Episode 14: The Tech Industry and Their Bad Ideas
Hosts: Anna Reser, Leila McNeill, and Rebecca Ortenberg
Producer: Leila McNeill
Music: Careful! by the Zombie Dandies
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For this episode, the hosts discuss tech start-up products, services, and devices sent in by listeners, with a few of their own thrown in. From pregnancy devices to diet and weight loss products, the hosts discuss issues of self-surveillance technology and gender in the tech industry.
The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting by Amanda Mull
Meet The Startup That's Disrupting Nutrition by Annabel Acton
'We Never Claimed That It's Not a Tent' by Luke O’Neil
Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete by Elizabeth Segran
The latest brain hack to get ahead in Silicon Valley: flashcards by Michael J. Coren
Transcription by Rev.com
Rebecca: Welcome to episode 14 of the Lady Science Podcast. This podcast is a monthly deep dive on topics centered on women and gender, in the history and popular culture of science. With you every month, are the editors of Lady Science Magazine.
Anna: I'm Anna Reser, co-founder and co-editor in chief of Lady Science. I am a writer, editor, and PhD student, studying 20th century American culture, and the history of the American space program in the 1960s.
Leila: I'm Leila McNeill, the other founder and editor in chief of Lady Science. I'm a historian of science, and freelance writer, with words in various places on the internet. I'm currently a regular writer on women in the history of science at Smithsonianmag.com.
Rebecca: And, I'm Rebecca Ortenberg, Lady Science's managing editor. When I'm not working with the Lady Science team, I can be found writing about museums and public history around the internet, and managing social media for the Science History Institute in Philadelphia.
Rebecca: So, for this episode, we asked our listeners on social media to send us some of the most absurd, most Silicon Valley-ish tech that they could find. The suggestions you gave us did not disappoint, so we'll be going through some of those today. We're pretty excited about this.
Rebecca: Before we do that, we just, as usual, have a little bit of housekeeping. First of all, if you're a librarian on Twitter, you might have seen that we're doing a special blog series about feminist librarianship in technology. I feel like, as far as I can tell, every librarian on Twitter may have seen it, which is awesome.
Leila: I think, maybe at this point, even the ones not on Twitter could've seen it.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. So, in this series, you'll be hearing from librarians, preservationists, information technology professionals, and practitioners in related fields, about how intersectional feminist perspectives can impact stewardship of information and information technology, especially at this moment when technology is really rapidly changing the field. So, as implied before, we were seriously impressed by the number of people who shared our call for pitches, so thank you to librarian Twitter for getting the word out, and we will be running the series in December-January-ish, so look out for that.
Leila: And, I have a little thing that I've been working on, and will continue to work on. I'm putting together a series of bonus episodes for this podcast. I'll be talking with women scientists from different fields to discuss how intersectional feminism shapes the work that they do. I've already done a couple of interviews that cover issues of feminism and sociology and anthropology, and I'll be doing more. And, I'm going to be releasing these episodes as bonus episodes. They're not going to be on a set schedule like our monthly episodes are. So, be sure that you're subscribed to the Lady Science Podcast, and wherever you get your podcasts, to make sure that you're not missing any episodes.
Leila: And, I think that's it, so we're going to just dive in. So, like Rebecca mentioned, we're going to be going over some Silicon Valley tech stuff today, and we had some people send us some stuff in. So, this first one comes from Risa Cromer, and she sent us a list of pregnancy technology from wearable.com, and this list, with different types of tech, are for specifically pregnant people, and we won't go through all the devices mentioned in the list. I'll put it in the show notes so you can find it there if you want to see them all, but we do want to point out a couple of notables.
Leila: So, the first one that I wanted to pull out of this list is called BellyBuds, and it is a baby bump sound system. The device features two speakers that attach to the mother's stomach, and can play music and recorded messages from the parents. The copy on the website says, "Whether it's a soothing tune, or a bond forming message, BellyBuds is a safe and effective first step in connecting your soon-to-be bundle of joy."
Leila: Easy to use, discreet, and good on the go, BellyBuds works anywhere, anytime. This thing costs $40, and it's basically headphones, and if you ever want to go to the website to look at the pictures, they're ... The actual things that adhere to the baby bump are these large green oval shaped things, and so this idea of them being discreet, I'm really not quite sure, because they're ... They are rather large, and they do stick out, so I'm not really quite sure. I mean, unless you're wearing a muumuu or something, I'm not really quite sure how you're not going to see them underneath your clothes, but, I mean, that's not the only criticism, I'm sure we can have for something like this, but that's the one that I thought of.
Anna: Well, I was just going to ...
Rebecca: I mean, if you're ... Sorry, I was just going to say, if you're going to call, if you're going to say discreet is one of the reasons you need this, and not normal headphones, you might as well ... That might as well be true.
Anna: I mean, I was just going to say, it's only $40, maybe I should get this instead of iPhone headphones.
Rebecca: Yeah, I wonder how they work as normal headphones. I mean ...
Anna: Right? So, they stick to your belly, right? So that you can really pipe the baby Einstein, whatever, in there, or your Mozart, directly into the amniotic fluid.
Leila: Right, so that way you can pop out a genius.
Anna: That's definitely how it works, because I know that my plants are really smart, and I play them classical music all the time.
Leila: Yeah, and I think ... I'm looking it up just to check myself on this, but I believe that it connects, of ... I mean, I don't think I really need to check myself on this, but it goes through their app, which doesn't everything go through the company's app now?
Rebecca: Of course. Of course.
Leila: Now ... And, yeah. So, you record ... And, you can record your own messages, so if you want to tell your fetus how much you love it, and how much you're looking forward to it arriving, and start calling it sport and champ, early, then I guess you can go ahead and do that.
Anna: Okay, so ... Well, I have two thoughts then, about that. Do ... What kind of information are they getting from the app? Are they making databases of what kind of music parents play for their child when it's still in utero?
