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Podcast|33 minutes

The DEX Show | Podcast #8 – Remote-Work Wireheading w/ Tom Goodwin

The DEX Show | Podcast #8 – Remote-Work Wireheading w/ Tom Goodwin
March 30th

For better and for worse, moments in real life over the past year have probably reminded you of scenes from a Sci-Fi movie. Is our virtual world becoming our reality – or has that already happened?

In today’s episode, Tim Flower and Thomas McGrath of Nexthink speak with Tom Goodwin, author, columnist, and founding member of Wharton’s Future of Advertising board. They had an insightful and free-flowing conversation about the dynamic between advancing technology and human behavior, as well as…

  • How the pandemic highlighted the psychological impact of modern technology
  • Questioning the constraints of the contemporary work life
  • The most alarming – and inspiring – technological advancements since the pandemic

For more on technological innovation since the pandemic, check out our latest eBook, Distributed Minds: IT Thought Leadership for the Age of Remote Work.

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to the Digital Employee Experience Podcast on AppleSpotifyTuneInAmazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform!

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Speaker 1 (00:01):

You’re listening to Digital Employee Experience, a show for IT changemakers. Let’s get into the show.

Tom McGrath (00:08):

Hello, changemakers. Welcome to the Digital Employee Experience Show. I’m Tom McGrath, joined as ever by the brains of the operation, Mr. Tim Flower. Tim, how’s it going today?

Tim Flower (00:17):

I’m doing well, Tom. If I’m the brains, that make you the beauty?

Tom McGrath (00:20):

I’ll take that. I’ll take that.

Tim Flower (00:22):

All right.

Tom McGrath (00:22):

And this beauty is feeling very good about what an engrossing, engaging, far-ranging episode we have in our hands today because we’re genuinely honored to have one of my favorite thinkers, influencers, and provocateurs in the business and technology realm, and that’s Tom Goodwin. Tom, how’s it going? Welcome to the show.

Tom Goodwin (00:38):

I’m good. I’m good. Thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to this.

Tom McGrath (00:40):

Great pleasure. And you’re an Englishman in Miami. Is that right?

Tom Goodwin (00:44):


Tom McGrath (00:44):

Could I ask why Miami and what’s it been like there through the pandemic so far?

Tom Goodwin (00:48):

An Englishman in Miami is quite an odd experience actually because it feels very different to being an English person in New York. So, in short, I’ve been flying around the world for quite a long time, based in New York sort of notionally for about the last sort of 10 years. And it’s nice to move somewhere sunnier, and livelier, and happier, and more optimistic, and more happy to embrace the wonder that is now in the future rather than to be torn apart by the past.

Tom McGrath (01:18):

And has it retained that spirit over the last 12 months or to some extent retained it you think in comparison to other places?

Tom Goodwin (01:25):

I mean, it’s hard because I’ve never really been here that much before so I can’t compare it. But I would say there is a wonderful sort of sense of carpe diem with a degree of responsibility. It’s not sort of recklessness, but it’s somewhere where it is the sort of traditional melting pot where you do have this collision between American culture, or lack of American culture, and the sort of South American and Latin American flair, and to experience these new intersections. How does a Cuban, and a Brazilian, and Argentinian, and an English guy, how do they sort of talk at a party? I mean, it’s actually fascinating. So, I’ve been loving it so far.

Tom McGrath (02:08):

Interesting. Well, got you here today to have, I think, a really juicy conversation. And that’s about maybe the most… I’ve been thinking of the most significant, the most interesting topic in the world today, and that is the relationship between technology and the pandemic, and where we go from here. So, I’d like to ask you, Tom, to begin, please, by mapping out the very intimate dynamic between on the one hand, technology and on the other, the pandemic.

Tom Goodwin (02:33):

Yeah. I mean the broader, interesting context for this is that we’ve had all of this technology enter our lives and it’s profoundly changed our brain chemistry and our interactions with each other, and profoundly affected the sort of lines of stress in society. I mean, we don’t know how to behave anymore. We don’t know what etiquette should be. We don’t really know what email should be like. We don’t know when to make phone calls. We don’t know what first dates should be like. We have all these sort of structural fault lines in society that were already beginning to show. And I’m sure we’ll talk about this later on, but we’ve also unknowingly gone from a world of scarcity to one of abundance. And we haven’t quite realized that. We haven’t realized the whole point of a university education is based on the idea that books are expensive and that there aren’t that many of them. The whole point of government is the idea that you can’t listen to normal people because one, they’re too stupid and two, you can’t listen to 250 million people.

