Sept. 13, 2021

Cyborgs Are People Too: The Apple Story

Cyborgs Are People Too: The Apple Story

Alternate episode titles: One Bad Apple Ruins the Whole of Humankind? Our iPhones, Our Selves? Hard to pick just one when the company in question has changed so much about the ways we interact with technology and with each other.


Today, we’re raising the mythical curtain on Apple, a company that needs no introduction...but also lays claim to a history that most certainly might surprise you. In four storied decades, Apple has transformed the world and its inhabitants. But how? And has it all been for better? Or for worse?


Listen to today’s episode to figure it all out together.


Some very important thank yous:

  1. To Christopher Mims, the Wall Street Journal technology journalist and author of the forthcoming (reallllly forthcoming like coming out September 14) book Arriving Today.
  2. To Fundrise, which is Thinking Is Cool’s Season 2 presenting sponsor.


And to you! For listening! And hopefully for sharing! You’re the best.


[Siri voice]: “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that.”


I said welcome back to Thinking Is Cool, the show designed to make your next conversation better than your last. And you call yourself a smartphone.


Hello everyone out there, wherever and however you’re listening, even if it’s on an Android (my thoughts and prayers are with you). I’m Kinsey Grant and I’m a journalist and the host of this show.


Now, I’ve been at it with Thinking Is Cool for a whole four months now. If you’ve been along for any of that ride, you know that my mission with Thinking Is Cool is two-fold: encourage people to have conversations and show them what kinds of conversations we should be but might not be having. Today, I promise to make good on both with an episode that will blow your mind, as reporting it did mine.


When I started this show, I made a choice: Every season, I’ll take on one big tech company. I’ll go in as objectively as possible. I’ll gather information and talk to smart people and get informed. And I’ll report what I learn back to all of you. Because dunking on Big Tech almost feels like a cheap shot today—it’s so easy that anyone could do it. I want to make sure that, when I talk smack about Silicon Valley’s hoodied mafia, the Big 4 of the Bay Area, I’m doing it for the right reason.


Last season, I took Facebook to task, throwing internet hands at Zuck for his gross misuse of power and almost unbelievable irresponsibility. For Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 election and so much more. I went in with a decent idea of the horrors Facebook was capable of, and my reporting confirmed what I had suspected: throwing internet hands was absolutely called for.


But Facebook is easy to criticize. Its evils are rather obvious.


Today, my subject is one that’s benefitted by flying under the radar save for a few headlines. We don’t dunk on its CEO, we don’t talk about it really at all...despite the fact that this company is ubiquitous in every sense of the word. It’s the reason we have apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, and every other tiny icon we tap obsessively throughout the day.


On this episode of Thinking Is Cool, we’re talking about Apple. It’s among the elite crowd of world’s most influential corporations, and yet...I don’t know that much about this company. I’ve never stopped to think about the implications of every single person everywhere having an iPhone. I’ve never given Tim Cook’s morals much thought.


I’ve just accepted that Apple is what it is. I haven’t stopped to think. Until now.


My suspicion heading into this episode was this: Apple has leveraged its relatively positive reputation to utterly change the course of human history without humans really noticing. 


I’ll explain whether I’m right or wrong on that one shortly, but first: I’d like to give an enormous thank you to our friends and Season 2 presenting sponsor, Fundrise. You’ll get more info on Fundrise in a bit, but know that what they’re doing really is unprecedented and a huge opportunity creator. More to come.


Now, I promise you three things about this episode—Episode 4 of Season 2 of Thinking Is Cool:

  1. This will be neither a Steve Jobs fluff piece nor a Steve Jobs hit piece. I care very little about whether the Jobsian turtleneckers like what I say.
  2. This will make you think about the ways the small computer you’re listening to this episode on has irretrievably changed your life.
  3. This will be fun.


With that...nothing is off limits, everything is on the table, take it anywhere—and remember, thinking is cool and so are you.


