Introducing: In What World, a podcast

Conversations on how tech is changing society

Originally posted to our Medium Publication ‘In What World

A few weeks ago, my co-host Patrick and I launched the pilot episode of our podcast, In What World. In it, Patrick and I talk about some of today’s shifting technologies and how they are redefining our understanding of social, economic relations. And as we release more episodes, we wanted to share some words on how and why In What World came to be.

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Patrick and I are part of a unique generation that’s experienced one hell of a technological revolution. We remember what it was like to watch movies on VHS, learn to type on some of the first web pages on The World Wide Web, and stay in touch with our friends via AIM. Two decades later, we’re living in an even more sophisticated society that boasts online social networks connecting millions (sometimes billions) of users, mobile devices rivaling the computing power of desktops, and an increasingly online world.

These advancements have made the seemingly impossible possible and ushered in a new era of amazing products, services, and companies. With the transition into a consumerism driven culture, we in the developed world experience nearly instantaneous communication, access to troves of data, and convenience like never before. And admittedly, we’ve largely benefited from a host of these novelties.

Patrick and I met via an app — the kind of tech whose existence is evidence of the shifting ways in which people interact. We met to make new friends in a new city but remained connected for our shared love for conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about how ordinary lives are being shaped by extraordinary changes and asked each other challenging questions on what that might mean for our future. These concerns don’t have black and white implications, and we’re not exactly sure how the future will shape out. However, we are sure of this:

technology is changing how we interact with the world, and we need to talk about
how it’s doing so.

The tech industry holds fast to its belief in “build now, mend later.” And while the lean, iterative process of creation enables enormous creativity and risk-taking, it leaves little room for reflection. So after months of dialogue, we decided to create this podcast to share our thoughts with you.

In What World is our place to discuss how recent innovations are impacting lives. We believe that thoughtful conversations can help us become better informed individuals, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we make. Along the way, we’ll continue to share our process of creating this podcast and what we are learning from it as well.

And we want you to be a part of our conversations. So Tweet at us, write to us, and let us know what’s on your mind in the world of tech in society. We’ll continue to need your honest feedback on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing to deliver a meaningful audial experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

A Decision that Betrays SXSW’s History

The original edition of this post can be found at my Medium page, @minnkim

To be clear, I am not a gamer. I’m not plugged into the video game community. However, I feel strongly about the influence prominent and established organizations can have on the promotion of open discourse. SXSW Interactive had an opportunity to set a positive example, and their recent cancellation of two gaming culture panels following online threats is not only disheartening but unfaithful to SXSW’s overarching mission to be “a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.”


Last week, the tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival announced it would host two panels on the topic of video game culture. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” were intended to shed light on sexist tensions within the gaming community and the toxic world of online harassment. Although not directly associated with the Gamergate controversy, these panels would serve as opportunities for critical discussion on online etiquette and the exclusion of minorities in the gaming world.

Following the announcement, SXSW was barraged by threats of violence which ultimately led to their decision to cancel the two panels. Cancellation letters to panelists cited security concerns while reminding attendees that SXSW prides itself in its commitment to diversity.

The cancellations have incited additional backlash, and Buzzfeed has even threatened to withdraw their attendance unless the conference reconsiders and finds a way to ensure appropriate safety precautions be made by the time of the conference in March.
Since 1994, SXSW Interactive has welcomed growing numbers of independent thinkers, builders, and leaders to share their visions for our future.

By cancelling panels on diversity in gaming, SXSW is doing a disservice to its history and mission.

In 2015, SXSWi hosted nearly 34,000 festival participants from 85 foreign countries with 2,700 speakers and 3,389 media in attendance. While SXSWi’s attendee list has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in tech, it’s also maintained its core desire to bring together a variety of people to discuss and generate ideas. The conversations borne out of this event influence millions of readers via print, online,and broadcast coverage.

