Episode 32: Kara Swisher Says Car Ownership is Finished
Sarah Goodyear: On March 22, 2019, an opinion piece appeared in The New York Times under the headline, “Owning a Car Will Soon Be as Quaint as Owning a Horse.” The column was by tech journalist Kara Swisher. She wrote, “The concept of actually purchasing, maintaining, insuring and garaging an automobile in the next few decades? Finished.” Kara announced that she was selling her own car, and that she would—I’m quoting here—”Die before I buy another car.” As you can imagine, as soon as we saw that, we knew we had to talk to her.
Sarah: Welcome to The War on Cars, the podcast that imagines a world where you can get around without owning a 4,000-pound metal box that can kill people. I’m Sarah Goodyear. With my co-hosts, Aaron Naparstek and Doug Gordon, I talked with Kara Swisher the other day at Fox Studios in downtown Manhattan.
Kara Swisher: Right. What are we talking about?
Sarah: We’re talking about cars.
Kara Swisher: Cars. Okay. All right, let’s go.
Sarah: Or lack thereof.
Sarah: Kara has not one but two of her own Vox podcasts: Recode Decode and Pivot. She’s also editor-at-large for the technology news website Recode and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She splits her time between New York, Washington and San Francisco. Kara Swisher has been covering Silicon Valley since the ’90s. She’s widely considered to be one of the most influential people in tech, and has made her reputation by spotting the emerging technologies that will change people’s lives.
Sarah: When she predicted the end of personal car ownership in the Times, it got people’s attention. Her piece received thousands of comments, a lot of them from readers who thought that the entire premise was ridiculous. Kara didn’t budge. Instead, she doubled down. She wrote another piece in September about how she’s doing just fine without her own car, using public transportation, bikes, scooters, walking, ride sharing and rental cars. We talked with Kara about all of that. The first male voice you hear will be Aaron’s.
Kara Swisher: Okay, let’s go.
Sarah: All right. When you wrote this article about giving up …
Kara Swisher: Two of them.
Sarah: Two of them. Well, the first one. When you wrote the first one, pretty much anytime anyone who’s outside of the transportation world writes something about giving up cars, it comes across our radar, the radar of The War on Cars, which is, you know, all-powerful. And we saw that, and we wanted to talk to you and find out more about how you got to that point.
Kara Swisher: Please ask any questions.
Sarah: Well, first of all, how is it going? So I mean, you wrote that one update in September. How are you feeling now?
Kara Swisher: Well, you know, the reason I want to do it is because I wanted to get the idea into the mainstream. Like, as I said in the piece many years ago, 20-some years ago, I wrote a piece about that you’re not gonna have a landline phone. Like, you’re going to have this—I had been using versions of mobile phones since they were in the suitcase. And so I was like, “You won’t have landline phones. Everything’s going to be communicated over these devices. They’re going to have all your information.” And I remember pushing it, and everyone at the time was like, “That’s ridiculous. We have libraries. Oh, that’s ridiculous. We have landlines, we have pay phones. We have this.” And I was like, none of that. It’s all gonna go away. And I felt the same way where cars were going. So I wanted to sort of communicate that same thing. Like, you will not own a car someday, just so you know. I know we all love our cars and this and that. And we have this—you know, we love a lot of things that we don’t love anymore. And so I’m sure butter churns were super popular, but why use them? And so I wanted to get the sense of where things are going in terms of how people are going to regard not just cars, but a lot of things. Houses. Why do we own houses, necessarily? You know what I mean? Like, I know we rent, but there’s new and fresh ways to rethink construction and automotive and transportation. And transportation being at the heart of the changes that are coming first. And so, you know, seeing all these, not just autonomous, but car sharing, new ways of moving around in public transportation, how young people think of cars, it’s just I wanted to say it and to a bigger audience, a popular audience. And it caused a hubbub, as you might imagine.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, what are some of the reactions that you’ve got?
