Tech'ed Up

Is Tech Policy Passé? • Karen Kornbluh

December 01, 2022 bWitched Media
Is Tech Policy Passé? • Karen Kornbluh
Tech'ed Up
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Tech'ed Up
Is Tech Policy Passé? • Karen Kornbluh
Dec 01, 2022
bWitched Media

Former Ambassador and Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Karen Kornbluh, joins Niki in the Tech’ed Up studio for a rollicking conversation about whether tech policy is passé, the ongoing Twitter implosion, and misinformation being a loser. This conversation covers the erosion of trust in institutions, cynicism as a by product of social media, and the power of storytelling to combat both.

"I hope we can get past the techlash to see it as technology as we used to, which is with this sense of optimism and magic." -Karen Kornbluh

○ Read Karen’s New York Times profile
○ Donate to Wikipedia
○ Follow Niki on Twitter

Show Notes Transcript

Former Ambassador and Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Karen Kornbluh, joins Niki in the Tech’ed Up studio for a rollicking conversation about whether tech policy is passé, the ongoing Twitter implosion, and misinformation being a loser. This conversation covers the erosion of trust in institutions, cynicism as a by product of social media, and the power of storytelling to combat both.

"I hope we can get past the techlash to see it as technology as we used to, which is with this sense of optimism and magic." -Karen Kornbluh

○ Read Karen’s New York Times profile
○ Donate to Wikipedia
○ Follow Niki on Twitter


Niki: [music plays]

I’m Niki Christoff and welcome to Tech’ed Up. Today in the studio, I’m joined by former Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, Founding Director of the Digital Innovation & Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund.  

We bond over being D.C. policy nerds who are bored to death by policy debates, our shared love for Wikipedia, and our lack of love for Elon Musk’s Twitter. Karen talks through some ideas to combat the erosion of trust in institutions – including the gamification of facts.


Niki: Today's guest in the studio is Karen Kornbluh. Welcome. 

Karen: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. 

Niki: So, Karen, you are a, an internet policy wonk. You go back years in this space. 

Karen: This is true. I haven't always worked on tech policy, but it has been a theme.

Niki: A theme. Since the Clinton days. [Karen: Exactly. Yeah] And I will just say this because we don't wanna bore people to death by talking about policy, even though [Karen: Oh, no, no] Even though you and I, that's our job actually!  

Karen: I know, but it's boring. I'm bored by policy and, and it doesn't feel like policy matters right now, does it? It doesn't. It doesn't feel like in the, like in the old days where there were think tanks, and they came up with policy ideas, and they presented them to the government , and they worked their way through, it seems like now it's just like a shouting contest and a popularity contest.

Niki: I  totally agree. I think policy is passé!

Both laugh

It is, and I'm bored too. I hear Section 230 and it's like Charlie Brown's teacher. I just can't. So we will get at the crux of the issues without boring ourselves to death. [Karen: Let's try] Or the people listening. [Karen: Let's try]  Anyone who's still listening after two minutes of this. 

Okay! So, one of the things I wanna talk about, we've recently just had the midterm elections and you have kind of a spicy take or a take that I haven't heard before about what happened. 

Karen: I, I don't know how spicy it is, but I do feel that disinformation lost. I, I don't mean that we lost in disinformation. One, I think that the conspiracy theories lost a little bit. The real extremist conspiracy theorists who were talking, “Let's have violence if we don't win the election. It's gonna be stolen,” who were trying to stoke all kinds of ideas about their opponents. They did not win. 

And I think that says that maybe disinformation per se is not the problem, that it's extremism. And that, and that there's been a reaction against extremism that I think the American people, or a lot of the American people, are tired of the chaos, are tired of the accusations, they wanna get on with their lives. And they want some grownups in the room. 

Y’know, not everybody, not in all cases, but it feels like extremism didn't win. And I think maybe we should put away the term disinformation and just think about the real harms. 

I think we wanna get out of those conversations about who's gonna be the truth police. 