*Roll transition music*


It has been 45 years since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers Inc. For a company that’s become synonymous with innovation and the cutting edge and the next must-have tech, it’s easy to forget that Apple is older than some of us, and older than some of us by decades.


So what do you do in 45 years of doing business? You succeed. You fail. You rise from the ashes. You inspire an entire generation of tech founders to dress in a very specific way. You succeed some more. And then you ascend beyond vehicle for capitalistic endeavors to something more—something more impactful, something more transcendent, something more capable of changing the course of human history.


Here’s why I say that: In 45 years, Apple has touched us all. As of earlier this year, there are now more than 1 billion active iPhones across the world. There are 1.65 billion Apple devices in active use overall. Apple was the first company valued at $1 trillion in 2018. Just two years later it doubled that figure.


This is a company that is most certainly impacting not only our relationships with technology but also our relationships with each other. Think about what your life might be like without an iPhone. Seriously, think about it.




For me, and we’re talking about today alone, my iPhone has been my alarm clock, my radio, my source of entertainment during a brief lunch break, my means of paying for that lunch I ate on my break, my means of communication with my family at home in Florida and my boyfriend five blocks away, my map to a restaurant in Brooklyn, my camera, my portal to people all over the world on social media...and that’s just today. It’s a gateway to everything.


Our iPhones are extensions of ourselves, almost always in our pocket or purse or hand or arm’s reach. But have you ever really stopped to think about what our collective reliance on this incredibly profitable and innovative piece of technology means When you pick up your iPhone before you even get out of bed in the morning...that’s something worth unpacking and understanding.


So that’s what we’re thinking about today: Is this the good kind or the bad kind of Apple? Because we can decry the negative impacts of technology and social media and Mark Zuckerberg all we want...but at the end of the day? They need the iPhone. They need Apple. We all do.


Time to think about the implications of that deep dependency. For us, and for those who will come after us.


*Roll transition music*


Let’s start by establishing the context for understanding just how impactful Apple is. Apple’s tentacles are so deeply entwined in our lives that it’s almost impossible to recognize what isn’t a product of this company’s influence...because everything is. 


I think of it like this: Apple is influential in the way that our parents are influential. It’s an almost universal impact—we can maybe identify a handful of life choices we make independently of this influence, but it’s hard. Because even when we think we’re acting independently, that influence follows us, for better or worse.


And while parents impact a couple kids, Apple impacts billions.


In 2019, which mind you were the pre-pandemic, pre-TikTok days, the average adult spent about 3.5 hours a day using the internet on their phones. That’s about 1,278 hours per year, or 53 days out of the 365 we get.


That massive amount of use is the product of some really incredible marketing and, more importantly, innovation...and for a while. More than half of my life has been marked by a vast suite of products with the letter I in front of their names.


I remember when the iPhone first came out—who in my 6th grade class was the first to get one, the time Will B. taped his iPod to his Motorola Razr and joked that it was an iPhone. I remember so clearly getting my own iPhone in 2010 as a gift from my uncle and teaching my parents how to type on anything that wasn’t a BlackBerry.


I got my first Apple product, a green iPod, in 2004. And since then, not a day has gone by that I haven’t used something designed by Apple in Cupertino, California. Let that sink in. Almost 20 years of using one company’s products. I think the only one that has ‘em beat is, like, Charmin?


I know my experience is representative for many of us. But would you believe me if I told you, especially the younger among you, that this wasn’t always the case? That Apple was, actually, kinda fringe? For kinda a while? Until the iPhone changed everything?


You’re about to hear part of a conversation I had with Christopher Mims, a technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal and someone whose work I’ve admired for many years. This issue—the intersection of human behavior and tech—is Christopher’s bread and butter, so you’re gonna hear from him a lot this episode. Alright, now to Christopher:


KINSEY: So first big question I have is just to set the stage a little bit and get a better framework for understanding why we should be talking about apple and apple being scrutinized more, fairly in the first place. Can you offer any context as to how apple came to this, this place of such? We can call it prominence. We can call it domination, probably whatever we want, but this really unique position within the consumer tech arena. 