Kara Swisher: Oh, everyone in the Midwest wrote me a note saying they want to keep their Ford 150. Whatever. Fine. Go for it. Bury yourself in it. I don’t care. Whatever. You know, my point was larger, is that there are demographic changes happening that are so obvious and inevitable, which is that everyone is going to be living in megacities for the most part in the future. Climate change is going to change how we do everything. And fossil fuel is a huge—not just fossil fuels, but other things are huge contributors to that. And so all kinds of alternative transportation mobility devices are going to be critically important, like scooters and last mile stuff and all kinds of things. And I’m not talking about it getting to be like Star Trek-ky where we get in the whatever the trans—what is it? Transponder?
Aaron Naparstek: Transporter?
Kara Swisher: Yeah. Like, if that could happen, we would do that. Like, so how do we get to that future in some way? And it’s all a lot of baby steps.
Sarah: But when you told people you’re not gonna have a landline, I bet you that didn’t get the same kind of emotional response.
Kara Swisher: Oh, it did. People went crazy.
Kara Swisher: “Oh, I like my phone in my house. I sit on my phone.” I’m like, “Why are you sitting next to a wall attached to a wire? Like, I don’t understand why you don’t want to be mobile?” And I don’t understand why you want to own a car. Like, you physically—you don’t need to own it. There’s so many interesting alternatives now. There’s so many different ways, you know? And what I was trying to say was that you’re not gonna not use cars or a version of cars, what cars are becoming. It’s that you’re going to not use them in the current form. And the way you’re using it in the current form is just as inefficient as other things you used to do. You used to do a lot of things. Like, we used to do mimeographs. I’m super old but, like, we don’t. We hardly do letters. Well, we used to do—I love letters. I love books. Like, some people read books still, but a whole lot of people don’t read books now. And in fact, they’ve moved on to more visual representations of things. And so I’m like, “Sure, you can have your books, but guess what? It’s gonna be replaced by a lot of different ways to consume fiction, for example.”
Aaron: But, you know, with the phone, I mean, you know, when the iPhone came along, it didn’t really require me to do that much to get on board with the iPhone. Like, I didn’t even have to give up my landline. I could just go buy a new iPhone. And ta-da! Like, now I’m part of this new iPhone world. Whereas with the car, it’s like, people who live …
Kara Swisher: In rural areas. A hundred percent.
Aaron: … I mean, I partly grew up in the Midwest. You know, it’s like I think it’s really hard for folks to envision how a place like suburban Cleveland could ever be with anything other than a car because the place has just been completely built out.
Kara Swisher: Well, your own car. I’m talking about you’re self-determined, you own a car. But fleets of cars that deploy everywhere, there’s no reason. If a car can drive there, so can an autonomous car. So can a car-sharing kind of thing where you share cars with people. I’m talking about ownership of cars, and everything that is dependent on it: the parking, the maintenance, the insurance. And then, by the way, going to malls. Like, look, you’re not gonna need a car to go to a mall because there’s not gonna be malls. Like, so knock that one off your list. I mean, malls are being reconstituted into churches. There was a great story in The New York Times about this. Nobody goes to malls anymore. It’s a dying industry.
Doug Gordon: So one of the things I thought was interesting in your first piece, you asked these questions at the end of it. You know, will I take more buses? Will I take the train more? How much will I use short-term car rentals? But you asked them in a more, like, “Hmm, this is an interesting experiment” sort of way, whereas when we tend to talk to people about, hey, you might not need a car in the future, you get those same questions but in a defensive way. “How am I gonna get my kids to school?” Where do you think that comes from with you? Were you able to embrace those challenges?
Kara Swisher: Well, I just was like, you know, it’s an interesting question. Everyone has life changes at different times, right? So I have teenagers. They get there any way they want to. I’m not in charge of their moving their bodies around anymore. So that’s great, you know what I mean? And one of them takes subways all the time and walks and runs. Likes to do that. The other likes his car, but he took a long time to get his license. It took him a full year to, like, just get to it. He likes driving now, and I think it represents freedom to him, and going to friends. But I suspect he’s going to get mighty—he’s applying to all city schools, and so I suspect he won’t have a car at all. And he will avail himself to—like here in New York—public transportation. As much as people complain about the subway, it’s a remarkable system. You know, as broken down as it is, it’s still—it’s as remarkable as it was when it was founded. It’s really amazing.
Sarah: Well, I mean, that’s one of the things that I think is going to be crucial if this move away from car ownership is going to happen.
Kara Swisher: It’s going to be private transportation, right? That’s the issue.