Tom Goodwin (03:39):

And we’ve sort of created the foundations of today over centuries, and they’re not very appropriate for this moment or the future. And it’s almost like some sort of horrible but fascinating Netflix show or something where just at the moment where sort of society seemed to be slightly frenzied and slightly imbalanced, and just as we were concerned about wealth inequality, and just as we were concerned about our trust in expertise being diminished, and just as we were concerned about arsehole sociopathic politicians across the entire spectrum, and just as we were concerned about censorship, and just as we were concerned about technology destroying the very sort of fabric of humanity and what it is to be a person, we almost had this incredibly, poetically, perfect crisis happened, which basically pressed upon all of those touchpoints and it’s odd. I mean, I certainly am not inclined to be religious, but the sort of precise aptness of it cannot be overstated.

Tim Flower (04:40):

No, Tom, there’s so much there to talk about. I’m curious, we explore a lot about the wellbeing of people in this time of drastic change. Right? Not just how’s the technology doing and is it enabling us to survive as employees and as people, but how do we feel about it. Right? I’m curious what your thoughts are about the attitudes that the normal everyday person or employee has about technology. Is it changing? The reason I ask this is if you talk to any individual, whether it’s work-related or interpersonal with family, and you ask how they feel about Zoom, I can’t wait to get rid of Zoom. Right? I Zoom around the world all day long. I don’t want another Zoom meeting. I want an interpersonal direct relationship with somebody. However, Zoom enabled our businesses to survive. We wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t able to Zoom. So, are we associating a negative connotation to technology? What are your thoughts about how people feel about tech?

Tom Goodwin (05:33):

I think two things. The first thing, and this is not really the point, but I do feel obliged to say it, and that’s your average person is not really thinking this way. I mean, your average American is probably working in a chicken factory, or selling cars, or helping out with local government, or being a teacher. And the number of people who really think about this and are having these profound discussions, and this is not in a dismissive way, but we need to be aware of how unusual we are. Like, every moment that we spend on Twitter is a moment in a very, very, very atypical environment. We should be balancing out every hour that we spend on Twitter with an hour spent walking around Walmart, or going to see monster truck racing, or being in a Chili’s, or being in a really crappy part of a car dealership where people get conned the whole time. We really have to sort of experience the full spectrum of life to see it in perspective.

Tom Goodwin (06:26):

But it’s absolutely the case that we haven’t thought about it. I think in a way that’s the problem is we sort of inject this stuff into people’s lives and we don’t think what we’re doing. Every phone call somehow turned into a Zoom, and then every meeting turned into a Zoom, and every status chat turned into a Zoom. And at no point did people think, “Well, does it need visuals? Does it need to last as long as it used to? Why are we doing this?” And we’ve spent years training employees how to pick up boxes safely, but we basically told them to go home, not leave the house, put them under an incredibly distressing sort of general environment and context, and then demanded that they focus on a webcam for 12 hours a day. And then we’re surprised somehow that people are a bit tired.

Tom Goodwin (07:15):

So, we just need to be very mindful that we’re not really designed for this. We are still effectively animals and we’re animals that are used to a world which is sort of linear and local and visual when it’s based on trust being formed through relationships and through prejudice, which is an inherently human traits. And then to suddenly go through a period where almost every single thing about our lives is radically transformed and then we’re told to not meet up and talk about it, you can see why people are finding it hard.

Tim Flower (07:49):

Yeah. So, expand a little bit on that, right? You said in the past that technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives. Talk a little bit about some of the changes over the last year that might not have happened had we not been in this boat.