CHRIS: So you can't tell the story of Apple's dominance without telling the story of the iPhone and really the iPod before it, just to rewind the clock to, um, you know, one of the history screens demos, which was the job sharing off the original idea.


You know, it's easy to forget at that time. And of course I'm old enough now that I'm encountering people who just don't even remember that at the time apple was, uh, you know, for lack of a better term, a niche player and, uh, the internet in consumer electronics, uh, you know, they had less than 10% share of the personal computer.


Yeah, they weren't anywhere in terms of cloud services or all of the things that we just think of as being this giant trillion dollar companies today. And, you know, the iPhone, the story's been told better by others. Brand merchant has a great book on it, which I recommend, um, you know, but there was a lot of happenstance that went into this device and a lot of it was just driven by, you know, Steve jobs is, you know, he does deserve credit for being.


Okay. Not just an innovator, but just very pig-headed in terms of, you know, well, I want this, like, I want this kind of gorilla glass screen and you know, there shouldn't be a stylist and you know, it should work this way. And the app store at the time, which now is just so dominant, was an afterthought really initially, uh, there was no app store on the iPhone.


It couldn't support it, even if they had wanted to. So the processor and there was more of. Uh, I saw that it would give you maybe the mobile web on your device. And it took off in ways that no one could have predicted even, even its creators. So in that way, it's that mixture of innovation and luck. It turns out putting the internet in your pocket and giving it this totally new interface, modality.


And of course was not pioneered by apple. It was pioneered by other companies that sort of failed to make it happen before, you know, this touch based modality, you know, created something that was just absolutely transformational as big, probably bigger than the personal computer and the internet revolutions.


A mobile web device. Innovative thinking. Some really good luck. That took Apple from niche player to $2 trillion company. And it took us out of what feels like the Stone Age.


iPhones changed Apple’s trajectory and, subsequently, the world’s. And I’ll tell you how after a quick break to hear from the fine folks at Fundrise.


*Roll mid 1 here*


Before that break to hear from Fundrise, I told you I’d explain a little more about how Apple changed the world with the iPhone. A lot of it centers around the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s just a really good product. I mean, there’s a reason why there are countless Google results for “how to beat iPhone addiction.”


A lot of it has to do with our brains. Scientists have for a while now surmised that our screen addictions have a lot to do with dopamine. The neurotransmitter dopamine makes us feel that tingling sensation, one many have likened to a reward.


We get a notification. We feel important and needed. If the notification is something disappointing like Slack, we stare at the tiny glass screen until something better comes along that actually will make us feel good. Addiction, plain and simple.


Here’s more of my conversation with Christopher Mims. 


​KINSEY: Can you offer any context as to how well we have changed as humans since this product demos, since this first iPhone? What have we changed about our behaviors and our expectations of techno of technology because of what apple made and what apple did and how apple has grown these products? 


CHRIS: I don't think. The word cyborg is too strong, a word, right? Like we've been, humans have been cyborg since we first started making stone tools.


Uh, you know, so I've worked defined as a fusion of, of technology and, you know, our biology, uh, but having the internet in our pockets, um, I, it really has transformed as we have it all the time. And it really has become our default, uh, way to connect to the internet. But as the internet sort of eats everything else as that sort of feedback loop grows more and more powerful.


It's our default way to, to connect to and interact with the real world, right? Because suddenly makers of services and other products have an incentive to connect those products to the internet so they can check to you. Um, you know, people talk about, oh, maybe in the future, we'll have brain implants, et cetera.


I think that the phone really kind of puts off that future by decades or centuries, because why do you need a brain implant when you have this incredibly high speeds? Uh, you know, interface system, you know, port to your brain, known as your eyes and as your, your hands, um, which you can then, you know, have this high-speed connection to this device in your hands.