Sarah: Well, but it has to be mass transportation. There has to—you cannot have eight million cars, whether they’re autonomous or not, just driving around in circles. And that is one vision of what AVs could be.
Kara Swisher: Sure. If they’re more efficient. I mean, one of the arguments that someone from Silicon Valley says to me—I think he’s probably right—is that you have an accident with a person in a car—like I’ve been in accidents before, and I learn or sort of learn, right? When you have an accident with an autonomous vehicle, the millions of cars learn. Like, they’re constantly learning. And so eventually they’ll be—with quantum computing, they’ll be quite efficient. They’re not gonna wander around.
Sarah: But if there’s enough of them, they’re still going to really—you know, there’s not enough road space for a car for every person.
Kara Swisher: No, not at all. That’s what we have now, because 80 percent of the cars are empty, right?
Sarah: Right. But yeah, I guess my concern is, if we do go to a system where there are cars instead of trains, for instance, or buses, which are much more efficient in terms of space, then the space for people who walk or who use scooters or other more human solutions is going to be increasingly limited and circumscribed, especially because AVs have proven to be so far pretty crappy at recognizing human objects.
Kara Swisher: Yes, so far. Like, we’re such short-term thinkers. Of course, so far, you know, surgery wasn’t so great.
Sarah: But people who program AVs do not want pedestrians behaving the way they do in New York City.
Kara Swisher: No, but they will figure it out. I think something like that is sort of a short term-ism, that it’s like, you’re eventually going to have the correct way these are going to be employed and the way people use them. I think the problem is that we don’t quite know how people use them. I think, for example, I use scooters a lot, right? I use them a lot. And what’s really been a boon to that is bike lanes. So I avail myself of these things as the cities begin to improve. So the cities are going to play a key role in congestion pricing and taxing, so that people don’t want to drive. It’s a hassle to drive. Like, absolutely a hassle. And they have to provide at the same time either working in a public-private way, which I think is the way it’s going to go, which is, you know, ripe for corruption, et cetera, et cetera. But that works so that it works more efficiently. You know, you don’t want to get into a situation like private prisons, which I think we can all agree, terrible people are benefiting from the misery of others, to something that should be in the public interest. And mass transportation should be in the public interest. But there’s got to be ways to do this and more creative, innovative ways that will benefit both public and private and the people they’re serving.
Sarah: But so far, Silicon Valley doesn’t show a whole lot of interest in that kind of public-private partnership around mass transit. Let’s put aside the fantasia of the Hyperloop, which is …
Kara Swisher: Right. Or Uber. Uber talks about it quite a bit.
Sarah: Yeah. And there are some partnerships that have been productive. But I mean, so why do you think there’s not an appetite for that kind of partnership in Silicon Valley?
Kara Swisher: Because they don’t partner. They don’t like to partner with anybody. Look, there’s interest in Silicon Valley right now. I had a really interesting interview with the CTO of Ford, and I was asking how he liked dealing with Google, et cetera, and he’s like, “They’re so interested in the data. Like, we’re interested in the customer more.” They’re more customer-centric. They’ve been selling devices, really. So they’re less interested in the data than the tech companies. So he said it’s always a push-pull around privacy with them, which I thought makes perfect sense. And so everything that Silicon Valley does has to do with sucking giant amounts of data into their systems, which makes sense. That’s what they do. You know, sort of people are like, “Why are they like this?” I’m like, “Because scorpions bite. That’s what they do.” You know, it’s that old story. And so I think there will be more creative solutions as car companies get in here, as new things emerge that are not out of Silicon Valley, but are out of these—even these areas. Like, there’s some interesting stuff going on in Australia. There’s interesting stuff going on all over the world. China. So it’s not going to necessarily have to come from Silicon Valley at all.
Doug: How do you see—you mentioned scooters and that you’re a fan. You know, there are 800 scooter companies trying to compete for the space. How do you see that shaking out? Do you predict any …?