Anna: And then, also, you have a voice notes app on your phone already, and just put headphones on the thing. I think the ... This kind of thing is, maybe, not as obviously sinister as some of the other stuff we might have chosen to talk about, but it's also this idea that you have to ... If you want to be a good parent, you have to be actively trying to improve your baby before it's even born, and there's some creepy stuff there, where on the one hand, it's playing them Mozart, on the other hand, it's like, maybe you're taking certain kinds of drugs or something to make your baby bigger, faster, stronger.
Anna: I don't know. There's just ... I feel like it's just weird to think about going beyond just sort of eating healthy or whatever, and to take care of your baby, like all these enhancements that you're expected to do.
Leila: Yeah, and I ... Okay so, the app, specifically, is a voice-share app, and it allows you to, I guess, have a library of the stuff that you're recording and wanting to play for your baby, so I guess you can just ...
Rebecca: You can say, "Goodnight."?
Leila: Yeah, make a playlist, if you wanted to just have these things adhered to your stomach all the time, and just constantly playing things. But ... And, you can also access their free digital library of stuff.
Leila: So, if that speaks to any of your concerns, Anna.
Anna: Indeed, it does. Yeah. So maybe you're putting ... Maybe you're saying goodnight to your baby before you go to sleep every night, but maybe this company is telling your fetus some other stuff? I don't know.
Leila: It's like ads.
Leila: For ads for kids cartoons, and stuff.
Rebecca: Oh, god.
Leila: And kids apps on the tablet, yeah.
Leila: And I ... One of the ... And, this will become more obvious with the other ones that we're going to talk about. One of the reasons that I chose to talk about the ones we're going to talk about today, is because, I, personally, am incredibly, increasingly, uncomfortable with our compliance with self-surveillance, and offering up that data to other people.
Leila: Not just people, but obviously, corporations, and so that was one of the reasons that I chose the particular ones to talk about today. But, that was something ... That is something that gives me kind of the creeps about a lot of these things, is that it's this idea of having an easier, more connected life. It's not so much about access as it is about surveillance, and that really creeps me out on an existential level.
Rebecca: And, to kind of both connect Anna's earlier point about, you have to do everything to make your baby the perfect baby, and ... And, what you guys are saying now, it's ... It comes out of this thing that is a pretty innocuous cliché, that, "Hey, play Mozart for your baby. It's easy! All you have to do is, when you're hanging out at home, put a Mozart CD in, and then your baby might be smarter. That sounds fine!" And, it's saying, "Well, let's find a way to make this so that ... Yeah, someone is tracking you a little bit, that you have to buy a dedicated thing for it, that it becomes part of a whole status thing." Which, of course, things like playing music for your baby already is moving in ... Had moved into that realm, but it just ... Yeah, it combines this idea that you need a magical, special app for everything, and the need to create the most high-status baby.
Leila: Right. I mean, yeah, this totally ... All of this stuff totally breaks down along class lines and racial lines, this is bananas. And, I looked, I think, at the website for every single one of the things we're going to talk about today, and it's plastered with pictures of white people, and white mothers, and white families, and I think that that clearly speaks to how these things are drawn on racial lines, that these types of things to make you the best mother that you can, or to tweak your fetus to become the best newborn it can be, I don't know, that those are things that are the realm of wealthy white people.
Rebecca: Okay, shall we move onto more creepiness?
Leila: It gradually gets more creepy.
Rebecca: You set this up in this way to really lead us into dystopia, Leila. I also love the names of all of these. The next one is called Ultra Stan from the company called, I swear to god, Bleep Bleeps. It uses ultrasound to record videos and sounds of a fetus, and like nearly everything else on the planet, it is connected to an app on your phone.
Rebecca: The device is still in development, so it doesn't have a price tag yet, but I can imagine that it's going to be pretty absurd. To make this stranger yet, though, in an interview with Wired, the founder and creative director of Bleep Bleeps talked ... Talked about the Ultra Stan, and he had a really strange thing to say about it.
Rebecca: Quote, "This is not about world domination, we want to be loved and useful." End quote.
Rebecca: Okay. Okay, so ... So, maybe ... Maybe, there were some other context before they started talking about world domination, and there was just an awkward editor thing happening, where we only got this context, but that's best-case scenario here. Pretty weird to bring up world domination in relation to a piece of pregnancy technology under any circumstances.
Anna: I mean, it is weird to do it in an interview with Wired, but I feel like people have been scheming toward world domination with pregnancy or reproductive technology for a while now.
Leila: Yeah, and I don't know how that would come up organically.
Rebecca: Right. Right.
Leila: How the idea of ... I don't know what kind of question you could have before that, that would lead someone to be like, "Hey, hey! I'm not talking about world domination here."
Leila: Or ... And, I think that one of the things that bothers me about this one, other than the fact that those 3D ultrasound images that you can have now, those ... The creepy 3D baby faces, kind of really give me the creeps. That ... That issue aside, is that, again, this is taking surveillance to yet just a whole new level of, now, you're not just surveilling yourself as the mother-to-be, but you're now surveilling your fetus as well.
Leila: So, yeah. That's a little ... That's a little icky to me.
Rebecca: Yeah. I can't imagine that ... I'm sure this is true always, but I can't imagine something like this that doctors are particularly fond of it, because I mean, goodness knows, the medical profession is often terrible to pregnant women, and women often have to advocate for themselves, and that's good, but I can image, at a certain point, you're going to have people just harassing their doctors all the time, who have something like this, just being like, "So, the baby looks different." And the doctor's like, "Yes, that happens." And, while that's a minor thing, I can just see it really disrupting doctor-patient relationships even further.
Leila: I can see it disrupting a person's mental health.
Rebecca: Yes. Yeah.
Leila: If you have the tools to constantly surveil your fetus, and there's already so much pressure on mothers, and a whole industry dedicated to making mothers feel like they're bad, and you won't be good unless you do this one special magic thing, that this introduces another factor into that equation.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah.
