High-tech has always had its Grand Dames. In the 1970s and 80s, the grandest of them all was Esther Dyson. Esther is the daughter of renowned theoretical physicist Freeman, who’s most famous for building (virtually) the Dyson sphere, a construct designed to englobe a sun and suck all the energy from it, thus powering a civilization even capable of counting the votes in a national election in a single day. The Dyson sphere lives in on the imagination of exobiologists, who feverishly scan the skies using the Hubble, Kepler, and Webb telescopes for the signs of working Dyson sphere powering distant civilizations who may with to reach out to us.(Less well-known is the Dorsey Sphere, which consists of using advanced social media technology to repel revenue from your company’s bottom line. The first use of this dark technology took place on Earth in 2019, when Twitter announced it was banning political advertising on the platform just as demand was peaking, leading to the creation of a Musk Singularity, which dragged the jobs of 80% of Twitter’s into oblivion.
In addition to his spheres, Dyson also bestowed on high technology his daughter Esther, who as she grew to maturity became one of high-tech’s most important and powerful prognosticators. Harvard educated, she went to work for Forbes as a fact checker after graduation, then a series of investment firms and companies whose research and business focused on seminal software and hardware startups. Next, she bought out her boss’ firm, Rosen Research, renamed it Edventure, and relaunched its newsletter as Release 1.0, and began producing much of its key editorial content. Release 1.0 soon became de rigeur reading for high level technology CEOS and your company appearing in its pages was a PR coup. The reason for its popularity was its up-do-date of relevant industry news, accurate reporting, and even-handed business analysis.
Throughout the 80 and 90s, Esther became tech’s media Girl Boss, and could be seen at all the best conferences and appearing on all the best panels alongside Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jim Manzi, Dan Fylstra, John Warnock, Philipe Kahn, and other early luminaries from the Dawn of Tech. Then she began to host the best panels and later into the 80s, her own events and conferences. By the 2000s, she’d moved into the rarified world of VC’s and tech investing. Today, she’s dialed back her public profile to a degree but she remains a respected and notable tech luminary, having worked actively in such prestigious organizations as ICANN, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wellville (a health care initiative), as well as serving as an officer and information resource for many startups.
Dyson has always been close mouthed about her political beliefs, a characteristic many CEOs and journalists shared in the 80, 90s, and through to the early aughts. In that era, high-tech regarded itself as above the grubby world of politicians and politics. You went to work in the industry to learn what a computer was, how to write and/or sell software, then figure out what the heck internet, html, and browsers were, was, and finally get rich by investing in a startup. She’s always been interested in Soviet/Russian high-tech and computing, but after 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union (one of the primary reasons being the USSR’s inability to compete with the West in chips), her focus shifted from the Kremlin to some of the liberated polities (such as the Baltic states) who were steadily crawling out from under Moscow’s tanks and corrosive corruption. I’ve always assumed she was a Democrat, but she’s never made a fuss about it publicly. And who knows? Maybe she’s a closeted Republican. I don’t care enough to dig into the matter.
One thing I did care about was Esther’s accuracy and adherence to the truth. I didn’t always agree with her opinions, but I did trust her grasp of the facts and accuracy. These are important when you to make decisions about what type of technology to invest in and how much. But time moves on and over the last ten years, Esther has gradually relinquished her throne to Kara Swisher, currently high-tech’s new grandest dame.
Swisher’s career mirrors Dysons’ closely, though with the expected deviations and twists off a familiar path. She graduated from Georgetown and received an MS in journalism degree from Columbia’s School of Journalism back when people took these degrees seriously. In 1997 she scored a slot at The Wall Street Journal and soon hooked up with Walt Mossberg, then high-tech’s uber scribbling guru.
From there she launched her own event, All Things Digital which enabled her to hang with the usual bevy of luminaries. She also had time to write a couple of forgettable books (my favorite is How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads and Made Millions in the War for the Web, which is stored in my virtual card catalog under the category of tomes that completely got it wrong because Steve Case did not beat Bill Gates, nail the netheads, and managed to lose a lot of money after the AOL/Time Warner merger.
By 2014, Swisher was generating headlines such as “Kara Swisher Is Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist. How Does That Work? (The answer to this question is “it doesn’t.” Kara Swisher is either feared or liked; you can’t do both in high-tech. Ask Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and the latest member of the Sons of Belzebub Brigade, Elon Musk.)
One area in which Swisher deviates sharply from Dyson is politics. She’s hard left and makes no bones about it. Another is her sexual preferences. While Dyson is completely silent on the topic (she has never married and is childless), Swisher is a lesbian and makes sure everyone knows it. One of her self-bestowed nicknames is “Sherlock Homo.” She has two adopted sons.
I’d never followed Swisher very carefully, but that changed briefly in 2018 when I was researching the “Social Ministries” chapter of “In Search of Stupidity: Over 40 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters.” I was focusing on Google’s extensive regimen of demonetization, deplatforming, and censorship, an operation that makes Twitter’s former operation seem small. During the course of the project, I came across an interview of Swisher by YouTube president Susan Wojcicki on Recode. During the interview, Swisher kvetched that after her son had listened to Ben Shapiro, a very popular conservative writer, commentator, budding online media mogul (The Daily Wire) and an Orthodox Jew who wears a kapok (yarmulke) is despised by Nazis and the alt-right, her impressionable little tyke had headed right over to some site or another to enjoy some bracing “Neo Nazi stuff.” When Wojcicki asked sympathetically if Swisher wanted to see Shapiro banned, she replied “I would, but I can’t.”