Kara Swisher: I don’t know. It depends on how they’re run. I kind of look at them. I mean, I just have anecdotal, like, watching how they’re kept up. You know, you can see which ones are not being kept up and which ones are. What I’m fascinated by is how much more substantive the scooters have become, because obviously they’ve been killed on the street, right? They move very quickly. They’ve iterated really quickly, which I think was cool. You know, I tend to go towards more the independent ones. I suspect the independents will do a lot better because that’s their only business. You know, Uber owns whatever it owns—Scoot or—I forget which ones they own. I think that’s a side business for them. And their best and brightest aren’t focused on it necessarily, although they may have a really good business there. I’m more inclined to that business because it makes a lot more sense. You can see how much it costs, how much they go. Their big issue is safety. That’s really pretty much—and bike lanes. And whether big cities allow them. I mean, those are the three major issues. But in general, it’s a much more—you can really understand the business model much better. It’s the valuations we don’t understand, but the business model seems pretty solid.
Aaron: It seems solid, but it doesn’t seem—like, how is this a $2 billion business?
Kara Swisher: Oh, well, that’s different. That’s just Silicon Valley. Like, it’s like …
Aaron: But isn’t that the problem, like, when it turns out not to be a $2 billion business, they’re gonna go out of business and cities are gonna be left with nothing, right?
Kara Swisher: No, because actually I think they’re pretty good businesses. I think once they actualize themselves, they’ll be fine. I think that’s like a lot of businesses. Twitter’s not worth what it’s worth, you know? WeWork obviously was the best example. That was a real estate business, and kind of a Ponzi-like one at that. And so if it had been rightsized, it would have been a nice little business. Like, sure, that makes sense. Take, you know, buildings, refurbish them and people have a—it’s a product people like. And so whenever there’s a product people like, I’m always like, there’s a business here to make a product out of. As long as these valuation—these valuations are just because Silicon Valley people can’t help themselves, and there’s too much money.
Aaron: I mean, I worry and I think we talk about this a lot that, like, you’re going to end up with situations like where, you know, Uber rolled into the city and sort of destroyed the taxi industry, which maybe even deserved to be destroyed in some ways. But, like, then you’re kind of left with potentially, you know, nothing if Uber tanks. You don’t have a functioning taxi industry. You know, your public transportation ridership has declined because Uber has rolled in. You’re left with all this traffic congestion and cars. And so, you know, what do you do? How do you get these …?
Kara Swisher: No, I think the idea is here. I think it’ll be replaced by something else. Like, you know, the plains are covered with the bodies of pioneers, right? You know, they didn’t make it all the way to California, but someone did. And so I think the concept is a great one. And so, again, I don’t quibble with the concept of Uber. I quibble with its—economic valuation. It’s just a matter of their valuation. And then if it has the right valuation, you could see a scenario where Uber is profitable. You know, it’s just the prices have to go up.
Aaron: Right. I don’t care about Uber being profitable as much as I care about my city not being wrecked. So is there a way to sort of direct cities to work with these companies so that there’s some real public benefit?
Kara Swisher: I don’t know. You know, in terms of cars, I don’t know. I think the issue is the city should be focusing on public transportation and what it means. There’s all these ideas. What I like is all these ideas around how, like, these buses that go in a circle and stuff like that. I like the innovation of ideas, and I think eventually it will economically right itself. It always does. Like, this happened in trains. This happened in cars. This happened—you know, sometimes we feel like we hung the moon, right? But we didn’t. Like, every single industry like this has had the same trajectory of hype, hype, hype, overvaluation, too many, crash. And then several do survive to do a pretty economically feasible job. I think probably the modern version of this will be an Uber-like company that’s in all mobile transportations. And I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be vertical lift and take off vehicles. I think that’s far, far away. But, you know, it’ll be a transportation company. Although now apparently in its contract, it’s trying to say it’s a technology company, right?
Sarah: Right. Because otherwise they’d have to admit that they employ people.
Kara Swisher: That’s the other thing. The prices have to go up. Look, people are getting a free ride speaking of—making a joke about it. But economically it shouldn’t—when someone’s like, “Oh, it’s so inexpensive,” I’m like “It’s subsidized. That is not the price.” And you will eventually pay the price and then the growth will go down just like a lot of things. Like, you know, look at Facebook right now. Everyone’s like, “Oh, it’s such a good business.” That’s because they don’t have to do any monitoring of their content. When they do, it costs money, just like it costs The Washington Post or The New York Times or whatever. And then it will have a different economic outlook. It’s just not going to be as big. You can be big if you don’t follow the rules.