Anna: And, it's also ... Not that I'm in the habit of defending the medical establishment, but it's also true that interpreting images, like ultrasound images, or other kinds of instrumentally created images like this, takes training. There are a lot of things about images like this that are not intuitive. So, something that you, a mother-to-be, who doesn't know how to look at an ultrasound image, it might look to you to be something that you interpret as a problem, or whatever, but the people who are trained to see that, to look at those kinds of images, know that that's an artifact of the instrumentation, or related to something else.
Anna: So, related to this mental health thing, it's going to be even worse when you just don't even know what it is you're looking at, and you're making a bunch of assumptions from partial knowledge of how to even use these images, and maybe there's a way to democratize that knowledge a little bit more, but I think ... I think you're right, Leila, that this could just really, really be harmful, in that sense of ... You're just operating a little out of your depth, I guess, with this, and then ... And then being told that if you don't use things like this, tools like this, that you're just probably not equipped to use, why would you be? You didn't go to medical school. And you're doing it wrong, or ... It just is a huge mess, I think.
Rebecca: It's like ... You shouldn't have to interpret your own medical data. Whether it's because an app is telling you you should, or because the medical profession is forcing you to by not giving you the services you need, there's a reason ... We should have a system where people don't feel like they are forced to do that, because that's not going to lead anywhere good.
Anna: Okay. I just realized I ... Is this supposed to be pronounced "cardio", but with a "Q"? QardioBase?
Leila: Yeah, I think it still said cardio, yeah.
Anna: I mean, that would be a good scrabble word, but it's not real, that's not how you write ... Okay, so the QardioBase, Q-A-R-D-I-O, QardioBase wireless smart-scale ...
Rebecca: Even the name sounds dystopian.
Anna: So, it's a scale that measures all kinds of things about you that you probably don't want to know, like your weight, your body mass index, your muscle mass, fat percentage, bone and water composition, so that you can really just contemplate that spooky skeleton that's inside us all.
Anna: So, it has all kinds of feedback things because of the smart-scale, so when you ... You get a smiley face when you stay on track for your fitness and weight-loss goals. It also has a specific pregnancy mode that you can turn on, and in pregnancy mode, you can track ... Moms can track weekly progress, and their trimesters, they can add pictures to their numerical data. There ... So there's not really a whole lot of detail about what exactly pregnancy mode does, other than, quote, "Care for you and your baby." Which is also horrifying. And, this thing costs $149.99, which is, I think a considerable chunk of money for a scale.
Leila: Yeah, and it also, of course, connects to your app, and so you can track all of those types of things on your ... Your phone, and in some of the pictures on the website, it had a mother and father sitting on a couch smiling and looking at the app, like they're going over their body data together at the end of ... At the end of a hard work day, don't you just want to sit down with your partner and go over your body weight data?
Rebecca: Yeah. That sounds like lots of fun, super sexy.
Anna: "Look at my bone composition today, honey." I mean, I ... I have never owned a scale, because it would negatively impact my mental health, but this scale, wow, it reminds me of the Peter Thiel body scanner, sort of like a lower deck version of that, where you just ...
Rebecca: Yes! Yeah. Yeah.
Anna: Where you're just confronted with every kind of measurement we have come up with about bodies, and every kind of scale of normalcy, and I think, I'm not sure, someone could correct me on this, but I think that some of these scales of measurement on here probably conflict with each other, right? A normal BMI versus muscle percentage and stuff, it's just throwing a bunch of measurement at you to seem very scientific and comprehensive, I guess.
Leila: Yeah, just quantifying every single thing about your body that you absolutely can, and again, another thing that introduces yet another thing for pregnant people to worry about, is ... I mean, I ... I have never been pregnant, I don't plan on being pregnant, but it's not ... it's not because of no reason that, in popular culture, and in moves and TV and stuff, there's women who are pregnant, constantly worried about their weight. There's a reason why, after a celebrity gives birth, in the magazines, it's always like, "Here's the post-baby workout."
Leila: Because, despite going through the process of pregnancy, in which your body must gain weight to supply sustenance to the thing inside of you, that there's still so much pressure to be a cute, thin, pregnant woman, and this just, again, introduces another thing into the equation for an expectant mother to worry about.
Anna: Yeah, and this ...
Rebecca: I was going to say, some of these things.
Anna: Oh, yeah. Terrible things.
Leila: We don't usually have this much problem with cross-talk.
Rebecca: We don't. I don't know what the problem is. We'd gotten a pretty good rhythm down. So, some of these things ... This kind of goes back to the thing from our ... The previous stuff we were talking about, that ... It's like, "What does my bone and water composition tell me about my body?"
Rebecca: I don't know. I don't know if those are even real numbers that a medical professional would care about, or understand. I certainly don't, and yeah, again, it's one more thing to quantify yourself, and give you information, that, then, you can maybe stress out about, because, "Oh, no. I have too much water weight?"
Rebecca: What is ... What are you going to do with that information? Which is, of course, with so much of this data collection stuff, like self-surveillance stuff, never stops and thinks about, is, "What use is this information?" And, if it is of no use, then it's probably just going to freak you out.
Anna: "I have too much bones."
Leila: Too much bones?
Rebecca: Does that ... I mean, I don't know, does that change on a regular basis? What the hell?
Leila: Well, I mean, I guess it does ... When you get older, or if you have already, a bone disease, or something like that, but ... I mean, in that case, you shouldn't be self-diagnosing yourself, you should be seeing a medical professional that specializes in those sorts of things.
Leila: I don't ... I don't understand how this medically gives you information that could be useful other than. I mean ... And I ... I've used these smart-scales before, and the first thing I look at is the weight. That's just ... That's ... That's the number that you care about when you get a scale, is how much you weigh. That is the thing, so you can add all of these bells and whistles to it, and at the end of the day, it's people worrying about what their body looks like, and how much they weigh.
Rebecca: I think ...
Leila: And that ... Go ahead.
Leila: Wow, we're being ... We're being super rude to each other tonight, you guys.
Rebecca: We're just really frustrated. Silicon Valley, not each other.
Leila: We should have known what we were doing. Should have known what we were doing with this episode.