Tom Goodwin (08:02):

I think in a way what’s happened in the last year has been an accelerant of things that we realistically should have seen coming. I mean, it staggers me somehow that the world seems to be shocked that e-commerce is now a thing because there’s probably never been a more perfectly growing thing over a longer period of time. We somehow seem shocked that Zoom calls actually do sort of work. We somehow seem shocked that people can accomplish stuff if left to their own devices at home. We somehow seem surprised that income inequality is growing and actually, virtually, perhaps every single thing that will end up being the case in three years’ time, I think was not just quite easy to predict, but utterly inevitable, really.

Tom Goodwin (08:50):

But what we haven’t really seen is these sort of deep transformations. So, we have provided way to do a Zoom, but we haven’t really thought what meetings are about. We’ve provided a way to allow TV to be streamed. We’ve not rethought what the future of video entertainment could be. And we’ve allowed people to vote without changing what government could be. We’ve allowed people to work from home without rethinking how homes are built and why they have the rooms that they have, and why should a kitchen and living room be what they are and why should the home office be in the same space? Why aren’t spaces modular?

Tom Goodwin (09:26):

I kind of hoped in a way that we would’ve had the same amount of time that we’ve had but been slightly more reflective and slightly more philosophical and use this time to think what does a good work-life balance look like. What is important to me? What assumptions am I making about my own life that are unnecessary? What things are there that I can now do that I didn’t have time to realize before? And I kind of hoped that we’d be like coiled springs that are ready to delete Instagram and get ourselves off Robin Hood and stop chasing money and to start enjoying the idea of spontaneous, deep conversations with strangers. But I’m not sure if we’ve really done that. I think we’ve just survived.

Tom McGrath (10:12):

And I mean, would you go so far as to say, Tom, that lockdown has given us a glimpse of a virtual world that’s kind of been separated from a real world and what’s that shown us, and how do we think our way out of it?

Tom Goodwin (10:24):

Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure where what I’m about to say is going to go. All I can say is I remember that we used to live in reality. And then one of my first memories of the internet was being, I think, in the second year of university, about 2000s. And in order to go to the internet, you had to sort of wait for your flatmates to get off the phone and then plug in and load down-

Tim Flower (10:46):

That’s right.

Tom Goodwin (10:46):

… you’d get that sort of scratchy music, and you’d go to the internet. And after about 30 minutes on Yahoo Pool or some other sort of chat room type thing, you’d be done with it. And it was a tiny little bit of escapism and had it worked, we were sort of surfing the internet. But our lives were very much in reality. I mean, yeah, you’d use text messages to arrange to meet up, that was digital, but it was all about what you would do in reality.

Tom Goodwin (11:12):

And slowly, and I remember seeing this, I’ve been very lucky to travel a lot around the world in the last few years, but you’d be in Paris, and you just notice that everyone was just taking pictures the entire time. And people were starting to look at Paris as if it was merely a backdrop for a photo. So, the whole point of seeing the Mona Lisa was not to see the Mona Lisa. It was to have a picture with the Mona Lisa in it. The whole point of the Eiffel Tower was to figure out what you could do that would be different to other people so that more people might like your pictures. But that was the environment that was the backdrop. And it sort of dawned on me then that we were primarily living in the internet, and the world was just the context in which that meaning was derived and from which that validation was mined.

Tom Goodwin (11:58):

And this year has obviously been a tragic acceleration of that because it’s actually rare for us to do anything in the real world. And I think we should think about this and none of what I say carries any judgment. I’m not saying people who seek validation from Instagram are bad people or weak people. I just think it would be wise to treat this thing like nicotine or like alcohol, where the answer is to not just have as much as it as we can. It’s to think, “Wait a minute. It’s good to not be drunk as well as to be drunk. And it’s good to be thoughtful about what this is doing to myself.” And everyone will end up in a different place on that sort of consumption curve, and that’s fine. But I want us to think about it.

Tom McGrath (12:43):

Reminds me a little bit of a quote by Matt Christman. Do you know him from Chapo Trap House?

Tom Goodwin (12:48):


Tom McGrath (12:48):

He said the clamor for 5G is like a junkie crying out for a bigger needle.

Tom Goodwin (12:54):

No, I mean, it’s true. And when is enough? Again, I sort of hate sounding sort of fake philosophical, but we’re not really built for this. I mean, I come from a small village in the Cotswolds. My parents are both teachers. If I was there a hundred years ago, I would be expected to sort of find a woman of childbearing age that ideally didn’t have rickets and if they had all their teeth, that’d be [crosstalk 00:13:23].