Given that sexism in the tech space has been a hot topic the last few years, SXSW’s cancellation suggests that discussing challenges in the gaming industry are not worth the trouble of ensuring a civil environment for constructive conversation. Although diversity challenges exist in any male-dominated industry, digital harassment in this Internet-everything era is of particular concern and not giving voice to the issue propagates undue influence to online bullies.

Diversity is always a prickly issue; it is multi-faceted, messy, and contentious. But as an organization devoted to discourse with its breadth of influence, SXSW had opportunity to stand firm in its belief and encourage the kind of open dialogue that leads to new ideas that drive us forward. At the very least, it could have enlightened many to the darker sides of the Internet so that we as a community could talk about how to make it a better, safer, and more accessible place for all. By refusing to seize this opportunity for enormous positive interaction and information exchange, SXSW has comprised its core tenets and demonstrated a glaring ignorance to the needs of its community.

Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

Such Fine Lines

Venice 2015

Dear Marissa Mayer and Zachary Bogue

Congratulations to you both on your pregnancy announcement! After the birth of a son, the expectation of not only one girl but two must be exciting its own unique way. For Ms. Mayer, I’m sure the internet is already being inundated with opposing opinions on your intentions to work throughout your pregnancy and return to Yahoo shortly after your children’s births. However my opinions here, for one, do not come from the viewpoint of a working mother, or even from someone who anticipates parenthood any time soon. No, I am writing through the eyes of a Millennial who pays attention to leaders in the workforce, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields, in hopes that every day we strive closer toward equal opportunities for both men and women.

With the explosion of feminist campaigns in recent years by everyone from Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie, Emma Watson to Max Schireson and Aziz Ansari, young, working women like myself have experienced firsthand the changes in attitudes and policies towards women in the workplace. I recall reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article while in university and finding myself angry that I agreed with her assertion that ‘women today cannot have it all.‘ For the record, I too, am writing from the perspective and for my own demographic: those of us with higher education, of decent socioeconomic status, and the privilege of having choices about the type and pace of work we do.

So in reading Slaughter’s words and by conceding to the seemingly inescapable fact that women must treat professional and personal/family as mutually exclusive responsibilities, I felt that I was betraying all the hard-ingrained, first-generation credos that propound the merits of hard, honest, gender-agnostic work. It was a terrible injustice: what did the author mean I couldn’t have it all? Up to that point, academia with its rankings, grades, and standardized test scores had provided easy milestones and benchmarks for me to measure myself against my peers both male and female. My immigrant parents had raised me to believe that hard work and commitment trumped all so much so that my being female (and Asian-American) never played any roles in our conversations on success growing up. Therefore, I admittedly took a certain kind of proud pleasure being of two minorities in many of my university classes. Particularly in courses in the hard sciences or upper level economic theory, I misattributed the dearth of female peers to an inability to ‘keep up’ or a lack of ambition.

But in my internship, job search, and work experience, I’ve learned a difficult truth: too many of us are taught a series of half-truths regarding gender equality that convince us young, aspiring women that we can have it all all the while leaving us woefully unprepared for the number of real, systemic issues we’ll face in the professional world.

We are told that unyielding commitment is sufficient, yet more women than men are criticized for an unwillingness to make the ‘right’ sacrifices when we voice concerns about long work-days, all-nighters, and frequent travel. We are told that prioritizing is enough, yet choosing family over career as a priority comes at a much greater cost for women than men. We are told that the workforce will recognize both mothers’ and fathers’ choice to take leave after the birth of a child, yet policy fails to recognize what a Hobson’s choice this presents for most mothers, who biologically respond differently to infants.

These are a few reasons why so few of us reach leadership positions despite the pipeline being rife with talented, capable women. Such societal pressures allow the talent gap and the ambition gap to persist. And while solutions need to and do come from a range of industries, policymakers, and educational institutions, I believe we can also affect change with honest discourse that highlights and celebrates the spectrum of both women and men who are taking it upon themselves to promote feminism (read: equalism).