Anna: Yeah, I was just going to say that it's the same thing as interpreting images from instruments. These kind of measurements, they're just numbers that don't mean anything without the whole context, and it's a whole context that, I don't know, like it or not, people go to medical school to learn about, and learn how to interpret this kind of data, and you can collect all numbers you want about yourself, you also have to have ... You have to be able to build a context, and ... Around those numbers for them to be meaningful in any way, and I think, unfortunately, what Leila says, is right about, the number that probably most important is the weight number, and we do have a context that floats around about that number and how to interpret it, and it's super harmful.
Anna: And, that's ... Like you said, at the bottom of all of this is a scale, and we have, in this country, a really bad problem with cultures of weight loss, and it specifically impacts women.
Leila: Yeah, and I think, another thing that bothers me about so much of this pregnancy monitoring technology, is that it moves the goal posts for the people that want to argue personhood for a fetus.
Rebecca: Oh, yeah.
Leila: Because we've seen that happen with the 3D ultrasounds. Every time that there's a new type of tech introduced for pregnancy, specifically, those goal posts get moved even more, and I think that that can be ... It can be dangerous, and I think ... In some cases, it has been helpful in the sense that, once you had at-home pregnancy tests, and so many women saw how often they could get pregnant, and then miscarry, that that opened up a whole new understanding of what it meant, of what miscarriage meant, and what being pregnant could mean.
Leila: So, just ... Women miscarry all of the time, and they don't even know it, and one of the things that helped us figure that out was kind of self-monitoring through home pregnancy tests. In that case, that was somewhat helpful, because it helped us have a different conversation that we need to have, but on the other end of that spectrum, you have people that are trying to take away the rights of women and the rights of mothers, because they want to argue a personhood debate about a fetus, and this type of technology, I think, is just more fodder for their arguments.
Leila: Not to say that it's evidence, that's not what I said, just so we're clear. I did not say it was evidence for their argument, I said it was fodder for their argument.
Rebecca: Yeah. Well, because the argument is so much based on this gut reaction to the idea of what a fetus is, so that's why so much ... You get these conversations, like, "Oh, well they have fingernails at this stage." And all of that. So ... So, so much of it is based around some kind of gut feeling about what a baby looks like, and then how close the fetus is to how the baby looks.
Rebecca: And, the more and more data and visualizations we have that make fetuses more and more baby like, and just our gut reaction when we see it, the more that people are kind of push this emotional idea of personhood based on, yeah, how close they are to baby-ish.
Leila: It's almost like anthropomorphizing, but not, you know what I mean?
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, no. Exactly. Yeah.
Leila: It's a similar type of thing we're imposing on something else.
Rebecca: Yes. Yeah, that's a ... I think that's a really good comparison. Yeah.
Leila: Well, I guess the pregnancy scale is actually a good segue into our talking about Silicon Valley and weight loss, and dieting, which they don't like to call it that, by the way. It's not ...
Rebecca: "Dieting is for ladies."
Anna: [crosstalk 00:30:32]
Leila: Yeah, it's body hacking. So, to me, the ... The ... The products, and services, and devices, and stuff, that come out of Silicon Valley for dieting and weight loss are probably some of the most horrific things I've seen in my life when it comes to technology. We've talked about a couple of these before, like the Soylent, the male replacement that gave people fire shits.
Leila: That 3D body scanner and scale that Anna mentioned, and recently, Amanda Mull wrote a great essay in The Atlantic called The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting, and I'll put that in the show notes, and you definitely need to read that. The companies who push these products don't associate themselves with the diet industry, which has traditionally been a feminized market. So instead, she argues that these new health companies associate weight loss as, quote, "A problem of personal technology, where losing weight is an experience of self-deprivation, but one of optimization. Not unlike increasing a year old iPhones battery life, or building a car that runs without gas."
Leila: So, you can probably guess who those types of products and devices are meant for, they're for men. So, while women are focusing on weight loss, men can focus on hacking their system for optimal performance, and it's the same concept of the diet industry, except you have technology stirred in, and these things are just about as unregulated as the diet industry.
Leila: Mull points out that one of the dangers of this, is that, quote, "If people internalize the idea that changing your body should be as simple and necessary as cleaning up old files on your laptop, than the stakes for those who don't or can't do it easily, become even more severe."
Rebecca: There is a degree to which, obviously, the women focused traditional weight loss industry, many people still buy into that, and it's still terrible, but it's like it's been around long enough, and we've all been interrogating it long enough, that there is some awareness of the problems of it, and so we have things like eating disorders, and we talk about that in relation to weight loss. Not as much as we should, but it's there.
Rebecca: Where, this, in some ways, by ... It's almost like it's avoiding the entire health angle, entirely, and therefore feels like it's falling even further away from an ability to be ... Maybe some people aren't making healthy choices, because it's about optimization, and this ... And technology, and not even about health in the sort of pseudo way that weight loss usually is geared towards now.
Leila: Yeah, and I think that's an important point, is that the diet industry has been so contaminated by, quote on quote, "pseudoscience", that when you have these products coming out and saying ... Having technology bells and whistles, tech language, coming from a tech hub, a lot of them will say, "Backed by science in various ways." Or whatever, is that it lends it more of a veneer of scientific legitimacy than the so-called pseudoscience of the diet industry.
Leila: So, not only have they placed themselves in opposition to the diet industry, as far as gender goes, but also in terms of the way that we talk about them, the framing that we use to give them legitimacy.
Leila: And ... Which can actually be even more damaging to people who buy into this lifestyle, because you're less likely to listen to a doctor, or even a friend or a loved one who cares about you, and does not think that these things are good ideas for you, and then you can say, "But, here it is, proved by science."