So I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we have become cyborgs in the sense that science fiction authors. And we're going to be sorting out the implications of that for decades, if not centuries.


I think it’s important to 1) recognize that being cyborgs isn’t all that bad and in a lot of ways it’s made our lives easier and safer and 2) recognize that getting to this point—one of turning billions of earth-dwellers into cyborgs—actually wasn’t all that complicated. The Danish author Martin Lindstrom wrote that the most powerful marketing strategies are often centered around three very human behavioral needs: routine, belonging, and trust. 


Think about Apple for a moment in that context. Routine? Check, thanks to regular product releases and upgrades scheduled every September. And that alarm clock sound I know you know. Belonging? Check, thanks to that immediate ick you get when your text goes through green. Trust? Check, at least for now, given that Apple’s reputation for security and data privacy is pretty stellar compared to its peers. I mean, they won’t even hand over passwords to the government.


That makes the complicated seem simple, which is kind of Apple’s thing. But at the core (lol) of this sleek, sexy, uncomplicated approach to consumer technology...there’s a complicated tenet of Apple’s success tied up like a present with a bow by this Steve Jobs quote:


“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”


Apple did just that through a mix of mostly purposeful but some accidental ingenuity. Let’s jump back into my conversation with Christopher Mims.


KINSEY: You know, we, we can pinpoint exactly when this debut happened, but it's perhaps a little bit more difficult to exactly identify when this became the inevitable piece of technology that it is today that has infiltrated our lives in so many ways. It kind of just happened. And I don't know when, but it did. 


CHRIS: And to your point, it really could have happened in other ways that would have shaped our behavior differently. But because. Apple got to be the one to define what the mobile internet revolution would look like, you know, before somebody else came along with a different idea of what that would look like and, you know, crowded them out.


We have as a result and it's inviting to an Android too, which is basically a carbon copy of the original iPhone and it's basics we have as a result, a very apple IIE version. The mobile internet in our pockets, you know, whatever platform we're using and as a result, it it's good in that. It's easy to use the downside, arguably is that it is such a joy to use, right?


Like jobs and apple have always been so focused on, you know, things that sort of like bring you joy that I think you can attribute a lot of the, uh, challenges that we have with our devices being. So compelling, so addictive and so pervasive to the fact that apple, in some ways maybe did its job a little too well.


And so I do find it rich sometimes that they have rolled out, you know, this, uh, their screen time initiative. I loved getting that little report on my device, uh, and being sarcastic because I don't think it actually reflects like whether I'm spending my time well or not on the device. Right. It's a little rich because it is sort of a belated recognition like, wow, we did this so well that now people can't stop looking at these devices. They can't stop routing every part of their life, whether it's dating or shopping or transportation or anything through these devices. 


KINSEY: Yeah. I think you bring up a compelling point too, about responsibility. Um, you know, there is of course an advantage in being the first mover. There's a reason we call it the first mover advantage, but there's also a great sense of responsibility that I wonder if at the time, when these tech companies are introducing these world changing technologies, do they necessarily recognize that responsibility when they're bringing them to the masses? 


CHRIS: I mean, definitely not. And part of that sort of T in their defense is that they use everything as, you know, a battle for survival and they're not wrong.


Right? Like you today's dominate. And tech company is to learn as, you know, Sears Roebuck or whatever at some point or another. And then any other hand, you know, Dominant tech company can also be tomorrows like general motors or Ford or Chrysler. They can go ship, pair that last century. So when they're rolling these things out, I don't think they're thinking about that at all. I think that they are really thinking about, can we create something that's going to get traction in the market. 


But remember what I told you at the very beginning of this episode? Apple is a 45-year-old company. Apple has lived through nine presidential administrations. This is no longer a fringe tech startup fighting for survival.


It’s a $2.5 trillion dollar company. In its most recent earnings report, Apple tallied a quarter record of $81.4 billion in revenue, up 36% from just a year earlier. 