I have been a long-time admirer of your career path and identify with your dogged work ethic, Ms. Mayer. Your personal commitment to Yahoo is admirable, and despite the backlash against your decision, I commend you for not conforming to a double standard expectation that mothers must take extended maternity leaves while fathers do not. Feminism, at its core, is about equal opportunity for equal choice. And while it is entirely your prerogative not to speak on the topic, I wish you would. I wish you would acknowledge and expound your opinions on the difficulties women face in the workplace. Moreover, I’d also like to hear from your husband Zachary Bogue. We need more men to speak up so we can hear their sides of the story – these issues impact their day-to-days too. Socialized norms and expectations trap men in their own ways, and denying the existence of systemic sexism allows assumptions that men and women must be upheld to different expectations regarding personal responsibilities to continue.

Millennials now make up the majority of our workforce, and despite all the criticism that we’re narcissistic, entitled, and scatterbrained, we’re also some of the most entrepreneurial, creative, and adaptable individuals. So while we’re trailblazing and going on to become the next generation leaders, we still look to today’s leaders to help shape our worldviews. You and your husband are both in positions of immense influence in high impact industries, and young professionals like myself want to hear from such individuals. You may disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy or agree with Indra Nooyi’s stance that women having it all is an illusion or have an entirely different perspective unique to you. In any case, we will not know until you contribute to the conversation. And I, for one, want the conversation to be multi-dimensional; to be filled with opposing opinions and demonstrate that it’s not about men vs. women, professional vs. personal, but about finding the balance that is right for each of us.

Ethics of Manufacturing Habit-Forming Products

Habits are activities that cause us a little bit of pain when we don’t do them. For example, how many of us check our social media feeds numerous times a day? The very thought of not having access to our phones incites a twinge of discomfort knowing we can’t check our Twitters, Instagrams, Facebook feeds, etc.

Businesses understand that great products inspire habits; in their ability to fulfill a specific need in simple ways, they produce the desire to return and re-engage in a recurring action. Author Nir Eyal builds upon the works of behavioral psychologists like B. F. Skinner and Daniel Kahneman in his book Hooked to suggest four steps in manufacturing habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger – hook the user
  2. Action – engage user with simple calls to action
  3. Variable Reward – encourage recurring use with different levels/types of rewards
  4. Investment – provide room for users to invest their time into your product

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fine line between habit and addiction with respect to technology. From the omnipotent tyranny of email to our dependence on social media, there is a question here that the broader technology has failed to address in our dogged quest to build products. At times, the addiction to refreshing my newsfeeds only induces more anxiety, more so than making me feel informed and purposeful. Our habitual usages are measured by the explosion of software as a service applications in last decade. And while they serve as additional proof that technology creates ease and delivers powerful insights, we have yet to discuss the implications of such products. With every new automated feature, obsessive mobile game, and delivery service app, we spend more and more time becoming intimate with our technologies. In which case, what kind of new habits are these products prompting and what, if any, are their societal values?

Although this aspiration will not apply to all technologies, as we continue to iterate and rapidly improve in the coming years, I hope we will give greater consideration to not only creating tools that produce convenience but also in building to promote better habits.

Boarding the Podcast Wagon: 5 Standouts

Media users today face no dearth of avenues for consumption, yet podcasts have recently gained newfound momentum in edging out their visual and analog counterparts in popularity*. What used to be considered an arcane relic of weary radio, podcasts saw their resurgence with the likes of This American Life’s ‘Serial‘, Gimlet Media’s ‘StartUp,’ and WNYC’s ‘Freakonomics.’ Although I got hooked on Serial last fall, my podcast usage waned after the finale because I didn’t have an app that felt functional and provided a great user experience. Recently, a friend’s recommendation for a new podcast app revitalized my interest with the app’s set of content and features. With it, I’ve been listening to several subscriptions during my commutes and down-time, and below are some standouts (with my favourite episodes thus far highlighted):

