Very Fine Day #38: Shoshana Wodinsky

"When you have enough people deferring responsibility, and enough people just not caring, of course you’re going to get insane shit".

VERY FINE DAY features weekly interviews with writers, creators, reporters, and internet explorersLearn more about the people who keep the internet humming – and check out previous editions here. Follow us on Instagram and Twitteror just follow BradSubscribe now and never miss an edition.

“Once you start to realise that there’s a person on the other end you suddenly realise: Oh! I’m exploiting them! And not just in the fancy economic terms. You’re literally exploiting them for profit.”


What do you think it takes to get into neuroscience? Something, right? You gotta be smart. SHOSHANA WODINSKY is our guest on VERY FINE DAY today. I’m gonna say that she writes about how companies do ethically shady shit to sell you stuff. One day, they’re gonna make the 2065 version of “Madmen”, looking back at the ad industry during the early 21st century, and Shoshana will be able to act as an expert script supervisor. It’ll have all the same notes of loneliness and misogyny and years-gone-by “I can’t believe it used to be that way”, but this time the main characters will be a bunch of tech marketing dudes in Patagonia fleece (no shade, I’ve got one), standing hand-in-hand with a school of engineers who consistently abdicate responsibility for what the technology they’re building does.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke.

I’d like to target an individual based on their online profile datapoints to eventually convince them to buy a coke.

I’m rambling.

Shoshana was gearing up to be a neuroscientist. As she puts it, her training seemed to involved cutting the heads off of a lot of rats. Hell of a job if you can get it.

This was a great conversation and a long conversation. Every time I talk to someone about the way the internet works - and how it uses people as the oil in the machine - it’s always fascinating to me that no matter where they sit on the “is it right, is it wrong” debate they’re still always talking openly and honestly.

They might believe it’s just the miracle of technology, the beautiful evolution of the internet and our symbiotic relationship with it. They’ll happily tell you how it’s turning people into datasets and surveilling them 24/7. Or they might think it’s the antithesis of ethical. Just some horrible evolution of greed. And they’ll (also) tell you how it’s turning people into datasets and surveilling them 24/7. What a mess.

I hope you’re well. I hope you’re getting by. The world’s opening up. Be careful out there. Try browsing in incognito. It doesn’t really mean anything — but it might make you feel better. That’s probably the best way to deal with all of this.


INTERVIEW BEGINS

Shoshana Wodinsky: I need to admit that I only read maybe half of one of these interviews. I mean, I've read your stuff before, but I was trying to see what kind of question you would ask and I'm like: Oh, no, there’s no set list of questions.

VFD: Yeah, look, it's pretty freeform.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Wait, what are you looking at?

VFD: I hurt my neck, probably looking at the computer. Looking at the screen. It was almost certainly nothing that I needed to be looking at.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I’m sure it was Twitter.

VFD: Yeah, probably Twitter or some kind of forum. Reddit.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Which subreddits?

VFD: Oh, nothing fun. Just sport stuff.

Shoshana Wodinsky: You strike me as a football guy.

VFD: Yeah, like soccer.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It feels weird hearing someone say “soccer” with that accent.

VFD: Hahah, totally. But yeah: I spoke to a physiotherapist and was like: Hey, my neck hurts. And she’s like: OK, cool. What you need to do is not look at a computer. And I’m like.. Uhhhhhhh..

Shoshana Wodinsky: You just say “great” and then never follow that advice.

VFD: Well, y’know. It’s kind of my job.

Shoshana Wodinsky: What do you do when you’re not writing a newsletter?

VFD: I’m heading up VICE here in Australia.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh yeah! I saw your thing.

VFD: But let’s not focus on that. I feel like if we go into that too much the people reading will be like: this isn’t fun, guys. Every week he’s just talking about his fucking job. Get over it.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Well congrats. It sounds like a great job.

VFD: It’s fun.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I didn’t think I’d hear digital media as ever seeming fun.