Anna: Yeah. So, on the gendered aspect of this, I was thinking about our episode about things men have believed about women's bodies, and the fundamental thing that men have believed about women's bodies, is that they are fundamentally flawed, and they're broken. So, diet culture for women is about battling your sort of damaged, or flawed, or broken body, to sort of shape it into something that's acceptable, whereas bio-hacking and all of this nonsense, is for men, is about fine-tuning the Ferrari that is your god-given dude body, or whatever. It's a really clear dichotomy between, women's bodies are bad, and need to be fixed, and molded and stuff, and men's bodies are perfectly fine and can be improved infinitely into superhuman abilities, if you microdose psilocybin at work, or whatever, and fast a lot, I guess.
Anna: That seems to be, now, the thing we're doing.
Leila: Right, and the way that ... I think we talked about this in one of the other episodes with the fasting, where he was talking about hacking his body, hacking his system, or whatever, and one of the things he was very ... Made a very big point about was that it wasn't to lose weight, it was just that that happened to be a nice side-effect, it was more about fine-tuning his mind, and whatever.
Leila: But, that's ... To me, that's just horse shit, because all of these things come back to, no matter what you're optimizing, whether it's through optimization or deprivation, it comes back down to trying to get people to fit into a normal type of physicality.
Anna: And, I think it's actually even more dangerous for men, because this kind of bio-hacking optimization sort of dialogue that's happening is so different from, and insulated from, even the very sort of basic baby steps we're making into body positivity and stuff for women, but this conversation about men who are fasting not to lose weight, because it's been sort of consciously removed from that discussion, it makes it harder for men to even have ... To receive the kind of ... That kind of dialogue to get out of that system.
Anna: There's just ... It's completely separated from that, so if you are not able to optimize your system, and you are not able to accidentally lose weight the way that these startup founders are, or whatever, you don't have any social infrastructure or safety net where you can kind of begin to interrogate that and think about it structurally the way that we're starting to do that for women.
Anna: But, basically, if you aren't able to optimize your bod, then you failed, and you don't have any way to fight back against that at all. You just failed, and you don't fit in with what is, in this country, a very elite male culture. This is supposed to be like, these are the top of the pyramid, right? Everybody wants to be Jeff Bezos, right? You want to be a billionaire.
Rebecca: No. No.
Anna: I mean, not you.
Anna: But that's the ... That's the new ... God, I'm talking really widely culturally now, that's the new American dream, right? Is be a startup founder, and make a billion dollars, and part of that is a ... In a bodily practice that you're now expected to adhere to, and if you don't get the same benefits that other people seem to be getting from it, it's because you failed, not because you are entangled in some kind of cult-like structural fad that is sweeping through men's minds.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, I think, in the same way that you can't divide women's dieting culture from the history of men thinking terrible things about women's bodies, and thinking women's bodies are inherently broken. You can't divide this kind of technology from a centrally toxic masculinity, and ideas of becoming the ideal man, and if you fail at becoming the ideal man, in various ways, then you are a failure as a human being.
Leila: Right. Let's look at some of these.
Rebecca: Yeah. So ... God, these are so weird. So, one of example of this product is Habit, which is a nutrition food service that focuses on your personal gut microbes, which is all kinds of weird. So, it also involves you testing yourself and giving a lot of data away. They ask you to take a saliva sample and three blood tests performed at intervals while you drink one of their nutrition shakes, and then you give them the data, and they use it to create an individualized food plan.
Rebecca: So ... And there's also a DNA collection part of this, I guess, so this is kind of combining the DNA collection of something like 23andMe, which is supposed to tell you all of your health stuff, and a popular food delivery like HelloFresh, because I guess it comes straight to you.
Anna: This is a horrible startup Voltron of bad ideas.
Rebecca: It is. It's like they put ... They put all of the startups in a blender and said, "Give me the worst version." So, according to this article in Inc, the company goal is to, quote, "Help people unlock the best version of themselves through nutrition, at an intuitive level."
Rebecca: There are various tiered level of this service, because of course there are. The top tier, which is the one that includes the DNA test and the guided weight loss program is a whopping $299.
Leila: So, first of all, Jamie Lee Curtis told me all I had to do was eat yogurt to fix my microbiome.
Anna: Yeah. I mean, have you seen her lately? She looks great, so I'm ...
Leila: Yeah, if that's what she's doing, I want the Jamie Lee Curtis microbiome plan.
Rebecca: She's great.
Leila: And, she didn't ask for my DNA.
Rebecca: I know. Also, yogurt's kind of tasty, and this ... Probably, these food shakes are gross. Not even food, I bet. I bet yogurt is better food.
Leila: So, the shakes ...
Anna: Anything that you have to call food whatever, food shake.
Leila: So, the shakes that they give you when you start the program are supposed ... They're really just high dense calorie shakes, so you do a shake, then you do a blood test, you drink a shake, do a blood test, so then they can try to determine how your ... Your individual body metabolizes that dense caloric food product, and then the food delivery service, at least, from the website, looked like food, actual food.
Anna: Okay. Okay. Fine.
Leila: Not that I'm defending them, just saying, I think that that actually ... It looks like actual food.
Anna: So, I have two questions.
Leila: That's it?
Rebecca: Just the two.
Anna: There is nothing intuitive about this. Someone is writing up this hugely detailed profile, and then sending you food. It's easy, I guess, for you, if you do the service, because you don't have to go grocery shopping or whatever, but intuitive is not the word that ... I don't ... I hate this startup language. What does that even mean? That doesn't mean anything.
Leila: Also, I would like to add, while we're talking about all of these things that are asking for your saliva, and your blood, and I guess your first-born child, maybe. I did read the terms and services on the pregnancy apps, is ...
Rebecca: Do you give up the child?
Leila: Do you actually read the terms and agreements on these? If you ... If you want to use one, if you feel like you must, actually read them on the types of things that are actively collecting your data. The things that the service relies on, your data collection, be sure you know what they're doing with it, because when that stuff with the Golden State Killer came out, and people are like, "Oh, my god. They're using our DNA from these things?"
Leila: And, it's like, it's in the terms and services. It's in there, it wasn't a sneaky thing, it's just we don't read them.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, and be weary of phrases like, anonymized data, because that is increasingly being shown to not be particularly anonymous, and if you think about it for five minutes, the DNA is inherent, and to be fair, I'm not a scientist, I don't know exactly how these things work, but DNA is the least anonymous thing, I feel like, out there.