Tom McGrath (13:22):

Good luck with that.

Tom Goodwin (13:22):

Still, that’s a bonus. If they had all their teeth, that would be a bonus. But you’re not going to be weighing up a sort of 18th-century milkmaid by figuring out how many friends they have on Instagram, and you’re not going to compare your career as a farrier with every other farrier in the world, and you’re not going to sort of see a glimpse into the lives of the rich and the famous. And the idea of social mobility didn’t really exist. This idea that somehow you should seek to compete with the lord of the manor for social status was nonsensical. I’m not saying those were better times. I’m just saying we’re not really designed for a world where we’re supposed to be as wealthy as everyone else on the planet, as popular as everyone else is, attractive as everybody else, as smart as everybody else, as relaxed as everybody else. And I think we beat ourselves up a lot because we haven’t realized how unnatural this state of affairs is.

Tim Flower (14:13):

Do you think we’re headed towards living in the matrix where our virtual worlds become our reality or are we already there?

Tom Goodwin (14:20):

I don’t know. You know what? I struggle a bit with Twitter because there is something about the potential for fantastic learning and really brilliant conversation. There is a promise within it that is occasionally satiated enough that I keep on going back to it. But the way that the rest of the world has now been removed from us and the way that it becomes so engrossing. I was aware that for a couple of days, I was almost checking Twitter every sort of seven minutes or something. I kind of thought where it’s got something like wireheading or something. There’s some sort of principle in sci-fi movies where basically our bodies are sort of put in some cocoon and then some hat is put on us, and then wires occasionally or electrical stimuluses occasionally sort of tickle us, and the idea was that you don’t actually have to have sex. You can just have the stimulus of having sex directly sort of injected into your sort of brain synapses.

Tom Goodwin (15:18):

And when I was on Twitter and I was sort of in my bedroom and there wasn’t really any other stimulus around me, it did feel enormously close to wireheading, and it made me very aware that there is something so pure about these forms of stimulus. And I don’t just mean the empty chase for validation. I mean, there’s something quite pure about conversations where people are being so succinct that you’re learning something in a hundred characters that then makes the real world feel intolerably boring. I mean, the idea that you might just sit and wait for a bus, or you might go to a cocktail party and say, “Did you get here okay? Could you find the door?” I mean, immediately, 99.9% of life seems intolerable, The idea of small talk with someone before you buy a car, the idea of not having massive amounts of knowledge piled into your brains.

Tom Goodwin (16:16):

And I am sort of concerned that for some types of people, the real world can’t compete with this. And then we face an interesting dynamic. Is there something actually wonderful about organic stuff that means that we’re better off just looking at a cloud for three hours and appreciating its beauty, or maybe I’m being very romantic and maybe I’m being judgemental on myself, and maybe it’s perfectly acceptable to look at pictures of beautiful buildings on Instagram, and look at the world’s best art on Instagram, and listen to the world’s best music on Spotify, and maybe it’s okay to just have the best. I don’t know.

Tim Flower (16:53):

So, how does that translate into work? Are we now becoming consumers of work, consumers of technology at work, or is it a different paradigm when we start looking at tech and work? Are we consumers of technology there as well?

Tom Goodwin (17:06):

It’s a very good question. I think in a way there’s two ways to think about this. One is, I mean, we are so used to consuming stuff because I think, genuinely, and I mean, this will sound quite flippant actually, but I think, genuinely, people are really lost. I don’t mean everyone. I don’t mean in every way. But I think there is a broad sort of malaise in the world because we’ve had to fight a lot. I grew up in an age where quite a lot of shit happened all the time and you’d have to fight, and we’ve kind of had quite good times where we didn’t really have to fight. But for most of my youth, the idea was that you’d get a good enough job. You wouldn’t have to be aligned to the purpose of the employer. It wouldn’t have to be your calling.