Sarah: So you were talking about how back in the days when cell phones first came in, people couldn’t imagine not being attached to the wall by a wire, and how you’re trying to get that idea out there. In the work that we do, we really do feel like a lot of the time there’s sort of a failure of imagination that people have in terms of being able to see this future in which cars are not what they’ve been for the last 75 years. What do you think can be done to help people to envision? You’ve been through this huge …
Kara Swisher: Time. It’s just a question of time. I think people are already doing it. They’re using Amazon a lot more than they were going to the mall. They did it. They don’t go to movies as much. They watch Netflix/Disney+. They do it. You know, paths are made by walking, if you want to use a transportation metaphor. But people are already doing it in so many ways. They’re already shifting their behaviors. Like, again, I just did a podcast about movie streaming. It’s like, movie theater attendance is down 16 percent this holiday season. Well, duh.
Kara Swisher: Everyone watches things on their phones. Anyone with a kid knows this. Myself, I watch everything on demand. Like, when did that change? And I remember this weekend thinking four times, “Oh, I should go to the movies.” And then I just didn’t. I just was at home. It was on the screen. I watched The Irishman there. I didn’t go to the movie. I thought about it. But then I was like, here it is. It’s when things come into—like, I didn’t know I wanted scooters until I got scooters. And then I liked scooters. It makes sense for that last mile where I don’t want to walk. Now I walk a lot more because I happen to like to walk. But not everyone can walk, not everyone can navigate. But that doesn’t mean people can’t come up with creative solutions. I think people are already doing it. You’re not gonna get people suddenly—you know, we were all eating white bread for a hundred—like, forever. And then everyone has five different kinds of bread. Why? What happened? How did tofu show up? Like, it just did. And nobody likes tofu. I like tofu.
Sarah: I like tofu. [laughs]
Kara Swisher: But you know what I mean? How did that show up? How did you stop eating this versus this? Why did you stop using this over that? Consumerism changes almost continually. And it just does. It just does. And it’s mostly by just doing.
Sarah: Well, but it’s also by—you know, there’s a lot of marketing and advertising that goes into making you want to consume any given thing. I mean, that’s—you know, and look at the auto industry and how many of the ads, if you did still watch television or even if you watch YouTube, how many of the ads to get served to you or that are on any given program are automobile ads?
Kara Swisher: There are now because they need to sell more because people aren’t buying as much.
Sarah: But I mean, that’s been that way for a long time. I mean, there’s just a huge machine that wants you to still buy your own car.
Kara Swisher: You still won’t buy a car if you don’t want to use it. I think it’s just a product. If you have a product you want to use, you can’t—there’s only so long you can trick people into buying a product they don’t want to use. And that’s, you know, ultimately, I’m trying to think of things I used to use that I don’t use at all. There’s so many that just fall by the wayside. I mean, I have a box full of technology products that I don’t use anymore.
Aaron: But so do you think, like, the automobile industry goes the way of, you know, Kodak? Ford just sort of disappears?
Kara Swisher: No, I think there will always be cars. I think there’ll always be cars, some version of a car. So there’s always a need to make them. Like, I don’t—I never said that in that piece. I was like, I don’t think—I rented a car. You know, I just rented it. And so what I’m finding interesting about it is how much do I rent? And I do make that decision. Do I need it, or can I—should I take the train? I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s easier, and it depends on the case. I had to move a cat, so I didn’t want to bring the cat on a train. So I’m like, I’ll rent a car. Turned out to be quite economical compared to taking the train, and much more economical than owning a car, for sure. Like so far, the costs are well—there’s a couple of thousand dollars a year.
Aaron: But you got to get the non-car owner insurance.
Kara Swisher: Yes, exactly. So now I called my insurance company …
Aaron: I have that. It’s expensive, actually.
Doug: It is very expensive.
Kara Swisher: Well, it is. It is, but it won’t be. It won’t be. You know, eventually when more people use it, it won’t be. I use Amica, and we had a fascinating discussion, you know, about where it’s going to go. And so they can only offer right now, I guess, liability insurance, which is if you hit someone, but then the damage insurance I had to buy from the rental company, which is kind of a cheat. Like, it’s good for them for cheating me for that. But you will have some sort of insurance that will cover you for vehicle use and your responsibility for a vehicle.