Niki: I, I agree. I think, first of all, I would say this, my own trust in some institutions has been undermined. And I'm about as much of an institutionalist as you can get. Like-

Karen: [interrupts} Which institutions? 

Niki: The media. 

Karen: Oh, yeah.

Niki: Right. I now, when I look at American politics, I read it on BBC or Al Jazeera because I feel like I can't get a straight story from a lot of, a lot of the outlets because, and we can talk about this in a minute, but they are sort of incentivized to, of course, have, like, clicks and opinions and I'm like, “Is this an editorial or is this a news story?”

Karen: I don't think the media or the government have adjusted to what John Dickerson calls the marketplace, the new political marketplace that's in part created and shaped by social media. 

So the algorithm, but also what we used to call, we used to call, what the internet was doing was disintermediating, like a disintermediated airlines, I mean travel agents. Cuz you could go directly to the airline and buy your ticket. And it's disintermediating newspapers, right? And print journalism. And they don't realize that. 

So they, they can't count on the fact that people don’t know what's an editorial and what's an article, because they're just getting, they're not, you're not picking up the newspaper and seeing that the op-ed is in the back and it's separated by the masthead.

And so, people just haven't adjusted at all to the new reality. And I think that breeds a naivete that sort of breeds a certain kind of cynicism if you're not careful about it. 

Niki: I think that that whack jobs were out in the election, like a lot of the whack jobs lost and a lot of the, like people with hammers attacking, [Karen: gasps]  you know, Speaker Pelosi's husband, [Karen: and laughing about it] And people laughing about it, right? 

I think that cruelty is actually not representative of how real people act in real life. It's how people act on the internet. 

Karen: The one other thing I would say is about people not understanding the new marketplace is I think folks that are trying to get to the other side of disinformation, the folks that are trying to get facts out, the facts that are the people that are trying to get information out about vaccines or what's going on in the economy that they need to do a way better job.

You know, they've hired social media managers, good for them! But do they understand how the algorithm works? [Niki: right]  Do they understand how to really push things out? How to build networks of people and get people involved in promoting actual facts or a narrative that makes people comfortable about being involved or, and excited [Niki: excited!] about being involved in civic life and to feel connected? 

I don't know if you saw this? Fascinated by this, but there was a gamification of anti-voter fraud. [Niki: Oh, tell me more!] So, people were getting points online for, like, catching one of these, you know, supposed mules that were doing dropoffs of multiple people's fake votes. So, in other words, the, I, it's so hard to explain because it doesn't make any sense.

It's lie built upon lie.  [Niki: laughs] But in other words, the people who- 

Niki: [interrupts laughing] Wait! Did you say it's a lie built on a lie? 

Karen: Yeah. Niki: Oh, I love it!]  So, so the people who, um, are trying to voice this idea that there's all this voter fraud, when in fact we know there's so little, almost none. [Niki:  Almost none!]  Right? [Niki:  People barely have time to vote once]  Right? They were trying, they, they have gotten people so involved and so worked up and, and, and they're trying to build such a community among those people that they said, “If you go out there and you find people at the polls, or you find people at the dropbox who are committing fraud, you get all these points online.”

We need to set up communities of people who are interested in, you know, spreading civic information in getting people out to vote. You know, and there is some of that in an offline sense, in a very narrow sense, but I think so much more could be done to, to counter those, those bad, what do we wanna say it, the bad uses? The, the, the weaponization of social media. 

And I, I just think that, that the older institutions that you were talking about that make you a little cynical, I think part of the reason that we feel a little cynical is they feel outdated. [Niki: Totally!] They don't feel like they're up to the challenges of today and they're not speaking with the current  language.

Niki: You and I were at a conference with brilliant people a few weeks ago talking about decentralization and a new kind of internet or a totally different kind of internet, and it's so complicated, and people don't understand it.

And I, you know, tried to get on Mastadon, not- we'll talk Twitter in a second. [Karen: Oh, Mastodon, yeah!}  Yeah. Holy! Like, I could not figure it out. I was like, “what server am I supposed to be on?” I was gonna pick the cat server, but it was in French.  [Karen: laughs] Then I was just like, “I don't even know anyone on this thing.” And I'm like, “the UI sucks!!”