Tom Goodwin (17:54):

I wanted to be an architect and I wanted to make nice buildings with the nice buildings made by people with different opinions to me. C’est la vie. And I think somehow we’ve become quite lost because we’ve had it quite good, and I don’t think we’ve realized that. And then we sort of stripped out religion from our life which means that we don’t really have a cadence to life. We don’t really have a calendar to the ritual to life. We don’t really have a community that we belong in. We don’t really have a sort of agreed system of values that we align ourselves around. And then, somehow, we’ve lost quite a lot of communication skills, I think, so we’re quite lonely.

Tom Goodwin (18:25):

So, I think the backdrop to this is that we’re actually existentially quite lost. I mean, I’m not the first person to say this. Esther Perel talks about it. Alain de Botton talks about it. But I think we use phones and stimulus to kind of reduce the risk that we might feel bored, and lost, and a sense of despair. So, I think we deliberately sort of cram stimulus and media into our life whenever we possibly can to stop that from happening. So, that’s point number one.

Tom Goodwin (18:51):

Point number two is when I talk about this idea of maybe we don’t need to earn more and maybe we don’t need more stuff, it’s not actually quite as non-capitalist as it might sound. Within my own environment, I don’t crave more but I do crave better. So, I live in a quite extravagant apartment because where I live is extremely important to me because it makes me very happy to be somewhere that’s beautiful. That doesn’t mean that I’m sort of not a consumer, but it kind of means I’m consuming a slightly different way.

Tom Goodwin (19:25):

I don’t like having lots of clothes and without going all sort of Marie Kondo on you, but I quite like owning things that when I put on, I’m like, “Yeah, this makes me feel pretty good.” And I think a very trite and perhaps overly simplistic way to think about it is I think we might’ve come from an era of scarcity where we wanted more, and then our response to abundance is to not want less so much, but it’s to not want more but to have better things. So, let’s make sure that when we watch a film, it’s a really good film, and it’s so nourishing and interesting. And let’s make sure that if we buy a bag that it’s one that’s going to last for quite a long time.

Tom Goodwin (20:04):

And oddly, quite a lot of modern concerns can be reconciled quite nicely by this because it means that you don’t have to go out for dinner lots of times. You can go out for dinner, pay people a bit more, eat more expensive food, eat food that’s been more sustainably created, and then have better conversations with people who you’ve been more picky about who you spend time with. And a lot of things to do with consumption, a lot of problems to do with people were still needing jobs, they actually get reconciled quite nicely by that.

Tim Flower (20:33):

So, I’m just trying to digest a lot of the alternate ways of thinking about school and work and personal lives. There’s obviously a lot of things to contemplate there. Is it right to summarize it then that not necessarily did we get the past wrong, but that we should learn from the past and start to evolve and change what the future will look like rather than just trying to stay status quo or enablement of our future?

Tom Goodwin (20:58):

I think basically, and I think it’s a couple of things. We need to understand that many of the foundations in which we’re constructing our current and our past are foundations based on a planet that had different constraints. And the more that we can stop assuming constraints and start questioning them, the better. And again, I think quite often when you say question constraints, people assume that means going against them. If we assume that we have to work in the same place, when we question that, that means we all just work everywhere else. No, it just means looking at that and going, “Is this a good idea?” Yes, but under these circumstances, or yes, actually, that’s perfect. So, question constraints. One that I think about quite a lot these days is we assume that we should retire. I met about two years ago with a sort of financial planner and he said, “What’s your number?” Which, apparently, is a very American question.

Tom Goodwin (21:53):

So, how much money do I need to retire? And I just said, “I don’t think I really want to retire.” And that, obviously, confused him very deeply. I think he thought I wanted to kill myself or something. I was just like, “Look, I’m probably…” Most people who are of our ilk are probably going to be the best they’ve ever been at their job at the age of 85. I mean, it may be 80, it may be 75, it may be 95. Most people who are part of conversations like this are probably quite happy doing what they do. And retirement is based on this idea that our bodies wear out because we’ve been in a factory, which isn’t the case. And they’re based on the idea that we hate our jobs because we move bags of oats from one part of the room to another, and that we’re all doing this and we can’t wait to stop it.