Anna: The other thing that I think we should probably spend more time talking about is, yes, don't give your personal information to corporations, because that infringes on your personal autonomy. But also, don't give corporations access to ... Even if it is truly anonymized, biomedical data about yourself, because you know what they use that for? To form databases for profiling people.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah.
Anna: That's how facial recognition surveillance systems work, is hundreds, and thousands, and thousands, of pictures that you train the machine learning on, you can do that with all kinds of information. Your DNA, whatever they're taking out of your blood. First of all, there's a lot of stuff in your blood. Why are you mailing your blood to somebody?
Rebecca: Don't mail your blood to people.
Anna: The last time I had three blood tests was because I had a seizure. This is super invasive.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. This is insane, yeah.
Leila: Well, Anna, would you like ... I know you been looking forward to the Juicero all day.
Anna: I just ... I'm really glad you gave me this one, because I ... It gave me a chance to re-watch this awesome video about it, but I just realized ... So, Sara sent us this, and I don't know how to pronounce Sara's last name.
Anna: Okay. Sarah Safavi sent us this about ... She just reminded us in-case we had forgotten, I'll never forget, about the Juicero, which is this ridiculous $400, basically, Keurig for vegetable juice, and you had to order a subscription to the juice, and they'd send you them, and it's basically just a bunched of diced up fruit and vegetables in this plastic packet, and you put it in the machine, and then the machine squoze the packet, and the juice comes out.
Anna: And ... But, the juice packets had DRM, so you could only use Juicero branded ones, because if you put anything else in there, the machine wouldn't turn on, and it had to be connected to WiFi so that, I guess, Juicero could collect data about when you make juice, and what kind of juice you make, and stuff, so they can send you targeted advertisements about their juice.
Anna: I'm assuming ... I'm assuming it wasn't anymore sinister than that, but probably. The thing I love about this one is ... We'll put a link to this video in the show notes, but this engineer got a hold of one of these, and he took it apart. It is incredibly overbuilt. All of the individual components are absolutely the highest quality possible for those individual components.
Anna: Fully vulcanize rubber, and these beautifully made injection molds that are extremely excellent, and it has ... It's really overpowered, because the thing about this is that they ... You can squeeze the juice packets with your hand, you don't ... The machine does not do anything that you can't do yourself, but it can ... The motor inside of it can exert an incredible amount of force, and all the components are really heavy-duty machined from a solid block of aluminum and stuff.
Anna: The video is great, and so we'll post that, but the fact that it was made of such incredibly high quality parts to do something that you can do with your own hands, I'm assuming, is a big reason why the company went under in 16 months.
Anna: And, of course, despite being such a massive failure and the laughing stock of the internet, the Juicero founder, Doug Evans, was still able to secure 120 million dollars in investments from Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Campbell Soup. It's like nobody knows how to fall up quite like someone who designs and incredibly overwrought juicer, and then goes out of business.
Rebecca: Yeah, someone named Doug Evans.
Leila: I watched somebody ... A video of somebody cutting open one of the packets, and it ... I guess it was ... Looked like it was just carrots, just liquidy carrots, and they opened it up, and was just doing ... Squeezing it with their hands, and that was it, and it looked ... Well, it looked disgusting.
Leila: But, for something being so incredibly overbuilt, juicers already existed. Jack LaLanne had been juicing since 1900. I had a Jack LaLanne juicer from the 90s, and it still worked, and I can tell you, I know how that juicer works, and it did not need all of this.
Rebecca: It goes back to the whole Silicon Valley reinventing things, thing, I feel like, where it's like, "Let's make juicing cool again, and also absurd."
Anna: And, I think the ... It wasn't ... If I remember, the way it was advertised and stuff, it wasn't about that they have amazing juices with hard-to-find ingredients, and that they're optimized with supplements or anything, it's literally just a bunch of chopped up fruit in a bag, and that this ... This edifice that would sit in your counter and connect to the internet, and sort of ... I think it has a light in it, sort of pulse at you, menacingly.
Leila: Because you need that when you're making juice.
Anna: Yeah, some kind of status symbol.
Rebecca: It's so absurd that you're like, "It must have been doing something else that we never knew about." Like surveilling us, or it was like an alien technology out of a Doctor Who episode, and it was the way the aliens were going to take over, or something.
Anna: I think it's also ... I think the more mundane answer is funnier, in that they spent an incredible amount of money on the design and manufacture of this useless machine in order to try and sell $8 packages of chopped up vegetables, and for once, the people of the United States said, "No, fuck you. I refuse."
Rebecca: It's true. It's true. There is a line, and this is the line.
Anna: And, I am so proud.
Leila: Haven't been proud since, though?
Anna: No, definitely not. I like this one, because it's just ... It's dumb in an innocuous way, I hope. I hope it's not an alien invasion. If it is, it would be very small. I think 12 people bought this thing.
Rebecca: Because they failed.
Leila: Because only 12 people could afford it.
Leila: It was originally $700, by the way, and then it got bumped down to $400. So ...
Anna: Jesus. If you're going to spend $400, buy that ... Buy a Vitamix or something, like a actual tool that does good stuff.
Rebecca: Yeah, seriously.
Leila: Okay, so this is ... Kind of leads into a little game that I have for you guys to close out our episode.
Leila: So, like Juicero kind reinventing something that didn't need to be reinvented, the juicer, it is now just a punchline that Silicon Valley startups keep reinventing things that already exist, and have existed, and have been used by us gutter plebes for a very long time, public services, things like that.
Leila: So, I have a list of things. I'm going to read off a description of the product, and that ... As being advertised by the Silicon Valley company, and you guys just have to guess what is that they're reinventing. What is it that already exists that they're trying to recreate?
Anna: Okay. Let's take turns, because I feel like I have a Jeopardy buzzer in my head, and I'm going to get really aggressive, and for ... Competing to say the answer first, so ...
Leila: Okay, let's start.