VFD: Y’know, it’s because I’ve had that break. I was so positive about media for five or six years and then I went through my first redundancy. A media tradition.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Hell yeah.

VFD: Big moment. Bought a car with the money.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Was it a piece of shit car or was it actually a really nice car?

VFD: I’d say it was between those two. It gets me around and I’m not embarrassed to be in it. But after that I went to work for a tech company and learn about marketing and business.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh, baby.

VFD: It was a good job. And I was aware of the fact that I needed to learn about the other side of how things work,

Shoshana Wodinsky: Well, I have good news for you – I know jack shit about most of this stuff. It’s just real “I’m not a doctor, I just play one on TV.”

VFD: I think being in that world made me realise I actually appreciate the other side of it all a bit more. The contempt that I used to have for the news cycle as something that made you work 24 hours a day – something that was just constant - shifted towards realising that it’s nice that there’s a new thing every day.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Especially during the pandemic and that Summer when everyone was leaving journalism. It seemed like there were a tonne of high profile women, especially, that were leaving the field. And I was looking at that and I’m just like: Why the fuck am I still here? Because the daily news cycle is exhausting. Especially if you’re a perfectionist like I am, where you just have to be on top of everything all the time.

There’s only so far that I can go before it just peters out. But I do like your way of framing it because, I mean…

You’re never bored! Unfortunately. Sometimes I would rather be.

VFD: For sure. Look, talk to me in two years and then see how I feel.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It’s insane how fast the burnout happens! I’ve only been a journalist for less than three years. And I’m already just like: I can’t keep doing this…

VFD: Wait, what did you do before you were a journalist?

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh gosh, I worked in neuroscience.

VFD: Neuroscience!

Shoshana Wodinsky: Well, no. I mean, don’t tell anyone I used to be a goddamn genius. No, no, no.

I basically went to the City University of New York school. So I’m not smart by any stretch.

I’ll tell you how to get a neuroscience degree: you read textbooks for five years, you put rats in a bunch of boxes, and if you’re like me you get tasked with being the rat executioner where you literally have a rat-sized guillotine.

VFD: What…

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah, laboratory guillotines are a thing. And it was my job to man them and every day or so I would just go in with the rats and saw their heads off. Where we did the executions, it was this really small and cramped room. And you have a fume hood because there’s lots of formaldehyde and all that shit in there.

VFD: You're just there with the bucket of heads.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yep. There’s Shoshana with her heads again… No. I wish.

VFD: You don’t need any room to cut a rat’s head off. Even I know that.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Well, I was cutting them off and scooping up the brain and there’s a whole preparation to it. It’s really boring - I’m not going to get into it here. But the point is that I’m cramped in this fucking room with a dead rat in one hand and behind me there’s this massive vat. I’m a very short person – I’m 5'3 - and that thing was at least 5’5. And it was just full of rat blood and viscera and that’s where you dumped everything when you were done.

I still think about that in my worst dreams. That weird tank just full of gore.

VFD: Oh, and you got over that?

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah, I did. And then I was like: y’know what, maybe journalism is less traumatising. I was wrong. It’s a different kind of traumatic.

So when I was about three quarters of the way through my neuroscience degree and I was like: this is bullshit. I’m standing in a windowless room full of gore for my entire undergraduate career and nobody’s ever going to see any of this. And because I, like a lot of journalists, am an egotistical monster…

VFD: Yeah, it feels good.

Shoshana Wodinsky: And in academia you’re always just like: OK, I’ll write a paper, I’ll get a noticed, it’ll be great. But I was an undergraduate and that was never going to happen.

So anyway, my brain is like: clearly I’m a genius. I have all of these great ideas. I need the world to know them, somehow. So I started looking into potential jobs. And you can go into science, become a Public Information Officer, or you could work for a medical journal or something like that. There’s a few programmes for science reporting, specifically, and because I’m based in New York and media elites are a thing I was just like: If I want a job I can’t move. So I applied to a few places here, go into NYU…

VFD: Ooh la la,

Shoshana Wodinsky: I know. It’s nothing. Whatever. Look at me.