So, I might not wanna be held hostage by Twitter and Elon Musk, which we'll get to. So, maybe this is a natural segue, but I couldn't figure out the alternative. And I'm like, that's a really well-intentioned alternative, but I. I can't use it. It's too much trouble. It's like, “Ugh, I just can't with it.”

Karen: And it's really hard.

I mean, I think people don't trust experts anymore. They don't wanna be spoonfed thru deferred experts. I was talking to this big public health official, and she was still in shock from what had happened in, y’know, the early days of Covid where people were doing their quote-unquote own research.  [Niki: right]  She was like, “But I spent all this time training, y’know, and all my colleagues are, “why aren't you deferring to me?””

But they, people, don't trust experts anymore. And so, we have to find a way to unpack things and let people put the pieces together themselves. 

I mean, I think the disinformation folks, again, I hate that word and there I am using it. But the manipulators, they want to disempower you. Y’know, they wanna feed you, they wanna manipulate you, they wanna feed you stuff that's not true. But to counter that, you need to empower people.

You can't say to people, go back in your box and pretend it's the mid-20th century.  [Niki: right] And pick up the newspaper and trust, just, y’know, these three white guys on three broadcast networks. Nobody's gonna do that anymore. [Niki: right] So, you have to be in this environment, but you have to do it in a really empowering, easy, gamified, attractive way.

I mean, I hate to say that. I know we all think that sounds superficial, but that's the world we're in. 

Niki: I understand the point you're making cuz I feel this way myself.

I'm tired of being lectured to and PS:  the system is rigged. So, I think people are done with that too. Like, experts are out, which is, I think, not a good thing because they have spent years learning and studying things. 

But I saw on Twitter [chuckling], actually just yesterday, someone said, “Don't let them expert shame you!” It was someone talking about Ukraine. And I was like, “Okay, except you literally are a venture capitalist.” Like, you know, [Karen: nothing] nothing about Ukraine. So, it's not exactly, but I think people are in a position; we are in a moment where elites, people are done with elites, they're done with elites having more power over them, talking down to them, not respecting them. And so, I think there's that too. There's this dynamic of people just being like over the system.

Karen: You know, go to Wikipedia, where a bunch of people have sorted through the information, and then you can look at the footnotes, and you can follow them out. It, Yeah, I, to me, that's a really empowering way of helping people do their own research. I don't think that's the only way, but to me, it's a really interesting model.

I was wondering what you think, like, are you as cynical about that as you are about like mainstream journalism?

Niki:  I am not as cynical about Wikipedia. I do think, I mean, Wikipedia itself is a closed system. You have to get the editors to agree to things. We know for a fact there, there are very few women profiled on Wikipedia. [Karen: Yeah] So, it still reflects sort of the, the bias in the world. But the fact that you can see all of the changes, it makes it more credible. I do, though, a hundred million years ago, when I worked for Senator McCain, y’know, people would be changing his height. 

[Both laugh]

Niki: And then, you know, the interns would have to go in and like fight on Wikipedia about whatever snarky thing someone had changed.

I don't think it's fail-safe, but I do think because it's crowdsourced and there are moderators who enforce sort of the rules and protocols on it, to me, it's more credible than a lot of other things. So yeah, I like it. I'm for it! I've donated to them, because honestly, how do they do that without making money? Which leads us, maybe to, to Twitter. [Karen: ugh]  Yeah. 

Karen: All roads lead to Twitter.

Niki: All roads lead to Elon Musk, who has recently purchased Twitter. 

And one of the things you've been known for, and I know you think it's boring, but I actually think it's interesting, [chuckles] is talking about practical ways you can create a more trustworthy environment on social media without passing new laws and without, sort of, restraining speech. But like whether that's transparency or you have some ideas for fixing it, which we could go through quickly. 