Doug: What has been the—we talked a lot about, like, the tech side of it, the economics of it, what’s been the most personally surprising thing for going car-light as it were?
Kara Swisher: I can find ways to get places, or I don’t go certain places. I don’t consume as much. I don’t. I just don’t. I’ll just stay home, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t need to get in the car to get that. I obviously use delivery services a lot more. I bought myself a little cart, like a little stupid, like, an old lady cart. And I love my little old lady cart. I shop a lot less. I buy a lot less stuff and more fresh stuff, which is interesting because I’m only—I’m sort of European in that regard. A lot of Europeans don’t own cars, more so than the United States. And I take public transportation a ton. I walk a ton if I can. And scooters. I love scooters. I shouldn’t love scooters. I know they’re dangerous, but I wear a helmet. It’s still not gonna save me in the end. But I love them. I find them joyful. I find them—you know, again, they’re not un-dangerous. But I stay in the bike lanes. And I don’t—you know, my son, he has a car from his other mom and he was like, “You really don’t use the car anymore.” And I’m like, “I really don’t.” Like, they were all making fun of me, my sons about this thing. And they were like, “You really don’t use the car.” And I’m like, “I really—I don’t need it. I don’t need it.” And I find it was sort of one of those things you just use because it was there. Take the car.
Kara Swisher: When it’s not available, you kind of get creative.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I’ve brought up my son, who’s a teenager, without a car, and he doesn’t think of a car as a solution. So I mean, I’m interested that you have a new baby. This baby is growing up …
Kara Swisher: Well, I got a Doona stroller.
Kara Swisher: I use Ubers. I use Ubers. I use those things, but I think about that a lot. I think about movement. Like, should I get the subways? They’re terrible on the escalators in New York. They’re terrible, as has been well reported. They’re not nonfunctioning in Washington, actually. They work just fine. I use a carry, I carry in front. Or this Doona thing turns into a stroller from a car seat. And so I can either get in a car, an Uber or use public transportation. Or walk.
Sarah: I mean, what I found bringing up a baby, toddler, child on public transportation is that you are looking at them and talking to them a lot more than you do when you’re driving and have that kid in the back.
Kara Swisher: Yeah. We bring the car for a long drive to Boston.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, but a lot of the time you’re just actually just sitting next to them and you’re looking at the same thing, and you’re engaged with the kid in a different way.
Kara Swisher: Yeah, a hundred percent.
Aaron: How long do you think this is gonna take? Like, at least in, let’s just say, major coastal cities like your New Yorks and Bostons and L.A., San Francisco, Seattle. Like, how long is it gonna take for us to really make it so that car ownership is pretty rare and unusual?
Kara Swisher: Well, I think once cities and informed mayors get involved. You see a lot of stuff going on, obviously in Europe. Always they’re way ahead of us in that regard, Copenhagen and other cities. And when you go there, it makes perfect sense the way they’ve done it. They’re much more livable cities. You know, you sort of start to hate cars in cities. And, you know, why is it—I think there was a statistic in The New York Times, I think 70 percent of the street is taken up by cars in New York. Why do they get 70? Like, why can’t they have half? Like, let’s start with half. And so it’s going to take some mayor of a city going, “You know what? We’re going car-free in the center. We’re just doing it.” And then taking those slings and arrows you’re gonna get from businesses. Or figuring out, like, I envision a system eventually that you would have the trucks go under. I have this vision of them going under. And I know you hate Hyperloop, but it’s not a stupid idea. It’s not—the concept is correct. There’s all kinds of openings for innovation. Like, why not deliveries only at a certain time? Why aren’t they? Why do trucks deliver during the day? I don’t even—why not just change their schedule? I’d like to see one of the mayors, and there’s several mayors in Europe, but in this country, like, one mayor really go, “Hey, we’re gonna try this.” I would think California would be where that would happen.
Sarah: Yeah, I mean, the thing is that the cities in Europe like Copenhagen, where cars are optional, it’s more convenient not to have a car. And the government has moved to make that the case. It’s more convenient, it’s less expensive, it’s easier. You don’t get people out of cars because they want to be virtuous or, you know …
Kara Swisher: No, you can appeal to that.