But I finished up in late 2019, and even though it was a science programme I really wanted to write about tech because – though I am an egotistical monster - I’m also blessed with a decent business sense with I think informs a lot of my writing now.

And I’m looking at the landscape and people are just being laid off left and right, which is what always happens, but I noticed that tech reporters for some strange reason were laid off less frequently than folks on the science beat. And I was just like: OK, I could take my chances writing about rat heads - which is great, there’s a tonne of reporting going on there. People like Ed Yong.

But clearly it was going to be more of an uphill battle. So I took the easy way out and was like: I’m going to write about tech stuff instead. Because there’s always going to be a need for that.

VFD: Yeah.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Obviously, once I got into the field, I realised tech reporters are laid off just as frequently as everybody. I was just seeing things through rose coloured glasses. And then, after about two months, the folks at Adweek reached out and they’re like: Hey, we have this role and we think you’ll be perfect for it.

So I started out at the trades. And I was specifically asked to cover advertising technology, or “adtech” as we call it. And it’s incredible. It’s literally the bleeding heart at the centre of the internet’s economy and it’s very, very complicated. And really, it’s dominated by men. That’s the only way to say it.

I was fresh-faced out of Journalism School - a lady coming to report on the trades - and they’re just like: Hey, we’re gonna throw you on this because we think you can handle it. And I was just like: hey, you have a lot of faith in me. I don’t know if it’s warranted, but I’ll try. And I tried very, very hard. I would stay in the office until 10pm reading stuff, and I was not being paid well enough to do that. Which is why I wouldn’t recommend that.

But it’s also because I’m a perfectionist and I’m also very obsessive about stuff. And the way this adtech stuff works… it’s like a rhizome. You have these many, many connections and different companies all working together in different ways. It’s computers talking to computers, making the economy happen. That’s how I describe my beat.

And I was so used to seeing things from a science point of view. If you’ve ever read a scientific paper, there’s a number of steps, things to follow, and you can clearly see where things are going from beginning to end. So when I started researching this stuff I was like: OK, I’m clearly seeing people pouring billions and billions of dollars in one end… but where are they going? That was my job. I was supposed to research the technology that decides where the money goes. But what I realised is that nobody knows where the money is! And, in fact, there’s way more money than I ever could imagine. Enough money to cover several shuttered newsrooms! And I was covering this for people that already know this stuff, and often they would just blatantly lie to my face about how awful it is.

VFD: Being like: Oh, no: this is what people want.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah. And lying might not be the right word. It’s diluting it. There’s this great Harvard Business Review article - because of course I read HBR - about how advertising is designed to make people unhappy. Which I think is true. It’s supposed to remind people that they are incomplete the way they are, and here’s what you can buy to make yourself feel more complete as a human.

VFD: Yeah, it’s very nice.

Shoshana Wodinsky: But if you see people like “Madmen”s Don Draper, in the 1940s, you definitely get that vibe, right? They are deeply empty shells of people. Because you need to know how to manipulate people, you need to know how to make them feel like they’re not worth enough.

So adtech, by extension, you are deciding how advertisers are supposed to make people feel like they are worthless. Adtech is the technology that decides how worth gets distributed. That’s the broad philosophical overview and the idea I have come around on.

VFD: I think that’s pretty right.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It’s really more philosophical and profound than people would like. Because they like to see their jobs as making beeps and boops that decide where the money goes, and they’re just making software that connects to more software, and it’s not their job to decide whose money is good or bad, or who gets it in the end. That’s somebody else’s job.

It’s a job that’s predicated by staying in your lane and kicking the can down the road to somebody else. And when you have enough people deferring responsibility, and enough people just not caring, of course you’re going to get insane shit. Like, you have companies that won’t fund LGBT news outlets but will fund white neo-nazi news outlets – not because they know that’s happening, but because that’s what the tech told them to do. And when you call them out on it they’re just like: Oh, no, I had no idea! And it’s like: why didn’t you have an idea?

