Introducing: In What World, a podcast

Conversations on how tech is changing society

Originally posted to our Medium Publication ‘In What World

A few weeks ago, my co-host Patrick and I launched the pilot episode of our podcast, In What World. In it, Patrick and I talk about some of today’s shifting technologies and how they are redefining our understanding of social, economic relations. And as we release more episodes, we wanted to share some words on how and why In What World came to be.

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Patrick and I are part of a unique generation that’s experienced one hell of a technological revolution. We remember what it was like to watch movies on VHS, learn to type on some of the first web pages on The World Wide Web, and stay in touch with our friends via AIM. Two decades later, we’re living in an even more sophisticated society that boasts online social networks connecting millions (sometimes billions) of users, mobile devices rivaling the computing power of desktops, and an increasingly online world.

These advancements have made the seemingly impossible possible and ushered in a new era of amazing products, services, and companies. With the transition into a consumerism driven culture, we in the developed world experience nearly instantaneous communication, access to troves of data, and convenience like never before. And admittedly, we’ve largely benefited from a host of these novelties.

Patrick and I met via an app — the kind of tech whose existence is evidence of the shifting ways in which people interact. We met to make new friends in a new city but remained connected for our shared love for conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about how ordinary lives are being shaped by extraordinary changes and asked each other challenging questions on what that might mean for our future. These concerns don’t have black and white implications, and we’re not exactly sure how the future will shape out. However, we are sure of this:

technology is changing how we interact with the world, and we need to talk about
how it’s doing so.

The tech industry holds fast to its belief in “build now, mend later.” And while the lean, iterative process of creation enables enormous creativity and risk-taking, it leaves little room for reflection. So after months of dialogue, we decided to create this podcast to share our thoughts with you.

In What World is our place to discuss how recent innovations are impacting lives. We believe that thoughtful conversations can help us become better informed individuals, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we make. Along the way, we’ll continue to share our process of creating this podcast and what we are learning from it as well.

And we want you to be a part of our conversations. So Tweet at us, write to us, and let us know what’s on your mind in the world of tech in society. We’ll continue to need your honest feedback on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing to deliver a meaningful audial experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

A Decision that Betrays SXSW’s History

The original edition of this post can be found at my Medium page, @minnkim

To be clear, I am not a gamer. I’m not plugged into the video game community. However, I feel strongly about the influence prominent and established organizations can have on the promotion of open discourse. SXSW Interactive had an opportunity to set a positive example, and their recent cancellation of two gaming culture panels following online threats is not only disheartening but unfaithful to SXSW’s overarching mission to be “a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.”


Last week, the tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival announced it would host two panels on the topic of video game culture. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” were intended to shed light on sexist tensions within the gaming community and the toxic world of online harassment. Although not directly associated with the Gamergate controversy, these panels would serve as opportunities for critical discussion on online etiquette and the exclusion of minorities in the gaming world.

Following the announcement, SXSW was barraged by threats of violence which ultimately led to their decision to cancel the two panels. Cancellation letters to panelists cited security concerns while reminding attendees that SXSW prides itself in its commitment to diversity.

The cancellations have incited additional backlash, and Buzzfeed has even threatened to withdraw their attendance unless the conference reconsiders and finds a way to ensure appropriate safety precautions be made by the time of the conference in March.
Since 1994, SXSW Interactive has welcomed growing numbers of independent thinkers, builders, and leaders to share their visions for our future.

By cancelling panels on diversity in gaming, SXSW is doing a disservice to its history and mission.

In 2015, SXSWi hosted nearly 34,000 festival participants from 85 foreign countries with 2,700 speakers and 3,389 media in attendance. While SXSWi’s attendee list has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in tech, it’s also maintained its core desire to bring together a variety of people to discuss and generate ideas. The conversations borne out of this event influence millions of readers via print, online,and broadcast coverage.

Given that sexism in the tech space has been a hot topic the last few years, SXSW’s cancellation suggests that discussing challenges in the gaming industry are not worth the trouble of ensuring a civil environment for constructive conversation. Although diversity challenges exist in any male-dominated industry, digital harassment in this Internet-everything era is of particular concern and not giving voice to the issue propagates undue influence to online bullies.

