Brief Encounter

Kara Swisher: Big tech companies will own the future

The journalist on the new ‘nation states’—and which technologies we should pay more attention to

June 05, 2024
Illustration by Michael Rea
Illustration by Michael Rea

What is the first news event you can recall?

I vaguely remember the moon landing—I was quite small at the time, but I was staying at a friend’s house and everyone was watching it. The first news event I properly recall was Nixon’s resignation in 1974: how he left the White House with his family in a helicopter and did that weird V-sign thing with his hands.  

If you could spend a day in one city or place at one moment in history, what would that be?

If it can be the future, I’d have to say the day the aliens land. If it’s the past… it’s my son’s birthday today, and I’d love to go back to the day when he was born in San Francisco. I remember it, but I also don’t remember it; I’d like to re-­experience it.

What is your favourite quote?

It’s the first line of a poem by Louise Glück, my favourite poet of all time: “I never turned anyone into a pig / Some people are pigs; I make them / Look like pigs.” That’s my job. I make them look like pigs because that’s what they are.

What have you changed your mind about?

Probably the idea that everybody is—or at least most people are—persuadable. I have realised that some people just aren’t persuadable, but I used to think that if only I gave them more facts or information, then they would change their minds. If you look at lots of Trumpers in America, it’s not that they don’t understand—it’s that they do but just don’t care. So now I no longer waste my energy trying to convince these sorts of people. 

In your time covering tech, which person or company has most changed the world?

Steve Jobs. He brought ease-of-use to technology to the masses—especially with the iPhone, which was a critical device.

Social media: force for good or force for bad? You can only pick one!

Bad. I thought social media might bring people together and show their commonality. In fact, it shows their differences and allows people to dunk on each other without repercussions—in a way that doesn’t happen in real life. I call it unsocial media now. People are much better in person.

Is there a technological trend we should be paying attention to, but aren’t?

I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to climate change tech. There’s really interesting stuff being tested: hydrogen fuels, small nuclear devices, all kinds of things. It’s not the only thing that will solve the climate crisis. We’ll need global cooperation to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. We’ll even have to figure out a Plan B, in the form of another planet—it’s one of the few things I agree with Elon [Musk] about these days. But tech will be an important part of the solution.

Who will own the future?

It ought to be the people, but—right now—it’s looking like the big tech companies. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and, to a lesser extent, Meta. They’re mostly all based in America, but are their own nation states. And then there are big Chinese tech companies too, of course, but they’re basically the Chinese government, so they’re literally a nation state.  

What is the last piece of music, play, novel or film that brought you to tears?

I don’t cry at movies, but commercials always get me. If you play an old Kodak commercial, then I’ll well right up. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but maybe not. There was one recently about an old lady with Alzheimer’s, who somehow got revived, and that got me. Commercials just work really well on me. 

What do you most regret?

Not having more kids! I wish I had six, which is two more than the four I do have. I adopted the ones that I didn’t have genetically, but I wish—when there was an opportunity—that I’d got pregnant again. I loved being pregnant. You create something that’s actually moving inside you, and you really understand your body. It’s so fucking cool. 

Kara Swisher’s new memoir, “Burn Book” (Piatkus, £25), is out now. Prospect spoke to her at Truth Tellers: The Sir Harry Evans Investigative Journalism Summit 2024