I listened to this interview with some disgust. As a kid, I grew up across the street from an Orthodox Jewish temple in The Bronx and if there is one thing I know, it’s that Ben Shapiro is no Nazi gateway drug. I listen to his show from time to time and he often finds a reason to slip in some rabbinical advice and commentary, if you’re into that sort of thing. You are more likely to see David Duke bar mitsvahed than Nazis watching and reading Ben Shapiro. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League listed him as one of the most popular targets for anti-Semitic tweets and postings.
I tested her claim and tried to drill down quickly to Mein Kampf via the top five Ben Shapiro links. I then attempted to reach Hell via a few other links but had no success. I decided that Kara Swisher was an unreliable source of news and opinion and didn’t think further about her.
That changed after the exciting debate for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania on October 25, 2002, which featured a verbal shootout between Dr. Mehmet Oz, heart surgeon, talk show host, and quack health remedies pitchman and John Fetterman, former failed mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, professional slacker, Frankenstein Monster impersonator, and recent stroke victim (which helped give the Frankenstein impersonation credibility).
Fetterman’s stroke was serious and almost killed him. His political operatives of course lied about the severity of his condition and with the assistance of the press, succeeded in hiding how badly he’d been damaged. But by early October, word was leaking out that Fetterman’s language skills were seriously impaired and he could no longer hide in his campaign basement a la Joe Biden. He did permit a brief interview with NBC reporter Dasha Burns, who used a closed caption hearing system that translated her spoken enquiries onto a screen. She reported that talking to Fetterman was “difficult” because it wasn’t clear he understood what he was hearing. It wasn’t that he didn’t hear; it was that his brain was unable to transcribe what he’s listening to into that inner voice we all use to understand language and word meanings.
Big media immediately jumped on Burns like a pack of hounds baying after an exhausted fox. NBC journalist Girl Boss Savannah Guthrie pointedly noted that other journalists thought Fetterman sounded just fine to them. Prominent among them was Kara Swisher, who accompanied her criticism of Burns with a heaping dose of snark:
“Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk.”
Such was Swisher’s influence that Yahoo!News posted a lead headline claiming that “Kara Swisher shuts down ‘nonsense’ claims that John Fetterman couldn’t follow conversation.”
Then the day of the debate dawned and it became clear that Swisher, in addition to every other mainstream reporter covering the story, with the exception of Dasha Burns, had been lying through their teeth about Fetterman’s verbal dexterity. Despite being given extra time, and again a closed caption system to reply to his interlocutors, Fetterman stumbled constantly during the debate, descending regularly into word salad.
He started off the event by wishing everyone “Hi, good night,” and it was all downhill from there. He mixed up words and sentences, had trouble putting together coherent sentences, and descended into gibberish on several occasions, such as when he was asked when asked his position on fracking (he had previously unequivocally opposed it):
“I do support fracking. And I don’t, I don’t. I support fracking, and I stand and I do support fracking,”
You can listen to the entire debate here. A neutral listener will find it a painful experience, and by the end of the session, you feel sorry for Fetterman (though not that sorry as he refused to release his medical records and that tells you a lot about his physical prognosis.) Clearly, he is not currently capable of functioning as a U.S. Senator, a job that requires constant communications (which didn’t stop him from winning the election narrowly). What the future holds for him in terms of recovery is very unclear. The main predictor of how far you can recover from a stroke’s effects is how quickly you bounce back from the initial deficits acquired. In Fetterman’s case, months after the attack, his auditory system remains badly damaged. He was mute while being sworn into the Senate by Vice President Harris and it was very notable that it was his wife, not himself, who stood next to the VP during the ceremony. His recovery will be slow and require extensive time and work to achieve and Fetterman starts well behind the curve because he didn’t immediately began intensive therapy after he was stricken. He may never come back completely. Since the debate, he has avoided all public appearances to the extent possible for a sitting U.S. senator and never speaks to the press on an ad hoc basis. The senator recently checked into a mental health facility for depression and is not currently working at his senatorial duties. (Yes, it has been reported that he’s participating in work on some bills. These reports come for the same people who told us his ability to hear and speak was just fine.)
The record shows that only Dasha Burns had had the courage to report on what she saw and her reward was to watch piles of faggots being heaped around her career before the debate (they were quietly removed afterwards, though no one apologized) and Kara Swisher never bothered to publicly withdraw her insights into Burns’ ear for social badinage
Following up this coup, moving on from her political beat a few weeks ago, Swisher told us all that the Twitter files were a big yawnie because she didn’t know “what was in them,” how the information was obtained, and didn’t understand why the files were released in Twitter format!!!??? (Perhaps she’d have preferred WordPerfect?)
I found this odd because I’d just read an online Bari Weiss column in which she’d told us she’d been invited, with other journalists, to come to Twitter headquarters, sit down in a room that had access to Twitter’s servers, and use a search engine to dig through the system archives. No restrictions on what they could ask. By contrast, Swisher sounded like Woodward and Bernstein complaining that Deep Throat was Richard Nixon, had told them to follow the money, and gave them copies of the cancelled checks. I also didn’t read that Kara had contacted Elon Musk and insisted she be included in the cabal digging through the revealed files. Maybe her sharp eyes would have found things in them the others missed.
But this is what happens in the modern era of tech writing and the media, with ideology mixing with politics to create Impossible Nazis and Miraculous Stroke Cures. Since the 2016 presidential election, high-technology has embarked on a quest to superimpose a form of augmented reality over the real thing. No, social media companies do not censor Republican, Libertarians, and conservatives. Men can become pregnant. JK Rowling is a “TERF.” And don’t tell me Patrick Fetterman can’t speak perfectly well because I’m the Red Queen and I can reassemble Humpty Dumpty anytime I want.
I miss Esther. As for Kara Swisher, the best I can say is beware the Jabberwok my son and never trust the frumious Bandersnatch.