Diversity is always a prickly issue; it is multi-faceted, messy, and contentious. But as an organization devoted to discourse with its breadth of influence, SXSW had opportunity to stand firm in its belief and encourage the kind of open dialogue that leads to new ideas that drive us forward. At the very least, it could have enlightened many to the darker sides of the Internet so that we as a community could talk about how to make it a better, safer, and more accessible place for all. By refusing to seize this opportunity for enormous positive interaction and information exchange, SXSW has comprised its core tenets and demonstrated a glaring ignorance to the needs of its community.

Ethics of Manufacturing Habit-Forming Products

Habits are activities that cause us a little bit of pain when we don’t do them. For example, how many of us check our social media feeds numerous times a day? The very thought of not having access to our phones incites a twinge of discomfort knowing we can’t check our Twitters, Instagrams, Facebook feeds, etc.

Businesses understand that great products inspire habits; in their ability to fulfill a specific need in simple ways, they produce the desire to return and re-engage in a recurring action. Author Nir Eyal builds upon the works of behavioral psychologists like B. F. Skinner and Daniel Kahneman in his book Hooked to suggest four steps in manufacturing habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger – hook the user
  2. Action – engage user with simple calls to action
  3. Variable Reward – encourage recurring use with different levels/types of rewards
  4. Investment – provide room for users to invest their time into your product

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fine line between habit and addiction with respect to technology. From the omnipotent tyranny of email to our dependence on social media, there is a question here that the broader technology has failed to address in our dogged quest to build products. At times, the addiction to refreshing my newsfeeds only induces more anxiety, more so than making me feel informed and purposeful. Our habitual usages are measured by the explosion of software as a service applications in last decade. And while they serve as additional proof that technology creates ease and delivers powerful insights, we have yet to discuss the implications of such products. With every new automated feature, obsessive mobile game, and delivery service app, we spend more and more time becoming intimate with our technologies. In which case, what kind of new habits are these products prompting and what, if any, are their societal values?

Although this aspiration will not apply to all technologies, as we continue to iterate and rapidly improve in the coming years, I hope we will give greater consideration to not only creating tools that produce convenience but also in building to promote better habits.

Boarding the Podcast Wagon: 5 Standouts

Media users today face no dearth of avenues for consumption, yet podcasts have recently gained newfound momentum in edging out their visual and analog counterparts in popularity*. What used to be considered an arcane relic of weary radio, podcasts saw their resurgence with the likes of This American Life’s ‘Serial‘, Gimlet Media’s ‘StartUp,’ and WNYC’s ‘Freakonomics.’ Although I got hooked on Serial last fall, my podcast usage waned after the finale because I didn’t have an app that felt functional and provided a great user experience. Recently, a friend’s recommendation for a new podcast app revitalized my interest with the app’s set of content and features. With it, I’ve been listening to several subscriptions during my commutes and down-time, and below are some standouts (with my favourite episodes thus far highlighted):

For the Aspiring Entrepreneur – Re/Code Decode with Kara Swisher

Technology commentator extraordinaire Kara Swisher felt it wasn’t enough to report on the happenings of Silicon Valley at her and co-founder Walt Mossberg’s news site Re/Code, so she recently launched this interview focused podcast. In these episodes, she invites some of the today’s most aspirational technology pundits to share their insights on everything from the state of Internet of Things to diversity in the tech industry.
|| Highlight: Investor Chris Sacca, Smartphone Prices and “Buy” Buttons ||

For the Tech Aficionado – Exponent

I’d like to invite Ben Thompson and James Allworth to dinner (seriously) because it would be a delight to see their insightful conversations unfold in real life and even be a part of it. Their technology and society focused podcast feels more like an intimate conversation between two awesomely geeky forward thinkers of which we listeners get to be flies on the wall.
|| Highlight: Grow Grow Grow Fight Fight Fight ||

For the Music Lover – Song Exploder

Introduced via Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible (another lovely design-centric podcast), Song Exploder invites talented musicians across a spectrum of genres to share the creative process behind one of their songs. Many of the pieces are recognizable, and listening to composers deconstruct their works and tell their stories makes enjoying the final construction at the end even more satisfying.
|| Highlight: Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game ||

