauren Goode: Yep.
Michael Calore: Or you can watch dystopian animated sci-fi on Netflix, just saying.
Lauren Goode: Sure. That sounds great. This has been a really fun show, even though I don’t know whether our producer would agree. We love you, Boone. Julian, thank you so much for joining us. It’s always a pleasure having you on.
Julian Chokkattu: Thank you very much for having me.
Lauren Goode: And thanks, Mike, for being a really great cohost.
Michael Calore: Well, thank you, Lauren.
Lauren Goode: And my primary Pixel friend.
Michael Calore: I look forward to sending you more links to photos.
Lauren Goode: All right. Thanks to all of you for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. And if you feel like it, leave us a review in Apple Podcasts. Our producer is the excellent and very patient Boone Ashworth. Goodbye for now. We’ll be back next week.