Anna: You go first.
Leila: Just start cussing at Rebecca.
Anna: I'm feeling very worked up about this.
Rebecca: It's very important, very important. Cool.
Leila: Okay, so here's the first one, and some ... Maybe you guys heard of some of these. I tried to pick ones that we hadn't talked about in the Lady Science Slack. So, we'll see.
Leila: Okay, Pause Pod by Fast Company is a, quote, "Portable private popup space, free from stressful moments." It is meant to create a space for relaxation or meditation in the midst of a stressful workspace. In the words of one of the inventors, Adam Mickelson, "I would say, we want to democratize the pause, or take back the pause as an event."
Rebecca: I didn't know the pause needed to be democratized.
Anna: What is the pause? I thought that was menopause.
Leila: Yeah, that's what I thought, but I guess it's not. This has nothing to do with menstruation, if that gives you a clue.
Rebecca: No. I think I know, it's a tent. Is it a tent?
Leila: Yeah, it's a tent.
Rebecca: It's a tent.
Leila: It's a tent, and so the pictures of these things, if you have not Googled them, please Google them. It's just some dude sitting in the middle of his office with a little tent, and he's just laying in it.
Rebecca: I mean, I do kind of love the idea of having a tent in my office that I can go sit in, but I don't need to buy a Pause Pod, I can just got get a tent.
Anna: And, isn't this also sort of reinventing the office, itself? Do you work in an open plan and have to listen to 800 people talking on their phone for eight hours a day, nonstop? You can set up this tent behind your desk.
Rebecca: Oh, my god. It's just a tent!
Leila: Yeah. I can't ...
Rebecca: I'm sorry, I Googled it.
Leila: Oh, are you looking at the picture, Rebecca?
Anna: Hold on, I want to see it.
Rebecca: It's just a guy in a tent.
Leila: So, I can't imagine what my coworkers would say if I just popped that in the middle of the aisle next to my cube. I need everybody who's listening, unless you're driving, to go take a look at this picture of the Pause Pod.
Anna: I like this, how it has the extension for your feet so that you can lay down, even though the tent is too small. So, it just has a little rectangular coffin.
Leila: Yes, for your head.
Rebecca: I think I had ...
Anna: It's standing out for ...
Rebecca: I think I had that in girl scouts. Yeah.
Leila: And, it looks like it's not even tall enough to sit up in. If you just wanted to sit cross-legged in it, I don't think you can do it, I think you have to lay down, unless you're very short.
Leila: Okay so, Anna, your description's very short, because I couldn't give anymore description of this one, because it was very obvious what it was. There was not even really a whole lot of masking it, so ...
Anna: Oh, wow.
Leila: MakeSpace is a, quote, "Cloud storage for physical stuff."
Anna: Are you ... Are you shitting me? Oh, no. Okay, so they're ... It's a storage unit complex, right?
Leila: Yep. Yep, it's a storage locker.
Rebecca: Wait, what do they call it, MakeSpace?
Leila: MakeSpace. So, it's an app, and you take an inventory of all of your stuff that you want to be taken, and you keep it in the cloud, and then someone comes and picks it up, drops it off, and you can keep inventory on your phone, so if you want something out of your storage unit, you can go into your cloud of physical stuff, and someone will come bring it to you.
Leila: But, it's a storage locker. It's just a storage locker.
Anna: Right, and the app thing is, I believe, certain storage companies offer that service anyway, where you say ...
Anna: For extra money, "Come pick up my stuff." Or, a moving company will do that for you, as well, if you pay them money.
Rebecca: Yeah, it's true.
Leila: Okay. So, Rebecca, here's your next one. WeLive, one word, is a co-living network. WeLive rentals are fully-furnished apartments with common areas where inhabitants can socialize, do laundry, and cook meals. WeLive says that it is, quote, "A new way of living, built on community." What are they reinventing?
Rebecca: It's a dorm.
Leila: Yeah, more specifically, roommates.
Rebecca: Oh, yeah. Okay, yeah. Yeah.
Leila: Yeah, they're reinventing, just what it means to live with another person in any space, really. House, dorm, apartment. You have communal spaces, like a living room, a kitchen, with food in it, the food room, if you will.
Rebecca: Foodroom is one word, foodroom has to be one word.
Anna: The foodroom, where all the food shakes are.
Leila: And, this is an option of, I think, WeWork, which is a coworking space, and the WeLive used to be above the coworking space in the same buildings, or whatever.
Anna: Yeah, I remember reading about this when it was ... There was a New York Times, or New Yorker thing about it. I don't remember, but it was ... I think the first one was in San Francisco. They're still really, really expensive, and you just get a really small bedroom, and then you have to deal with eight or 10 other people using the kitchen that you're trying to use at the same time.
Rebecca: Right. I feel like there has been this abundance of different ... Different kinds of, essentially, reinvented SROs, or dorms for grownups that have come up, and of course, the underlying thing of all of that, is that it's impossible to afford housing anywhere, and so we have to create all of these micro-living experiences or whatever, because people can't afford to live in even a normal apartment, or have any kind of normal space in the way that society had previously decided was what we were supposed to do.
Rebecca: And, that's just ... Yeah.
Anna: And I ... I was going to say, also, that until this became such a serious crisis, 21st century crisis for Americans, I guess, or ... I mean, and it always has been for people who don't have money, but now it's people who live in San Francisco, who have money, have to have roommates, and so now we're worried about the housing crisis.
Anna: But, we as Americans, have spent a whole lot of time denigrating people in other countries who live in really high-density situations, like people who live in Tokyo or Hong Kong, that we have shit all over them for being ... Like, "I can't believe they live in such tiny apartments, and that they have to share things with other people. We would never do that in America."
Anna: And now, it's like, "Now, we're reinventing a new way to commune with people." And, we always find some way to insist that, even when we're in crisis, and even when we're doing something that we have previously denigrated other people for, that it is an outgrowth of American ingenuity, and the superiority of our culture, and it makes me crazy.