For the Design Nerd – Dollars to Donuts

Design thinking/User Experience Design/etc. is all the rage as of late, but these are different names for the same creative process that has existed for decades in any product design field. Successful user experience design relies on a deep understanding of your users, their needs, and their challenges. This is where user research comes in. In Dollars to Donuts, you’ll hear from lead user researchers at organizations like Etsy and Citrix describe how they use both quantitative and qualitative data to craft the ideal customer experience.
|| Highlight: Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp ||

For the Storyteller – Strangers

Lea Thau’s first episode begins with an account of a man who was interested in dating her, then not dating her, and ultimately wanting her toddler’s poop. Yes, poop. Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest, the rest of her episodes chronicling the ups and downs of life, the beauty and pitfalls of love, and her ardent appreciation for humanity will entice and beguile your ears.
|| Highlight: David Terry: Jesus ||

With the ubiquity of smart phones, it’s easy to see why podcasts regained their eminence; they’re portable, easy to digest, and often a form of newstertainment. Additionally, their incredibly intimate deliveries provide an audial experience that both teaches and entertains. I’d love to know: what are some other great podcasts you’ve enjoyed?

*NoteCheck out this excellent article by @NatalieWires on the rise of podcasts here.

Love in the Time of Technology – Part I

It started as an innocuous curiosity. After having dabbled in a few online dating sites before moving onto the mobile dating landscape, I was itching for a new way to get to know more of New York’s host of colourful characters. Tinder was intimidating, CoffeeMeetsBagel and HowAboutWe had been messy and less appealing user experiences, but I wasn’t yet entirely discouraged.

A friend exclaimed one Friday night that she had a date with a guy she met off Hinge the next evening. I was intrigued. She whipped out her phone, opened the little blue and white icon, and a few seconds later a list of male prospects and their details loaded the screen.

Given that the recommendations are friends of friends within your Facebook network, Hinge felt like Tinder’s distant and less creepy cousin. There wasn’t much to lose, so I signed up that weekend and proceeded to await my first batch of mid-day recommendations.

The first few weeks of use were uneventful. A few right swipes a day with a majority of recommendations getting the nay-say. Details most often included employer, university, height, and some fun preset interests like “beer snob” and “early bird,” all accompanied by a series of profile photos. Some more dedicated individuals populated their ‘About Me’ sections with witty quotes or descriptions of what kinds of relationships they were seeking.

I kept my own profile to a minimum. I was curious, but preferred to maintain a more laissez faire approach to my mobile dating activities. From time to time, I’d respond to a handful of conversations initiated by mutual matches, but most of the conversations fell flat. A match meant both parties had mutually identified the other as attractive and interesting enough for a deeper perusal. The problem was that once a conversation began, an incompatible conversational aptitude made it quickly evident that nothing would come of the match.

While some people were truly trying to find their partners in a city that can be overwhelming for whom bars and small-talk are less comfortable, my use remained primarily tangential. Of course, that changed when I agreed to take one virtual conversation into reality.

Finding Love in the Me, Me, Me Generation

College dating is hard in any generation (aptly put by this Cosmopolitan article) – it’s an incredibly selfish time where we have little inhibition and an overflow of freedom. Today, however, college dating has reached a new level of perplexity. With the advent of social media and the prevalence of text messaging, many twenty something year olds have no clue on how to connect romantically, and we blame everyone else but ourselves for failing to find love.

Let’s take a Thursday night. You get a text message that reads, “Hey, are you coming out to the bars tonight?” from a guy you danced with a week or two ago. You make some half hearted jokes defending your choice to stay in for the evening, and when it becomes clear that his insistence isn’t going to get him anywhere, the conversation comes to a close. This happens several times over the course of a few weeks, and while he appears to have no qualms about asking you to spend the night, his response to a suggestion that he properly ask you to lunch or coffee is lukewarm at best. You’re not heartbroken or jaded; neither of you really knew each other, and you were well aware of what he was asking of you. As Millenials, our generation has inexplicably accepted the disappearance of old-fashioned courtship when it comes to dating. We’ve embraced hookup culture and eschewed traditional gender roles leading to the demise of chivalry and a general sense of confusion on how to find love.