VFD: I like how we both just reflexively rolled our eyes.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Absolutely. And obviously, at Adweek, I was covering this for a really hardcore audience. Very technical, big fancy business words.

VFD: A lot of “synergy” and “multi-platform stacks.”

Shoshana Wodinsky: There’s so many stacks. And I don’t blame people for using phrases like that because it’s just how the people that built these systems talk. They’re nerds - and nerds use nerd words. And then business people just learn from them.

VFD: I remember at my old job people kept saying MVP to me.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Like “Most Valuable Player”?

VFD: Thank you! That’s what outsiders would think, yes. And I was just sitting there like: why are we talking about creating a Most Valuable Player? And it actually means Most Viable Product or something like that.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah, I can’t stop thinking about Most Valuable Player. Like “Air Bud”. You’re pranking me, right?

VFD: I was completely out of that loop. Honestly, for a couple of months I just assumed we were making the Most Valuable Player. But anyway, we can’t go through all of that for this whole thing.

Shoshana Wodinsky: But that’s totally what I’m talking about, right? These people use fancy business words to talk about these products because that’s just the norm. That has evolved over time. But what I was realising towards the end of my tenure at Adweek - and this was happening in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, which was arguably the moment that brought all of this weird business stuff into the public forefront - but people were like: shit, this looks terrifying. We need to regulate it.

And I was watching them try and it’s just like: either lawmakers are really dumb or we’re just doing a terrible job of explaining how this shit works to people who aren’t in the industry.

It turns out that both are true.

VFD: Yeah, exactly.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It took me a while to figure out that first one. I was very sorely disappointed. I’ve never been a politics person. I hate to say it, but I used to be the person where I wouldn’t read the news because it was “too polarising.” And now it’s my job to report on how the news makes money. So I’m just like: Ah, heres why it’s polarising.

VFD: The internet is a series of tubes…

Shoshana Wodinsky: And I know you didn’t ask for a succinct description of how I got here, but that’s it.

VFD: No, that was good. Really.

How do you enjoy being online now? Like, how do you use literally any platform, from Facebook, to buying something on Uber Eats, to dating apps?

I’m just thinking about everything that would be a complete nightmare if I knew what you knew.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I mean, everybody knows this to a certain degree. We all know that everyone is taking data on us. It’s the deal with the devil that we sign. I just happen to know more about that deal than some other people.

This is what I’ve heard from a lot of other reporters in the privacy space: You really just get overwhelmed by the amount of information that’s in front of you, which happens to everyone online. But you can’t let fear dictate your life, so you just end up using things like everyone else and just knowing in the back of your head that things might be terrible.

But also, and maybe this is a question that I’ll pose to you because a I’ve had a lot of people ask me “how do I stop tracking in this app,” but really: What are you afraid of? Because everybody’s threat model is different, and everybody’s sensitivity is going to be different. It really depends on what you’re worried about.

Some people are worried about their data falling into the hands of cops. And that’s a totally legitimate fear. Some people are worried about their ex stalking them – that’s also very legitimate. Some people just feel a bit icky when their pharmacy is giving out their personal purchases. That feels weird! All of that stuff makes me feel very, very yucky. But I know that we live in a society that’s ruled by capitalism and there’s only so much control that people can have without overthrowing literally everything.

So, not to be a Debbie Downer, but I’ve decided I’ll just enjoy things while I’m here. I’ll get a Google Home. Why not?

VFD: Yeah, I’m comfortable with that. Who gives a fuck. Let’s just turn it all on and if we’re loud enough, and if I do enough, then I’m hoping that it’s just a wave of my personal information and the machines can’t handle it. Just sitting there like: THIS IS TOO MUCH INFORMATION ABOUT BRAD.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Well, some people use this service that fills your machines with junk data to overwhelm them with data that’s not related to you in any way. And sure, that’s great. but it seems like a lot of work. And again: I am so very lazy.