Leila: Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca: And, denigrated people in this country, too. Often, people who aren't white, or who are poor. I mean, you hear about when parts of ... When places are being rezoned for ... To have an apartment block, and people are like, "We don't want high-density housing here, which means we don't want brown people here."
Rebecca: And ... But, yeah. But, when tech bros who can't afford to live in San Francisco, even though they make a ton of money, decide to have WeLive spaces, then ... Then, that's cool.
Leila: That displace more people and create more homelessness in San Francisco.
Leila: Okay, so this next one ... This is an app-enabled pantry box for office spaces, gyms, dorms, and apartment buildings, that contains snacks and drinks, and even some pharmacy items, like Advil, shampoo, and tampons.
Anna: It's a bodega, motherfucker. What are you doing?
Leila: So, that's the name of the company. They even just named it that.
Rebecca: I know.
Leila: The main thing that it's ... It is replacing, is obviously, the bodega itself, and vending machines.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah.
Leila: And, these things, you can't pay with cash. You have to pay with the app, or something like that, and it ... I know the company came under a lot of heat for naming it Bodega, and they're, I guess, quote on quote, apology letter, was like, "Oh, well we polled Latino communities, and they were fine with it, mostly." 97% were fine.
Rebecca: Yeah, I remember that all. But yeah, even getting ... Setting aside all of the racism involved in the branding of that, yeah. They ... It's a vending machine.
Anna: It's a vending machine you can't use unless you have a smartphone.
Leila: A phone.
Anna: So, if you're poor, you're just ... You're as well, and anyway, it would be in the lobby of a gym you can't afford, or an apartment building you could never afford to live in anyway, so ...
Leila: Yeah, it's just another way to keep the poors out by putting their dirty, filthy change, into the vending machine slot, I guess.
Anna: And also, so that you, who are not a poor, don't have to encounter any poors who might be in the bodega. It's just another way to make sure that all of your white people spaces are safe from the poors, and they can't ... If you need deodorant, you shouldn't have to see somebody who makes less money than you out in public.
Leila: Well, because only poor people have to use deodorant. Everyone else doesn't sweat or poop.
Anna: But, if we did, I don't want any poors see me buying the deodorant, I guess.
Rebecca: Well, wait. We have to ... The poors can't know that the non-poors need deodorant.
Leila: Are just like them?
Leila: That have gross bodies just like the rest of us?
Leila: Sorry, I was trying to make a joke about my sweating problem, and I ...
Anna: You just choked on it.
Leila: Anyway, I have a sweating problem, joke speaks for itself. Okay, Rebecca, I just have two more left. So, Cooperative Capital is a startup that allows people to pull small amounts of money, vote on how they want to invest it to improve their neighborhoods, and then generate returns. What are they reinventing?
Rebecca: Taxes. The government.
Leila: I think this ... I think this one's my favorite, I think because this is just like ... Just peak capitalism.
Rebecca: Yep, this is like peak, late stage, capitalism, hell-scape, that we all live in. Oh, my god.
Leila: I mean, this is just ... There's not anything else to explain about this. This is taxes, this is what taxes are.
Anna: Yes, this is what your municipal government does. They're already there, you can just go tell ... You can go vote, already, place, and tell them what to do.
Leila: All right, last one. So, Michael Nielsen, a research fellow at YCombinator research, which I don't know what that is, found a way to hack the brain, which is a method of breaking down new fields of information into bits of information, and then arranging these facts and concepts into a hierarchy of knowledge to commit to memory, and then putting them onto slides.
Anna: These are flash cards, or otherwise note cards, correct?
Leila: Yeah, flash cards. Yep. This one made me feel a little crazy. It made me feel a bit hysterical.
Leila: This is how I learned how to read. This is how I learned math, was through flash cards. I ended up ... I created my own flash cards throughout my entire education. I ... Even the digital aspect of this, putting them online, and being able to click through your flash cards ...
Anna: Has already been done.
Leila: Right, we have these ... A version of that in my elementary school when I was learning how to type.
Anna: This is ... This kind of goes back to what we were talking about with Joy, about how these learning applications for computing are as old as computing itself. Are you seriously trying to say, "I've hacked the brain."
Anna: Oh, man. Come on, [inaudible 01:06:16] made his students do flash cards. Come on. What ... This whole podcast has made me feel very upset.
Leila: I'm ... I'm so sorry.
Anna: Come on, man.
Leila: I didn't even get to ... To all the ones about growing your own human cells, sperm counting, vampirism ...
Anna: We should mention that you ... What you were attempting to do in the first place, was make up scary sounding, fake startups, and then you found out that the scary sounding things you made up were already happening.
Leila: Yeah. I got scared, and I stopped. Does anyone have anything else they want to say before we close?
Anna: Down with capitalism. Fully automated luxury gay space communism now, and forever.
Leila: Well, if you go within a WeSpace, or a MeSpace, what is that called?
Anna: That's ... That's not what I want.
Rebecca: A pod space? A pause ... Pause space?
Leila: Oh, WeLive, sorry. WeLive.
Anna: Now we're just mashing everything together. Pod live in the food space.
Rebecca: I do feel like if you lived in a wee little apartment, you would really, really need a pause space.
Leila: Yeah, like Anna said, create just a huge Voltron of startup ideas.
Anna: I am assuming that's what it's like to live in San Francisco right now.
Leila: Is to live in a Voltron of startup ideas?
Anna: Yeah, you live above a WeWork in your WeSpace, and you have your Pause Pod, and then you go into the shared kitchen, and you turn on the Juicero, and you make yourself a food shake, and you pack your soylent to take to work, which is downstairs, and then you get some deodorant from the lobby, from the bodega in the lobby, and then you write a Google ... You take a Lyft line to dinner instead of the bus.
Leila: Okay. Well, we'll go ahead and wrap up. If you liked our episode today, which, you know? Maybe hit or miss with this one. Please post a rating and a review on Apple Podcast so that new listeners can find us. If you have questions about the segments today, you can tweet us at @LadyxScience, or #LadySciPod.
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