Tom Goodwin (22:38):

I mean, if you actually assume that you might be really good later on, then you think, “Well, why would I stop doing something I’m good at where I’m probably earning more money than I’ve ever earned before? Why would I do it 45, 60, 70 hours a week? I might as well just do it three hours a week.” And then you sort of realize, well, that means you don’t really need that much in the way of savings, do you? And that means that maybe you can take a bit of a time out in your thirties, or take out some time in the fifties, or maybe you can just slowly start earning less money from the age of 45.

Tom Goodwin (23:10):

And I have no idea what the answer is, and everyone has very different answers. But for me, it’s a good example of our need to challenge assumptions because if we’re going to spend the first 60 years of our life trying to save as much money as possible, and trying to get paid as much as we can, and trying to work as much as we can, it seemed kind of annoying to then be really, really old and not that healthy and then have all this money. It seems kind of dumb.

Tom McGrath (23:36):

So, I’d be interested to return briefly to the theme we were touching upon earlier, which is the sort of dystopic flavor of technology during the pandemic, the occasionally dystopic flavor of it. And I wonder which uses of technology over the last 12 months have stood out to you as the most alarming or disquieting?

Tom Goodwin (23:54):

Ooh, I think I’ve been really, really shocked at the way that the algorithms have changed the way that people produce stuff. The first world of content, I mean, I hate the word content, but first world of news and reporting and film was music, et cetera, basically didn’t have the internet and then we had the internet so we put what we’d done on the internet and that was fine. And then now people are actively creating content in a different way for the environment that is the internet and publishers now know that the worst thing you can ever do in a headline is to actually tell someone something. I don’t even know what year the Titanic sank, I think it was like 1912 or something, but the headline would have been Titanic sinks, 193 people dead, 200 missing, and that was designed to tell you what you needed to know. and then to intrigue you into reading more. Now, that same piece would be Titanic craziness. You’ll never guess what happened next. Disgusting scenes suggest structural problems with steel workers and their angst against society. And you’d be like, “What is going on? But I feel angry about it.”

Tom Goodwin (25:17):

So, I think news has been produced for that. And then because people seem addicted to engagement, I think people are now being quite strange in how they respond to that. And we’ve kind of created a situation where everyone’s just whipped up into a frenzy and everyone’s outraged about everything always, and whatever happens is now completely outrageous. It’s almost impossible for that to be a news story today which is quite harmless. Mr. Potato Head not been gender-specific is apparently now enough get the world enraged. And I don’t know why this has happened because I feel as guilty as everyone about almost everything to do with my own media behavior.

Tom Goodwin (25:57):

But one thing I quite like doing is finding the middle ground. One thing I quite like doing is being nuanced. I quite like seeing perspective. I quite like understanding what matters and what doesn’t. And I don’t think anyone else is doing this. I saw an ad the other day on the Super Bowl. It was a pretty awful ad. It was for some awful American SUV. It featured lots of sort of Christian symbolism which seemed to be unnecessary. It wasn’t really thoughtfully done, but the premise was this is the center of America. This is a church in the center of America. Now is the time to build bridges. Now is the time to find understanding. Now is the time to realize that we have more in common with each other than we might realize, and I was like, “Pretty bad ad but wonderful message.”

Tom Goodwin (26:39):

And everyone seemed utterly appalled that one might seek to understand people who are different. I mean, like the sort of visceral rage. Why should we have to understand them, Tom? They’re the arseholes. Why should we put the energy into reaching out to them? They’re the racists. And I’m like, “This is a very strange…” It’s one thing to be un-empathetic and to be embarrassed by it and then not be that good at it. It’s one thing to seek to do it and then find it a bit hard and then to get intellectually lazy, but to immediately and violently disagree with the principle that it’s useful to try to understand another viewpoint is something that I feel utterly horrified by in every way. I mean, what’s to the point? I mean, where do we go from there if people are quite proud to not try to understand each other?

Tim Flower (27:39):

But connect those two things that you just talked about together. Right? The news kind of pushing this grievance, or you should be angry about this, it’s almost as if over the years we’ve learned that the immediate gut reaction needs to be grievance or anger. We’re not learning to be compassionate and empathetic. We’re learning to have a grievance and to be angry.