Karen: I mean, I think one of the first values of the internet was transparency, like that it was supposed to give us transparency. I don't know if you know this, but in the Citizens United famous Supreme Court decision that brought corporate money flooding into campaigns. When you say the system is rigged, that's a big reason why. The Supreme Court majority actually wrote in Citizens United, “It's okay if we let corporations spend in campaigns because now we have the internet. And the internet is gonna bring all this transparency so, you'll know who's trying to buy your candidate.”  

And in fact, the internet has done the opposite because of social media. It's not clear who's running an ad. It's not even really that clear if it is an ad. Is it a bunch of bots sending it to you? Is it really your mother's neighbor? 

Niki: Right! I think my mother is a bot. [laughs]  

Karen: Yeah. Yeah. So, [Niki: I'm like, “Is this a troll? No, it's my mom.”]  Yeah. I mean, just things like advertising. There's this Honest Ads Act, which is bipartisan, and the platforms all say they support it, but. It can't even get a hearing.  [Niki: Yeah] And that's just a basic thing that we should have.

And then there are a bunch of other transparency things we should have. And the platforms could do it completely by themselves. And what they should do when they have that transparency is they should go beyond what's on broadcast, because as you know, I'm gonna get boring! [singsong voice] Warning! Warning! 

Niki: You should stop saying that! [Karen: Okay, well]  We'll get you an affirmation card for the morning. You can be, like, my job is so- 

Karen: [interrupts] You get like ten boring, like, I get ten boring things.

Niki:  We’ll gamify it! [chuckling] 

Karen: Yes, exactly. I get to be boring ten times! So- [Niki: [chuckling] when you reach ten, you're done for the day!] 

So, you know, there are all these groups like, Securing America Now, Stronger America, that are just front groups. And so you have no idea who's actually funding them so that's all the transparency that we get, often, on a broadcast about who's paying for an ad. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, they could say, “No, we- no, you don't get to run an ad unless you say, like, who's the major funder?” [Niki: Right]  Of that group! They could easily pierce that veil. 

Niki: And that doesn't speak down to the users of these platforms,  [Karen: Right?] It actually just gives them information for them, to decide for themselves if you know who pays for it. And by the way, it's not just social media. It's regular media. [Karen:  Exactly!] 

And I am gonna say something controversial. I'd like to know what investments Jim Cramer holds. [Karen: Yeah!]  Right?! Every time I watch that show, I think “I'd like to see your stock portfolio.”  Because I don't know. Which, then this leads to the cynicism I have and how I've become somewhat - quite - skeptical of media. Who's paying for this, right? Or what, what's your incentive? What's the alignment? 

And I think; actually, I’d love if that were, the only thing we did was just provide more information to people. Like, “This article is actually coming from Russia.” Right? 

Karen: Exactly. And there's, you know, there's this whole movement among some journalists who think the old way of proving objectivity by, by representing both sides, that that's broken.Part of what they're doing is they're saying, “You know what, I'm gonna come right out and say what my biases are, where I'm coming from.”  And I love that. You know, like, and then you decide! 

Niki: I think we have to focus on building trust, and the only way to build trust is to be transparent and credible.

So, having worked in-house at these companies, it's, it really is very complicated to they don't wanna be the truth police. [Karen: Right! Exactly]  It's impossible. There's no winning in it. It's, it's the, the scale of the platforms is so huge. They don't wanna be in the business of deciding any of it. [Karen: Right]  Any of it!  In the, in the old days, you know, bloggers, you could put anything on it, but now we've seen the impacts of this, them not deciding. So, then they decide, and then people feel manipulated, cuz they are being manipulated both by the platform decisions and by the actual manipulators on the end. 

Karen: [interrupts] Well, look. Lets unpack that, what you just said. I think people think the only manipulation is when stuff is taken down. [Niki: mm-hmm] or de-amplified. And they don't realize that the manipulation happens at the front end. [Niki: Right] Because the, the algorithm decides what to amplify. [Niki: Right] So, they're being manipulated always.