Apple’s not fighting for survival. I think it’s fighting for dominance. And in a lot of ways, I get that—it’s what makes Apple so valuable. But motives and their ripple effects change when you go from fighting to fighting to thrive.


More on that after a quick break to hear from our friends at Public.


*Roll mid 2 here*


And now...we’re back to the action.


When this episode started. I explained that, for someone who makes it her business to know about influential businesses...I didn’t know enough about Apple and its influence. But I took the time to think about it and...that influence is huuuuge. We’re talking about the way we communicate, do business, accomplish tasks, call cars, order food—the list goes on.


Now, information and context in hand, I have an assertion to make: It’s my belief that any company that influential, that capable of turning us into cyborgs in the span of a decade, should be held accountable for its impact. Apple deserves scrutiny, which in fairness it sometimes gets.


This week is one of those times. Right now, Apple is looking down the barrel of a couple controversies. 

  • There’s Apple’s strange but long overdue App Store concession. Famous for taking 30% commission of App Store purchases, which contribute to a $20 billion App Store business...Apple recently announced that it will allow some apps, like Netflix and Spotify, to direct their users to payment methods outside of the App Store. Big reversal there, seeing as it was impossible to sign up for a Netflix account on the Netflix iPhone app for a good long while.
  • There’s also the child safety measures Apple’s getting flak for right now. After announcing in August that it would roll out tech designed to scan users’ iPhones to detect images of child sexual abuse, Apple rolled back the debut of that tool. That’s after facing major backlash from privacy groups for touting the first technology that would allow a company to look at a person’s private data and report it to law enforcement.
  • And let’s not forget—Apple is facing antitrust investigations in the U.S., the E.U., Britain and India. And it is awaiting the verdict in a lawsuit brought by Epic Games over its App Store commissions.


The biggest criticism Apple gets is that it makes unilateral decisions for the whole of the mobile internet economy. Which it often does. The second biggest criticism Apple gets is that it snuffs out competition. Which it sometimes does, aforementioned investigations pending.


If you’ve listened to this show before, you know I’m typically of the belief that regulators need to do more to rein in Big Tech. And that our sole responsibility is to vote for lawmakers we think will further that regulatory aim and in turn create a fairer, freer online world.


Unpacking the Apple story is shaking that belief system to its core (again, lol). And that’s because, in the case of Apple, it’s skated by without a ton of regulatory or media-driven backlash’s kinda been above board. Here’s more of my conversation with Christopher:


KINSEY: Where in your view, does responsibility fall to ensure that these technologies are developed in a way that is better for us? Is it on us as the users to be responsible users? Is it on these companies to ensure that they're making a product that is potentially less addictive? Is it on regulators to ensure that the companies are kept accountable? Where, where do you think responsibility falls here? 


CHRIS: I think responsibility falls on. On all of us to be intelligent and thoughtful. If we have the privilege and the time about how we use technology and then advocating. For its use or regulation if appropriate or innovation, if that is our bent so that we use it better.


I found this in Inc to be equally perception-shattering: “In recent weeks, high-profile reports have suggested that the phone we use is is to blame for our addictive tendencies. It's a big mistake. One report suggested downgrading your phone; another said Apple should take more responsibility for thwarting our addiction.


This is a misguided. That high-powered Corvette is not to blame for your speeding problem. Outback Steakhouse has no responsibility whatsoever to start serving only salads and vegetables, changing their name to the Outback Salad and Vegetable House. Your local Walmart sells Coke and Mountain Dew in 24 packs all day long. There's no reason to blame the largest brick and mortar retailer on Earth for our pop addiction.”


I went into this episode ready to take Apple to task the way that did Facebook last season. But thinking is only cool when you’re prepared to be a little wrong.




What you’re about to hear is a realtime recording of me having my perceptions shattered. I usually share the best and most illuminating bits and pieces from my interviews, but in this case...all the bits and pieces felt necessary. So come spend a few minutes on the phone with me and Christopher Mims...