Tom Goodwin (27:58):

Yeah, I mean, I understand why this happens. I mean, I’m not naive to it. I mean, the main problem was that the people who wrote the algorithms for social media were only tasked with the KPI which is how do we make sure that more people get on here. And then when that became the KPI for the fundamental dynamics of the internet, then people who make money from advertising then decided the only way to make money from advertising is to create content that works well in that dynamic. And then people got pretty suckered into this because our brain chemistry is designed to make us thrive and feel excited by anxiety, and fear, and outrage, and any sense of love, or compassion, or balance, or nuance, or complexity is… It’s a bit like food. I mean, we’re designed to crave hamburgers, not to want broccoli.

Tom Goodwin (28:43):

And I wish that more people understood this is what was happening because we now know that we can’t eat fried chicken every day. And we know that fat and sugary drinks feel good but are not good for us. And I wish we could have the same sort of sense of responsibility towards media. And then we would realize that spreading the slightly misquoted expert on COVID saying that all kids are going to die in the next three months, that’s not that helpful to people. To spread someone laughing at someone because they said something stupid, that’s not really that helpful to the world.

Tom Goodwin (29:22):

I don’t come to this as some sort of perfect specimen that’s preaching because I see these flaws in myself and it makes me very worried and quite cross. But I would like us all collectively to realize that we have quite a lot of this in our control, and that involves being part of the solution, not the problem, and it involves thinking a bit more and realizing what these things are doing to us and being happy to pay for news, and, I don’t know, championing an environment which is based on reasonableness, I guess.

Tom McGrath (29:53):

And to end on an optimistic note, Tom, what uses of technology over the last 12… Not that we haven’t had a lot of optimism in the discussion so far. What uses of technology over the last 12 months have you found inspiring, and positive, and forward-facing?

Tom Goodwin (30:09):

I mean, first of all, I am a very, very positive person, and often I have to sort of reduce my optimism because these days it just seems like you’re very naive and you’re removed from the realities of the chaos, and turbulence, and anxiety in the world. So, I genuinely am very optimistic. I’ve just learned to temper it a bit. There have been so many things that have happened this year that are amazing. I mean, the degree of rapid innovation that happened in the early stages of this crisis. It could be anything from the Chinese constructing three hospitals in about 10 days to Dyson working with companies very quickly to create ventilators. Even sort of big companies that can’t roll out anything were suddenly able to find ways that you could order online, or you could speak to an agent that was working from home. That sort of wartime effort that happened early on was actually extremely inspiring.

Tom Goodwin (31:00):

And we didn’t really talk about it because it didn’t seem like the biggest headline at the time, but we should remember that. I still do feel that most of the progress will happen from very basic things. We have a smartphone. It can scan our faces and it basically works perfectly, and the technology works for a long time, and with everybody. We have databases that can talk to each other and are generally secure. We have, I mean, 4G is enough, we don’t need a thicker needle, and that reaches like crazy amounts of the planet. And that kind of means that we have all of this opportunity.

Tom Goodwin (31:39):

What does the welfare state look like if you can understand how people are behaving and you can directly give them money to spend on the things that are helpful? What does education look like when you can access every piece of literature ever written? What does voting look like when you can get 180 million adults to say what they feel about something legally? What does transportation look like when you could decide that we should space out demand based on dynamic pricing? What does infrastructure look like when you can sort of load balance? What does decentralized power mean? That we have everything that we need. And that makes it a very wonderful time to be alive. And I think that also is what leads to my frustration because I’m aware that we don’t need anything else. We just need to think a bit more.

Tom McGrath (32:29):

Sounds like an excellent note to conclude on. Tom, great, great pleasure to listen to you over the last hour. And I think the pandemic obviously doing fantastic things to your brain. I hope you’re finding some time to write as well as think.

Tom Goodwin (32:45):


Tom McGrath (32:45):

As well as look out the window and not work. Thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure.

Tom Goodwin (32:52):

My pleasure. I really, really-

Tim Flower (32:52):

Well, I’m going to go stare at a cloud right now.

Tom Goodwin (32:58):

I really enjoyed the questions and the conversation. So, thank you very much.

Tom McGrath (32:59):


Speaker 1 (32:59):

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