Back when I was at the trades I was this fresh-faced, young, short little chick. And I still got a lock of flack from people in this field because they think that – and a lot of women in tech journalism face abuse and harassment - but in my case that kind of manifests with people saying: oh, clearly you feel very emotionally about all of these issues we’re talking about.

VFD: Yeah, like: You’re talking emotionally!

Shoshana Wodinsky: The best thing was always hearing: You sound like you’re very eloquent but you clearly care a lot. And that’s because I’m using words like “value” and “hope” and “personhood” to describe pieces of fucking marketing software. And they’re just like: clearly you have a lot of emotions, but I feel like that’s clouding your judgement. We can’t take your words rationally. Even though I clearly did the work and I have the code on paper and they’re just like: no, you’re being too emotional about all of this.

VFD: How long did it take you to realise people were talking to you like that?

Shoshana Wodinsky: It took me a while. I joined Gizmodo at the start of 2020 and I think the plan was that I was going to write a lot about political ads. But I find political ads boring for various reasons. Not in content, but just the way that they’re served up.

So instead I was just like: Screw it. I’m just gonna cover privacy. That’s gonna be my thing. It’s gonna be great.

It was not great.

It was a lot of late nights - and I wasn’t getting this at AdWeek as much and obviously I knew that there were men on every panel - but when I would moderate a tech panel it would be men. 99% of the time it was just a sea of white guys, and they’re the sources to my stories, which would also be about men 99% of the time. And when I got to a consumer publication I was writing about these really hardcore technical topics and I would notice that when my pieces would be shared on Reddit or Hacker News people would be saying: oh, this language is so flowery. And I took that seriously. I took that to heart. I’m just like: What does that even mean? Am I doing something wrong?

So I went to a friend of mine and she was like: What? No! They’re just saying that you’re a woman. And thankfully that’s the minority and because of my aggressively centrist views I’m actually pretty well regarded. As far as lady tech journalists go. Venture Capital circles hate me because they hate everyone.

VFD: Yeah,

Shoshana Wodinsky: But people in tech… it’s almost like there’s some sort of deeper issue there that I’m not equipped to speak about. It just gives me the willies. But what I can say is that when I know people are going to harass me I’m not going to go and seek those people out.

VFD: I don’t blame you.

Shoshana Wodinsky: But in tech circles - among engineers and product people - I usually fit in pretty well because from what I’ve been told, I’ll use emotional language like “feelings” and emotional phrases like “consumers feel this way” or “people don’t like this.”

VFD: Wow, the level of emotion!

Shoshana Wodinsky: I remember a hacker friend of mine asked me to give a talk at some sort of consortium. They asked me to talk about - among other things - why consumers care about privacy. And as an example, I mentioned this piece that I did: I use this app to manage my prescriptions…

VFD: Right,

Shoshana Wodinsky: It was called GoodRX. Maybe you’ve heard of it, they’re a great app, they’ve done a lot of good. But here in the United States, where health insurance is very hard to get if you’re not employed, I first downloaded the app in grad school when I fell off of my parent’s insurance. So that’s why I had it on my phone. And their whole pitch is: If you don’t have insurance we can give you coupons for the drugs at your local pharmacy. So download a coupon, show it to your pharmacy, and it’s all free. It’s the only way I was able to afford my brain meds for most of my grad school career.

And just out of curiosity one day at my brand new fancy job at Gizmodo I was just like: Clearly, this app is taking a tonne of data. Because it knows my prescriptions. And I wanted to see where my prescriptions were going. It’s a chain of command and you can see where the data flows if you know the right kind of tools to use.

So I did my magic and I found that some of my prescriptions were being shared with this advertising intermediary for unknown purpose. I was seeing, literally, the names of my prescription - which included several controlled substances - being shared with a marketing provider. And then I read the privacy policy and it said “oh, we’ll share with third parties”. And I said: Third parties? What the fuck does that mean? That doesn’t tell consumers anything.