Sarah: I mean, sure that’s part of the marketing strategy.
Kara Swisher: No, you just make it easier. If it’s easier to do it, like anything, people do whatever’s easier, whatever’s more convenient. And then if there’s good along the way, hey, great, it’s good for you. But convenience should be the way it appeals. And I think it’s got to be regulators really being creative about livable cities, because I think cities will become these dystopian horror shows. And then when you get into hovercrafts and all kinds of things—we’ll all be dead by this point but, you know, eventually we will have that. Like, it’s interesting. It’s interesting to imagine how people are gonna actually get around. And then I just had an interview where we talked about that you won’t have your body at all. It’ll be downloaded on a computer, and one day you’ll be in a cell phone and we can carry it around. The other day you’ll be like a greyhound, and then you’ll be a this. Like, you’ll be a shapeshifter, which was fascinating when you really start to think about that. Like, you don’t even have to have a sentient being to get around.
Aaron: We’re gonna be, like, protesting all the, like, “Darn these hovercrafts, and non-sentient being lanes!”
Doug: Our brains will be downloaded into NIMBYs’ cell phones.
Kara Swisher: You know, we’ll also travel more, not necessarily moving. Like, a lot of this VR stuff is really—eventually will be really cool. And you’ll be in a world. You’ll have, like, the holodeck. You certainly will.
Aaron: I mean, it sounds like you’re suggesting that cities and regulators really have to kind of step up to help make this change happen. It’s like even though you’re the tech reporter, you’re not really counting on Silicon Valley or Detroit or any industry to sort of like drive this on their own, right?
Kara Swisher: Oh, I think they have to. They have to think of the future. I mean, you know, obviously there’s such short-termism with the car companies or wherever but, you know, there’s gonna be a point where no one’s gonna be buying these things. Like, look at Disney with Disney+. Like, what does that say? It says people aren’t going to the theaters. And guess what? We still have great content. And so our business is still a content company, it’s just the medium that is going to you. And it’s not a small thing they’re doing at Disney right now. I mean, you can think of that—same thing if you’re the head of a car company. It’s like, “Okay, not going to sell as many cars. What do I need to do? We need to have a fleet of cars that we’re gonna rent out. What do I need? Should I buy Uber as the reservation system?” You have to be thinking, like, what’s the next step? Bob Iger, who I think is one of the best CEOs out there, I was emailing with him. I said, “You told me if someone’s gonna eat our digital lunch, it might as well be us.” Now this was 20 years ago he said this to me. And so he was hurting a business. You know, they were in the television business, you know, the network television business. Well, nobody thinks that’s a good business anymore. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s not what it was. And they have to be thinking about what is gonna eat our lunch and what naturally do we go adjacent to that makes sense for us?
Sarah: Yeah, it’s all about the money, right?
Kara Swisher: Yeah. Well then sure, why not?
Sarah: And the fun of riding a scooter.
Kara Swisher: You should have concerns about climate, right? You should have concerns, but look, it’s like eating your vegetables. Like, guess what? It doesn’t—and none of this matters if we don’t have climate and we all have to move to Mars. Like, which we’re not. Only about four of us are going. And they’re all rich billionaires. So it’s not you.
Doug: So will you be writing a third, a trilogy? A conclusion to this article?
Kara Swisher: I don’t know. Yes, I will. I’m gonna do one maybe at the end of the year. It’s interesting. The reaction is—first it was like, “What? How dare you?” And now it’s like, “Huh. Interesting.” And then I think people are like, “Okay.” Like, a lot of people are thinking this.
Doug: I was noticing that your first article had something like 2,000 or 3,000 comments. The second had 400. So something like the idea of doing it is scary to people, the reality is not that scary.
Kara Swisher: Yeah, that was all from the same town in the Midwest. But it was more—you know, it was a lot on Twitter. It was crazy. But, you know, once you introduce an idea to people, they’re like, “Huh. Well, that’s true.” Like, when I was writing years ago about Amazon, I’m like, “This is all gonna be delivered to you. They’re gonna be the biggest shopper, the biggest commerce.” “What? I love my stores.” Look what’s happening to retail. Look at the retail landscape. Talk about that. That’s a real devastation. That’s the real—you know, and so what do we turn our Main Streets into? They’re going to be restaurants and experiential things where you can’t do it digitally.