Niki: And I think people are tired of the discord, too. That doesn't mean they wanna agree with each other all the time, but I really think that focusing on it's, it's not expensive to have transparency. I remember, though, Sheryl Sandberg was testifying in DC once, and someone said, “How much money do you make?” Asked her in a hearing, “How much money do you make from ads from Russia?” And she said, “A lot of people pay with rubles.” And I just thought that's the most absurd response. 

[both laugh]

Karen: Oops!

Niki: Like, surely you can figure it out?  And so, if you can figure it out, and just maybe stop making editorial decisions, and just adding a ton more info. And then, to your point, the algorithm- 

Karen: [interrupts] Right!  They shouldn't be amplifying just based on what's gonna keep you online. I mean, what they used to say, again, to appeal to like to, for the metaphor of what we used to do back in the broadcast era. They used to say, like, “If it bleeds, it leads.” [Niki: Mm]. Y’know, to keep people watching the evening news. 

They would put the murder on for the first thing, but they felt some obligation to then go on and tell the news, not have like a whole half hour of murder.  But that's kind of what social media is. [Niki: Yessss!!]  It's all, “It bleeds, it leads” [Niki: Oh my gosh, you’re right!] Because that's what keeps people on! And I think there's some obligation to have the algorithm not just be, y’know, “it bleeds, It bleeds, it bleeds, it bleeds.”

I do think, I think I'm, I'm, I've been avoiding the Musk question, but I think [Niki: Oh, right!] 

To try to get to him,  I think part of his appeal is [pause] I mean, he's obviously a troll, y’know, and he's also an insult comic, but,  I think people like that. he's, he wants to build things. [Niki: Mm-hmm] And he wants to do things, and he wants to, he seems to anyway, and he seems to wanna solve problems. Y’know, he's not whining about the climate and telling you to put on a sweater.  [Niki: chuckles] He's building electric vehicles, y’know, And he's, I mean, not all his solutions make any sense but-  

Niki: [interrupts] Well, he thinks we're in a simulation, I think, where if we go far enough out, we pop through the edge of the simulation.[both chuckle] I think, Okay!  So, first of all, let me just say, no matter when this episode goes live, it will be dated based on Elon Musk because he's mid-bezerking with his Twitter acquisition. So, anything we say, we don't know what's really gonna be happening by the time this airs, 

Karen: [interrupts] but we can be sure it'll be berserk! 

Niki: We can be sure [Karen: whatever day it is]  It will be bananas.  [Karen: Yes]  But I think people like him for two reasons. One, as you said, he's actually doing things. He's a doer, he's fixing things, and he's captivating our imaginations.

I actually came here in a Tesla, and I have to say, I couldn't figure out how to open the door.! [Karen: That's great]  Right? Y’know, it's like the future. I probably should know how to open a Tesla door. But in any of event- 

Karen: [interrupts excitedly] No, but can I tell you a story related to that? [bYeah!]  It's so funny. So, I was at the McLaren factory once. [Niki: Oh yeah] And my kids were there, and they got to go in, and, y’know, it has those doors that come up like wings. And my kids were like asking these very serious questions, like, “Why does it do that?” Thinking there'd be some aerodynamic answer. And the CEO was like, “Is it cool?” And my son was like, “Yeah.”  And he was, like, “That's why they opened that way. Cause it's cool.”

Niki: I think people are interested because you're seeing captivating things. Space is cool, new cars, it's cool. Thinking through solutions and not whining is cool. And at the moment, being unapologetic is in. Backbone is in. So, I think that's why he's appealing to people. But I also think he's reckless and, and cruel.

Karen:  Yes, yes, yes! I, I think he's, and he's really a complicated challenge, like the fact that his SpaceX is so important from like a national security point of view. DoD has contracts with SpaceX. We see the importance it's playing in Ukraine. Then you've got electric vehicles-huge industry for American competitiveness. Y’know, the Inflation Reduction Act put all this money into electric vehicles. And he's dependent on access to the Chinese market. He has, y’know, property there that's at risk if the Chinese government decides they don't like him. He's dependent on a bunch of sketchy governments for minerals that he needs to put into his cars to manufacture them.