CHRIS: No, we can't turn back the clock. I mean, as individuals, we can make choices to put guard rails on the way that we use technology. So, so we're using the technology as a tool rather than being used by the technology that said it is very hard to look at the way humanity is behaving in aggregate.


And the amount of time people spend scrolling and, you know, just inviting information and interacting through our devices and not, I say, well, uh, you know, as a society, we, we've not only escaped any chance of putting the genie back in the bottle, but we are now really holding. To this device and the bowl of the interactions and mediums that it delivers to us and the ways that they are delivered to us, whether that is, you know, misinformation on social media or, uh, you know, conveniences, which are great, but which come with a cost, you know, um, and I'm talking here about all of the conveniences of online commerce and to delivery again, these things are great.


I'm not sure. However, you know, the ways in which they're delivered to us, the ways in which we come to expect instant gratification at every moment. Um, you know, it probably short circuits, you know, what Daniel Kanneman would describe as are slower and more thoughtful systems thinking, are we stopped to ask.


Whether everything that we're doing is kind of in our own best interest and in the best interest of civilization on the planet. 


KINSEY: Yeah. There's this, and this might be a little heady, but I think that there's this really interesting intersection when we think about the impacts of technology on our everyday lives.


You know, we know that in a lot of ways, technology is writ large, a positive it's a net positive for, for many of us. When we think about the ways that it's made our lives easier. When we think about, um, you know, let's say like fire as technology or to your earlier point, using stone tools as technology, those things we've, we know that they made us better and stronger and made us live longer and helped us to accomplish things easier and all that good stuff, but they weren't necessarily products of a capitalist system.


And I think that in some ways that's a little bit of, you know, when I talk to people around my age, that's a little bit of where we get uncomfortable because we know. That this technology has made our lives easier, but at the same time, we know that in a lot of ways, we are also the product. We are the direct line of profit for a lot of these tech companies that have created incredible tools that make our lives easier, but are also making quite a bit of money off of those tools.


And that I think is, is where we find this, this sense of being really like icked out by all of this. I'm feeling a little uneasy, thinking about tech a little too long, like it gets uncomfortable if you think about it for too long, but you're the product in a lot of ways. And we can't live without these tools.


And I don't know if I trust these companies to be the responsible stewards of this tech, um, knowing that I can't live without it at this point. 


CHRIS: Yeah. There's a lot to unpack there. I think whenever you're the product, that is a problem that, you know, Funny enough, of course. One of the biggest exponent of that you and most visible is Tim cook himself, right?


He's constantly savaging Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, if not by name, quite, uh, as you know, being in running companies that are all about making you the product. Um, I think that there, there is, there. Some amount of hypocrisy there, uh, you know, as Apple's strategy shifts toward cloud services and advertising and all the rest, um, I kind of would ask, I would kind of turn this question around.


And because I'm really curious about, um, your generations, uh, you know, squeamishness about all of this being the product of a capitalist system and without getting deep into, like, is there any such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism or whatever, you know, I'm curious kind of where that view comes from and what do you view as the alternative, right.


Like, would we, rather than. I don't know. So when we nationalize apple or something like that, like, is it just, as we mentioned in general with no sense yet of what the alternative is, or how does that manifest. 


KINSEY: What, what breeds this existential crisis is that I, I cannot think of a better alternative. I, I don't think that the technology would be as easy to use or as applicable to my life if right now, if it were we nationalized it. And I don't necessarily believe that's the right thing to do, but at the same time, there is this, this kind of common sense of urgency of recognizing that we are kind of, we can't be. Untethered from these tools, it's, it's impossible to live that way. And that makes me uncomfortable. Like, I think that even if it weren't apple, even if it weren't Facebook or Instagram or any of these other tech tools that we've become so reliant on, I think it would, I would hug these hope that it would still make me uncomfortable if there were something out there that I couldn't live without, or I couldn't do my job without I couldn't pay my bills.