There exists a misogynistic myth that assumes girls are obsessed with finding romantic partners while guys see women as casual sexual partners. A few decades ago, this may have been true; many women did go to college and find husbands and while the stereotype may still be true of some women, current statistics on the overwhelming number of women versus men in college would demonstrate otherwise. Casual sex is also no longer a domain solely for men, and our generation’s general acceptance for greater sexual freedom allows for both women and men to engage in stringless sexual experimentation. Ironically, this newfound freedom has only made it more confusing for both men and women when it comes to romance because no one is as forthcoming about wanting to truly pursue anything beyond the physical.

The lack of forthrightness and general passivity breed grounds for a dangerous perception of misguided feminism. Women view sexual liberation as an opportunity to reject traditionally feminine characteristics such as being overly sensitive or emotional to instead embrace the devil-may-care attitudes more traditional of men. This makes it hard for everyone in the dating pool because it perpetuates the all-too-familiar need to act cool.

We’ve seen it happen before, if not been guilty of it ourselves: the silent competition between two people in a relationship for who can care less. Girls agonize over text messages in an effort to sound interested but never too interested while guys make sweeping vague statements that mask their desire for commitment. Wanting more became uncool, so everyone tries so hard to not care. And even worse, somehow we believe the person who cares less has the upper hand in a relationship, so everyone tries even harder to appear aloof.

Then there is our baffling aversion to labels. If you start hanging out with a guy regularly, when does it go from a thing to something more? If you never define your commitment levels to each other, are you bound to the other person or is it more of a open relationship? When we avoid labels, we further complicate college dating by making it acceptable for people to treat others with indecent respect. And by labels, I don’t mean that every person has to be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Simply being honest and respectable about where each individual’s intentions lie would clarify potential misunderstandings. When we treat the dating scene as a commitment-less game, we fail to hold ourselves accountable for making someone else happy or being responsible for how they feel.

Ultimately, our generation is failing to find love because we are so busy acting cool. We see vulnerability as a vice, so we make efforts to protect ourselves against rejection. Coincidentally, that means putting up walls and being vague about our intentions and desires and caring less as a means of emotional security. In doing so, we won’t get hurt, but it also means we may miss out on truly connecting with someone. If we don’t allow ourselves to be honest and let our guard down, we may never find that emotional intimacy we are looking for with another person. Navigating the winding path that is the college dating scene would be far less complicated if we all decided to stop pretending not to care. Instead of waiting on someone else to read our minds and hand us our happiness, it’s our responsibility to communicate candidly about what we want. Playing emotional games is a waste of time for anyone in any kind of relationship, and we all deserve more respect than that.

Stop Stalking, Start Talking

We live in an age where face-to-face communication has been replaced by email and texting conversations. Social media and the Internet, albeit a great resource to stay in touch with long-lost friends or family far away, fuels our need for instant correspondence and inevitably affects our abilities to partake in a true, in person conversation.

Ironically, all our technology savvy makes getting to know someone that much harder. The use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social media outlets allows us to gain intimate insight into the lives of basically anyone we are “friends with” or “follow,” yet simultaneously poses a veneer of impenetrability. It also makes us prone to some stalker-like tendencies. That cute guy you saw at the bars last weekend? Give it a few clicks and you’ll know which high school he attended, what he’s doing now, and who his friends are all before you’ve even introduced yourself.

These habits feed our incessant need for control and instant gratification; we want to know where that person of interest is from and what he’s up to because we’re trying to figure out if he fits our criterion for that all elusive “ideal person.” Problem is, by judging an individual from his online presence, we cheat ourselves from actually getting to know someone and learning of their interests, passions, and backgrounds.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’m guilty of this habit. I tend to want to know all these details about someone I’m interested in even before I’ve expressed any sort of interest in him. It’s understandable; the information is readily available and we want to know if that person fits the bill and would be “worth” our time. And sure, becoming Facebook friends with your crush can give you a glimpse into snippets of his life: that summer trip to China, Christmas with his grandparents, or his older sister’s college graduation. But that’s all they are – snippets.  In order to see if there is a genuine connection, it’s important to have conversations and build a rapport. That way, when it is time to decide whether or not your person of interest is someone worth investing your emotions into, you can be confident in your decision. So as terrifying as it may be to suggest coffee with the guy whose only correspondence with you has been through text, one face-to-face conversation can tell you more about where your relationship (or non-relationship) is headed than a hundred text messages.