And now, he owns this major influential media platform. That is a very, very complicated, y’ know, and then you see all the people who have invested [Niki: Saudis]  The Saudis!  Right? And it's really a complicated challenge. And if we weren't already having a conversation about what we're gonna do as a society about social media, like, that surely would've provoked it.

But we are having this conversation! The Supreme Court is looking at Section, sorry to say these words, Section 230. That's another boring point I get! And-

Niki: [teasingly] Oh, I know. We'll put it on your list.

Karen: On my list, right? My bingo list. 

We're already having a debate about it. Y’know, in the States they're looking at various things to do about, y’know, so who to hold responsible for, for what on social media.

But I think the Elon Musk thing really does provoke it. It says like, “Do we really want somebody who's taking partisan position,s and changing his mind every day about what the policies are gonna be for, for this platform, and who's gonna get to speak loudly, and who's gonna get drowned out, and whether they're gonna be bots or not?” Do we want that to be controlled by somebody who’s also so important from a national security and competitiveness point of view? That's complicated. 

Niki: It's, he has an enormous amount of power. He has a lot of fans. I think that we may see though, with, with Twitter, this is my prediction: 

Twitter has never had mass adoption. Only 10% of Americans even have a Twitter account. It's just that the media is on Twitter and they're addicted to it. It's their group. They should probably come up with a Discord channel instead. But if the media's on it, then you have policymakers and politicians on it. But it's a quite small group of Americans.

But there's a world in which people start feeling hustled by Twitter. I mean, I feel that way already, right? [Karen: You do?] I don't know if I feel hustled. I guess I feel more, like, I feel drained with it, [Karen: mm-hmm] in a way, even more than any other social media. I just leave feeling like the world is a hellscape, and then I walk outside, and I'm, like, “Actually, this is kind of nice. And, like, even the people I totally disagree with politically seem pretty nice. We’re all pretty decent.”

But if you just look at Twitter, you would honestly think it was just like that. You'd open your door to be, like; it's like that guy mowing the lawn with the huge forest fire behind him.  

[Both laugh]

Niki: That's how Twitter feels to me.

Karen: I, I mean, the one thing I like about Twitter, cuz I was starting to feel like preemptively nostalgic for it, assuming that, like, Elon Musk is gonna blow it up. And I realized there are a bunch of women, especially that I follow on Twitter. Black women, but also just like younger than I am women who I wouldn't have been able to read as easily. And I think I'm gonna miss that. 

I don't know if you were on Twitter the day that the Cats movie came out?   [Niki: [chuckling] Yes!]  It was a very fun, it was very fun!  

Niki: I know it's great for the World Series.  [crosstalk] It's great for, it is great for pop culture moments. 

Karen: Yes. And then some of these Web3 ideas, I'm really open to them. [Niki: Me too!] The idea of decentralizing and providing people more choice.

But again, it has to be easy. [Niki: It has to be!] You can't be [Niki: right] You don't, should not need a computer science degree to figure out how to use these [Niki: right] tools, but they shouldn't be so dumbed down that you feel manipulated by the algorithm. [Niki: Absolutely!] There has to be something in between. 

Niki: I totally agree with all of this, and I will say one of the things that I think. LinkedIn has really risen to the occasion. There's a toggle “I don't wanna see political content.” The end. [Karen:  Yeah] I don't see it! 

Karen: Although, what do they consider political content? That’s what worries me sometimes is like, okay, the fossil fuel company can run an ad. [Niki: Mm-hmm] but the environmental group can't. Yknow, like what's political? 

Niki:  Oh! Interesting. I guess I have no idea. 

Karen: Yeah, I think that's, I mean, that was one of the things that came up with the political advertising, like, “We're gonna cut off political advertising before the election.”  I was just on a call today where people were talking about the fact that it's really hard for civil society groups in some countries to respond to, like, Russian disinformation when advertising isn't allowed.

You would think that not allowing advertising would be a good thing, but sometimes civil society groups have to, like, actually buy their amplification.