Um, and knowing that they could make a change at any moment, that will deeply impact my life. All they have to do is change one algorithm or change one tech product. And then all of a sudden, I don't know what to do with myself like that, that I think is at the root of this sense of like feeling uncomfortable with technology.


Um, but the, the crisis and all of this is that I can't think of a better alternative, and I don't think many people can, um, other than just trying to use tech less, but that is also just unrealistic today. I couldn't do my job. I couldn't be a podcast host without a ton of people having iPhones. And I'm acutely aware of that, perhaps painfully aware of it.


CHRIS: Yeah. That does make sense. I think that we are in an era of kind of a unique level of anxiety about these types of technologies, because. It's easy to forget that when the personal computer came along, it was viewed as, uh, an almost revolutionary device. And I mean that in the sort of sixties sense of, oh, wow.


We're going to take computing back from like IBM. And we're going to, you know, George Orwell's 1980. In part about what happens when, you know, computers become ubiquitous, but only the state can possess them. And so personal computing was like, w like I own this device. I can do whatever the hell I want on it.


Oh, here comes the internet. I can connect to anybody. You know, the internet routes around censorship treats it as damage like rah, rah, rah, this is going to be amazing. And then what happened was all of these companies were like, we can. Uh, hundreds of billions of dollars from nest, we're going to create walled gardens and we're going to control this.


You're going to be glad that we're controlling it because we're going to tell you that, you know, if we just had an open app store, it'd be full of spam and malware. And you know, there is some truth to that, but we have kind of reconsolidated power. Like these technologies that we're supposed to be instruments of liberation are, as you say now in the hands of companies, which.


Hmm, it's difficult to sort of call them to account. And it's not clear that our government is functional enough or even knows what to do in order to curb their power. And then also like how and where do we actually curve that power? Obviously the FTC now under the leadership of clean and con and with soaks like Tim Wu and government is working on that, but it's not yet clear what exactly that should look like yet. 


KINSEY: Yeah. That is really at the core of this conversation. And especially this kind of existential crisis conversation that we're having within this larger conversation is that we just don't trust these companies. Number one, in a lot of ways and number, or at least we say we don't know.


And then number two, perhaps more urgently, we don't trust the regulators to actually do anything to, to reign in the, uh, you know, I don't know. Dominance or domination of some of these bigger tech companies, apple certainly included.


Apple shouldn’t be permitted to participate in anti-competitive behavior. And the backlash it faces over these App Store fees is at least a little warranted. But the honest truth I’ve come to in doing my diligence on Apple is’s on us.


The product is great, yes. But we’re the ones who’ve become addicted to our iPhones. This is on us. We made the problem, and we should be held responsible for fixing it. I mean, what, are we to expect that the government will step in and regulate our screen time? It sounds dystopian, buuuuut...


CHRIS: I do think regulation matters as well. I mean, they, it's funny how China just said, kids can only gain three hours per week from now on and between these hours, because they're trying to curb internet addiction. And, um, and you know, on the one hand it's like, oh, what a terrible overreach, uh, what a terrible aggregation of people's rights and right to self-determination.


But the other hand, I, you know, There probably isn't a parent in America who doesn't look at that and say like, huh, well, that wouldn't be the worst thing ever. I mean, personally, I don't need the government to do that because I'm already very strict about my kids' exposure to technology because I report every day on it still affects, but, uh, it's going to take all of those things and it takes us being people.


I mean, one thing that I think people underestimate the importance of is social contagion in a good way. Where, if you go into an environment where nobody's looking at their phone, it quickly becomes really gauche to look at your phone. It's like you brought a TV to the party. Like, why are you staring at it?


Uh, all of these things matter, including our personal choices.


KINSEY:  And I think we also just have to come to a place of the Goldilocks position of overreach, Trey. Like we get so squeamish when we feel the government does too much. And then we also. Pretty much when we feel they're not doing enough and perhaps we're never satisfied, but that, I think that might be a question for another episode.