So I was at this conference telling them about this entire journey where I was getting ads for pharmacy stuff and trying to figure out where they could be coming from. And I narrowed it down to this app. And I told them: if this stuff was in the privacy policy - the terms of service - I would feel so much more comfortable as a consumer because “third parties” means jack shit. And some guy literally started yelling at me - he is not the first person to yell at me about this stuff - but he was just like: No! Consumers know what they’re getting into! They understand the terms of agreement! When you download the app you’re consenting! Blah, blah, blah…

And I basically said to him: Hey, I’m a consumer. I downloaded this app before I got into journalism. I’m telling you, right here, right now, that I didn’t understand that.

I just have these conversations all the time where these people are so used to not seeing end users as human with wants and needs. And they don’t have the ability to comprehend that. I think they’ve just boiled us down to inputs in some larger marketing machine so they can get paid. Right? Because once you start to realise that there’s a person on the other end you suddenly realise: Oh! I’m exploiting them! And not just in the fancy economic terms. You’re literally exploiting them for profit.

Does that make sense? Sorry.

VFD: No it does! It’s just funny because we started on “Do you enjoy being online” and then…

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh right. Well, to get to your point… Does anyone enjoy being online?

VFD: It’s a good point.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Right

VFD: Only the free and beautiful.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I mean, when you’re in journalism you kind of have to be on here. Like, I don’t want to be on Twitter.com but because journalists are brands now you have to be.

VFD: Yeah, yeah. I know.

Shoshana Wodinsky: And that is something that I have always hated. Even when I was in journalism school I remember I was at an internship and one of the mentors, I went up to him crying because, basically, I can tell that a lot of this boils down to clicks and popularity. And once I get out of school… I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

Because, y’know, people in journalism… a lot of us weren’t really popular. You do this because we’re fucking nerds. And then he patted me on the back and said: Well, you have to do it. I’m sorry.

VFD: I do think about that a bit. How there is probably an overwhelming majority of talent, and people out there, who are worth listening to far more than any of us.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah.

VFD: Sometimes people ask me to do things for them: read this, share this, tell them what I think about something. And I’m like: you don’t want me to do that. I’ll tell you six other people that are far more suited to give you advice! Like, just because I was in some BuzzFeed videos when I was 19, that’s not indicative of my ability.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh my God, what were you doing?

VFD: Nothing incriminating. I wasn’t very video-facing - my friend was. The biggest thing I probably did was when Facebook was like: we totally care about livestream video! for two weeks. And we got a computer, a live stream camera, and 120 McDonald’s nuggets and we just sat down to see if we could eat them all. It went for, like, an hour and a half. It was not fun.

Shoshana Wodinsky: But nuggets are delicious! Did you get gout after all that?

VFD: Oh, nuggets are delicious. But I think that plural of “nuggets” really bodies out at around 22, in my experience. By the time you get to 48 you’re starting to think: OK, this is just a vessel. I’m just trying to put this down.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh, God.

VFD: What was amazing was that I did not stop because I was full. I stopped because I was disgusted. You just realise: I can’t keep doing this.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Y’know, the way normal people would feel.

VFD: Yeah. But you realise that fast food - if you had to - you could just keep going.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It’s literally just empty. You just shove it down. It makes me wonder how people do competitive eating contests. Is it just mental?

VFD: I think so, yeah.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I’m always amazed by any sort of physical feat. So when figure skaters or basketball players are competitive eaters I’m just like: how do you get your body to do that? It feels like we’re putting competitive eating in the Olympics.

VFD: I think we will eventually. It’s waiting for its day.

Shoshana Wodinsky: You’ll be first in line.

VFD: Did you grow up in New York?

Shoshana Wodinsky: Wait, did you grow up in Australia?

VFD: Yes.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Australia is a big place. You’re in Sydney.

VFD: It’s a big place but most people live in four or five places.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Don’t you guys have 50 different time zones depending on where you are.