Sarah: Yeah, but it’s not even the Main Street. We already had to do that conversion. It’s the …
Kara Swisher: Right. Well actually, Main Streets are coming back.
Sarah: Right. It’s the big box stores and the malls and all the infrastructure which is phenomenally expensive to build and maintain for municipalities. All of that sprawl infrastructure that just there’s no use for it.
Kara Swisher: What do you need it for? And so no one anticipated Amazon coming in here, because that means you don’t even need Main Street anymore. And I think that’s the challenge, is that if it’s—you know, my girlfriend hates using Amazon. Was like one of these people, like, “I’m using local retailers. I’m doing this.” We just had a baby. Guess what? She goes, “I hate Amazon but, man, do they know how this works perfectly.” When something’s wrong, it goes back. It’s so easy. I mean, they have it down to a technological science. And so it’s hard to deny. Like, okay. And you actually consume less because you know exactly—you don’t just wander around and buy things. Like, you have very specific needs. And so no one anticipated Amazon. The retailers were probably like, “Oh, phew! Now malls are over.” Like, “Oh, no. Now Amazon’s here.” And they’re the only player of any consequence in this.
Sarah: But I mean, I guess I would hate to think of a world in which we never had any reason to go outside. Like, that does depress me.
Kara Swisher: Well, yes. But that’s a movie. What was that movie? It was a Disney movie. What was it when everyone’s like a trash heap?
Sarah: Oh, Wall-E?
Kara Swisher: Wall-E. Hello!
Sarah: I know.
Doug: Talk about going into space, right?
Kara Swisher: Or maybe you’ll just go outside to, like, enjoy outside. Like, just for itself.
Sarah: What a concept. But it seems like what you’re saying is that regardless of how people feel emotionally attached to their cars and their driveways and they’re—all the appurtenances of cars.
Kara Swisher: Are you attached to your driveway?
Sarah: I don’t know. Not me. I’ve never had a real driveway.
Kara Swisher: I think people have emotional connections because it’s about a time in their life and stuff. I think most people don’t like driving.
Sarah: But despite that, it’s just moving away from that.
Kara Swisher: It’s just I don’t think most people like the drudgery of driving. I think people like some driving. Like, driving down the road on a sunny day with the top down. Sure, I love that. I had convertibles for years. Like, I get that. And, you know, watching Ford v Ferrari? Yay, cool! Fast, fun, beautiful. You know, there’s some very great beauty to automobiles and machinery. So I get that. I just think most people’s relationship with a car is one full of rage and traffic and bad decisions. I think I’m on the cutting edge of a thing that everyone’s gonna do eventually. You know what I mean? Like—or most people, not everybody. And again, if you love your car, you know, clean it on weekends, wax it, give it a big hug.
Aaron: Keep it in your backyard. Look at it.
Kara Swisher: But whatever. Sure, I have no objection. But it’s your horse. It’s like a horse. Like give it sugar, and then it’s fine. Like, I have no attraction to owning a car, so I’m not going to anymore.
Sarah: You heard it, folks. That’s it for Kara Swisher and owning a car. She is done. And that’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Remember to rate and review us on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts because that helps people find us. We’re planning a year-end mailbag episode, and we would love to get your voice memos talking about what’s happening on the streets where you live. You can send them to TheWaronCars@gmail.com. Please try to keep them under 30 seconds.
Sarah: And a reminder that if you would like to support us and what we do here at the podcast, trying to convince people to give up their cars, you can become a Patreon sponsor. Go to the TheWaronCars.org and click on “Donate.”
Sarah: We’d like to thank our top sponsors, including Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Huck and Elizabeth Phiney, Lee H. Herman Jr. and Drew Raines. Big thanks to the crew over at Vox Studios for welcoming us and making us feel so at home. The rest of this episode was recorded at our usual home by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. And special thanks to Kara Swisher for making the time to talk with us. You should check out her podcasts Recode Decode and Pivot wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah: Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D. Designs. I’m Sarah Goodyear and this is The War on Cars.