CHRIS: Yeah. I mean, that's just democracy, right? Compromise, but no one's happy.


In the case of Big Tech, my resting state is usually waxing poetic on the failures of an outdated regulatory system to hold technocrats and the owner class accountable. I was prepared to reach that conclusion with Apple...but I’ve been proven wrong.


I’m never not going to tell you that voting is the single most important thing you can do to affect the change you want to see in the world...but in this case, consider voting with your time. If you’re concerned that Apple’s infiltrated our lives a little too much, put down your phone more. Go outside more. Get an alarm clock. Call a restaurant to order food (ehhh maybe on a landline?). Buy a film camera. Make small changes to your tech use if the fact that Apple fully changed all of our behavior makes you squirm. Chris?


CHRIS: Sometimes societies just learn. I mean, I think if you look at the way attitudes toward television shifted overtime, it's easy to forget that PBS was started because a bunch of idealists. We're going to eliminate the education gap in America by putting educational programs in every home and making it publicly funded.


And Sesame street is going to make literate a whole generation of children who otherwise, you know, would be deprived. Um, and then, you know, I think by the modern day, people are like, well, TV is fine and moderation. Uh, you know, I, I think that we've seen a similar shift toward people's relationship with their devices. But, you know, it's going to take yet more time for us to really sort that out.


Yes, talk about regulation and ensuring that Apple doesn’t become the next Facebook. But at the end of the day...this is kinda on us. We have to buy in on curbing our smartphone addiction before we can expect Apple to do anything.


And more urgently, we need to take the time to think about how we got here. That’s what I set out to do at the beginning of this episode—better understand how Apple has changed human history. And it has...but we’ve certainly helped it along.


I’m optimistic that we can, as Christopher said, sort it out. That starts by thinking a little harder about the impact companies like Apple have on each and every one of us. So consider these thought starters in your iMessage group chat:

  • How do you think Apple has changed human behavior and the course of human history?
  • Do you trust Apple more or less than you trust other Big Tech companies? Why?
  • Has Apple been a net positive or negative on the modern world with its technological innovations? Is Apple responding to our needs...or dictating them?
  • Do you think you practice good digital hygiene—aka keep track of your screen time and practice moderation consciously?


It’s time to get to thinking.


Without Apple, there would be no Uber and probably no TikTok. We might still order food delivery, but certainly with less frequency. Without Apple, it’s hard to imagine touchscreen modalities taking off the way they did with phones, tablets, and smart watches. We wouldn’t have EKGs on our wrists or pods in our ears.


But also without Apple...we might be a little less likely to compare our real-life reflections to Facetuned bodies we see on our screens. Taxis and flashlights and point-and-shoot cameras and bank branches might still exist. We might fear-monger a little less. We might connect face to face and with new people a little more.


As the saying goes, woulda coulda shoulda. It’s too late to imagine a world without Apple, because Apple is in some ways the architect of the modern world. Now, the chance is ours to make sure Apple and its peers make a world worth living in.




Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Thinking Is Cool. Thank you to Christopher Mims for being such a robust and thought-provoking source. Thank you to Apple for being a publicly traded company that’s legally required to air its dirty laundry to the SEC.


One more note before we head out on our journey to engineer accountability for Big Tech companies like Apple: I’ve lately become a fan of the Democracy Works podcast. It’s a show that examines the big questions about what it means to live in a democracy. Just to name a few: Why do we have two parties? How can we create a true multiracial democracy? How do we address the growing generational gap in politics? Kinda sounds like the perfect complement to Thinking Is Cool, right?


Democracy Works looks to move beyond partisan spin to examine the root of what’s really happening. It’s like the discussion that your favorite political science professors had with you after class. Find the show at or in any podcast app.


Now, Thinking Is Cool brainiacs...time to go start some conversations. I’m Kinsey Grant and remember, thinking is cool and so are you. See you next time.