VFD: Oh, God. Kind of. We have the half hour time zone.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Yeah, I saw that. But to your point: I thankfully have not had to deal with timezones too much. I was born in Canada, Toronto, where most of my family lives. I moved to Maryland, then I moved to New York City, then I went to school upstate, then I did a year abroad. Then I came back to New York. Now I’m here.

VFD: Where did you go abroad?

Shoshana Wodinsky: I used to live in Israel. Don’t even bother asking me about it, because my family is - as you can probably tell from my name - very, very Jewish. And a tradition in Orthodox Jewish culture is that between high school and college you go to Israel for a year to study the Old Testament. But what I did, because the drinking age in Israel was 18 or 19 at the time, I was legal. So I just got sloshed every fucking night. I wasn’t doing anything really rowdy - we were in an all girls dorm - I wasn’t bringing guys back or anything like that. I was just getting shit-faced drunk. I would go to a bar alone with a book. It was great! And eventually the head of my programme was like: We’re going to have to ground you because you’re drinking every night. I wasn’t hurting anybody, but I wasn’t being a proper Jewish lass. And I found out on that day to never obey authority again.

VFD: Just going for it.

Shoshana Wodinsky: I do feel like - and this is just gonna be me shitting on tech journalists for five minutes, I hope you’re OK with that…

VFD: Let’s do it. You should use names as well.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh, I am not. They know who they are. Part of the reason that I am unpopular with tech journalists, but popular with tech folks, is because I will regularly go after people on Twitter. Like: Hey, what the fuck are you saying? That’s wrong from a technical level and you know it.

Anyway…

One of the problems that I have is that a lot of coverage of global companies like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, focus on the US perspective. And only the US perspective, as if these Silicon Valley company’s influence exceeds only as far as Silicon Valley. It does not. There are companies where shit has happened that is really wrong but because reporters aren’t watching them from every angle the way they are here no one knows.

Every so often, I'll see stories that either ignore or get things wrong about global perspectives. They’ll say: Hey, look at this great thing!

Remember there was a story not that long ago about Instagram banning conversion therapy content in Great Britain? And I think they did the same thing in the US. And I’m like: Oh, that’s great. That’s wonderful. Conversion therapy is a horrible, horrible thing. But the same week that they made this announcement a bunch of Middle Eastern advocacy groups were telling gay people to go die. And at least once gay person has committed suicide because of this and Facebook clearly doesn’t care because these posts are happening in Arabic and Hebrew. That’s what it boils down to.

So my editor sent me that conversion therapy thing like: hey, look at this great thing Facebook's doing - you should probably cover it. And I read it and I'm just like: nobody's talking about the fucking dead gay people over in the Middle East! And I saw that so I wrote about that instead.

Thankfully, I’m very fortunate that my editors here are patient with me and let me take that global, broad picture that I wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere. But also, in order to write those things, you need to see the big picture and the medium picture and the small picture all at once. And then synthesise them and see how all the pieces fit. And it’s an interesting puzzle every time but it’s exhausting.

I can see why other people don’t do it!

VFD: Yeah. Wouldn’t it be great to review the new MacBook? Not that there’s anything wrong with reviews.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Totally. Our review team is terrifyingly competent at what they do. And it’s mostly women! But I will say, nobody’s asking me to engage in this kind of self-flagellation. I think I only do it because I’m a perfectionist. I have high standards for everyone, but myself the most. And also a lot of self loathing. A lot of self loathing.

VFD: Yeah, which is healthy. Really healthy.

Shoshana Wodinsky: Oh yeah. No, listen. I hate all tech journalists, but the tech journalist I hate the most is myself.

VFD: Alright, well, I was gonna wrap it up there…

Shoshana Wodinsky: You can!

VFD: It was great to talk to you.

Shoshana Wodinsky: It’s fine. I’m honoured that you reached out to me. I’m sorry that I rambled.

VFD: No, that’s the whole point. I think people give better answers in conversation.