Niki: Right! Well, which goes to your first point, which is we have to find ways that they can amplify what they're doing in a digestible and interesting way. [Karen: Yeah] I mean, all the ads I get on LinkedIn are for neo-banks, which I feel fine about!

[Both laugh]

Niki: Who knows what they think about what I'm looking at! I feel good about it, but, [Karen: I don't know what it means] Okay. 

So, we don't have all the answers, but we're focusing on transparency, and control, [Karen: and fun] and gamification 

Karen: [interrupts excitedly] and making things more fun! [Niki: Right]  Like, maybe that's like a metapoint. Sorry about using that word. I shouldn't use that word. 

Niki: No, I like the word metapoint. 

Karen: Metapoint. I was just thinking cuz it's confusing because Facebook is Meta. 

Niki: [with fervor] I'll never call Facebook Meta!  [Karen: Oh yeah. Really?] It's a point of principle.[Karen:  Oh, it is?]  It is on this podcast!

[both laugh]

Karen: Anyway, a metapoint is that like, I don't wanna be boring, I think I'm not gonna be a good policy advocate or any kind of commentator on anything if I'm writing white papers. Back to your point. But I also think that's true for all of us. 

Like, none of us can think that just by being an expert and doing your equivalent of a white paper, that people are gonna listen to you. Like, you have to get out there. Whether it's gamification or, y’know, we can't like, just “tsk, tsk, tsk.” [Niki: Right, right!]  And people like Elon and Trump, like, we either have to change the marketplace, the algorithm, whatever, so it doesn't reward those people and, and, or we also have to adjust to it. 

Niki: Right! That's right. We need, I think that the people who care about institutions, which, even though I just said something cynical, I deeply care about institutions. I deeply care about democracy. I very much care about our national security and our way of life, and I think we often lack imagination for how quickly states can fail. How everything that we take for granted could change. So it matters, and I, and it means communicating more effectively, facts in a way where people can, can choose to absorb those and, and be better informed.

Karen: I think people feel like the pie is a given size and it's not growing, and so it's near you.  And that's not, that's not healthy for the country. I think we'd all have a lot more trust and a lot more give and take if we, if we had some optimism at the economy and optimism about technology. And so, I hope we can get past the techlash to see it as a, as technology as we used to, which is like with this sense of optimism [Niki: and magic] and magic. Right. 

Niki: And is still magical. And by the way, to go back to the pandemic, our ability to create that vaccine as quickly as we did, [Karen: Oh my gosh] It’s miraculous. And I sometimes feel like, I don't know what the, It's like Amer- anyway. Americans tend to get there. We're so innovative. And I think even just the narrative itself, this goes back to communications, like, just being a little more positive about ourselves.

It's funny, I have more cynicism about institutions, but I tend to have faith in Americans still. [Karen: Okay]

We need to urgently and intentionally excite people about facts. 

[Both laugh]

Niki: I'm a facts super fan. [Karen: [laughing] Uh-oh!]  Oh, man! 

Karen: Yeah, But y’ know, but narrative, like, not just facts, [Niki: storytelling!]  stories. You're a communications person. [Niki: Right] It has to be storytelling. And I think sometimes people who are on the side of facts think like, narrative and storytelling are the enemy and in fact they're just how our brains work.

Niki: It's absolutely how our brains work!  And it's how you get buy-in for the thing you're saying. If I'm bored and turn it off because I'm bored, um, I'm tuning out and, and I am not, I listen to murder podcasts, a lot of 'em, so, y’know, I don't think I'm like different than anybody else in America, I wanna be entertained. I am stressed a lot of the time. 

So, finding a way to make it digestible, interesting, compelling, and storytelling is crucially important to getting, getting this stuff sorted. So, I think that should be a priority as we move into the next Congress in the next two years.

Karen: All right. Okay. 

Niki: Let's do it! Thank you for coming on, Karen. 

Karen: Thank you.


Niki: Thanks for listening this week!  

In our next episode, I’m in the studio chatting with one of my favorite people on the planet, Malcom Glenn, about the important role employers can play in promoting mental health and equity in the workplace.   

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