For the Aspiring Entrepreneur – Re/Code Decode with Kara Swisher

Technology commentator extraordinaire Kara Swisher felt it wasn’t enough to report on the happenings of Silicon Valley at her and co-founder Walt Mossberg’s news site Re/Code, so she recently launched this interview focused podcast. In these episodes, she invites some of the today’s most aspirational technology pundits to share their insights on everything from the state of Internet of Things to diversity in the tech industry.
|| Highlight: Investor Chris Sacca, Smartphone Prices and “Buy” Buttons ||

For the Tech Aficionado – Exponent

I’d like to invite Ben Thompson and James Allworth to dinner (seriously) because it would be a delight to see their insightful conversations unfold in real life and even be a part of it. Their technology and society focused podcast feels more like an intimate conversation between two awesomely geeky forward thinkers of which we listeners get to be flies on the wall.
|| Highlight: Grow Grow Grow Fight Fight Fight ||

For the Music Lover – Song Exploder

Introduced via Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible (another lovely design-centric podcast), Song Exploder invites talented musicians across a spectrum of genres to share the creative process behind one of their songs. Many of the pieces are recognizable, and listening to composers deconstruct their works and tell their stories makes enjoying the final construction at the end even more satisfying.
|| Highlight: Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game ||

For the Design Nerd – Dollars to Donuts

Design thinking/User Experience Design/etc. is all the rage as of late, but these are different names for the same creative process that has existed for decades in any product design field. Successful user experience design relies on a deep understanding of your users, their needs, and their challenges. This is where user research comes in. In Dollars to Donuts, you’ll hear from lead user researchers at organizations like Etsy and Citrix describe how they use both quantitative and qualitative data to craft the ideal customer experience.
|| Highlight: Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp ||

For the Storyteller – Strangers

Lea Thau’s first episode begins with an account of a man who was interested in dating her, then not dating her, and ultimately wanting her toddler’s poop. Yes, poop. Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest, the rest of her episodes chronicling the ups and downs of life, the beauty and pitfalls of love, and her ardent appreciation for humanity will entice and beguile your ears.
|| Highlight: David Terry: Jesus ||

With the ubiquity of smart phones, it’s easy to see why podcasts regained their eminence; they’re portable, easy to digest, and often a form of newstertainment. Additionally, their incredibly intimate deliveries provide an audial experience that both teaches and entertains. I’d love to know: what are some other great podcasts you’ve enjoyed?

*NoteCheck out this excellent article by @NatalieWires on the rise of podcasts here.

Good Reads (So Far) of 2015

The vast majority of my time spent outside of work is dedicated to reading. Long-form blogs, interviews, conference transcripts, and of course, books. They dominate, and it’s a shame I don’t love e-books as much as hard-copy because my wallet and bookshelf space would definitely benefit from going digital.

Alas, I remain stubbornly loyal to reading my books in hard copy. The start of each month marks another series of good reads, some recommended to me; others revolving around my latest obsession or selected from some bestseller or book award short list.

Of the 25+ books I’ve read so far this year, below are my top 5. They range in genre and topic, but each sparked great conversations and enlightenment for something novel.

  1. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Recommended to me by a friend possessing a deep understanding and perspective on intersectionality, racism, and the human experience of being “other”, Americanah is brave and startlingly honest. Adichie uses the protagonist’s experiences as the vehicles by which she weaves some of the most intricate emotions, observations, and indictments of what it means to be a modern citizen in our highly globalized yet still segregated world. I found I could not put it down, and that I identified strongly with some of the protagonist’s experiences with immigration and being a minority. I can’t believe it took me nearly 2 years to discover this book, and for anyone unfamiliar with Adichie, she’s the feminist powerhouse featured in Queen Bey’s song “Flawless“.
  2. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande
    A new favourite author of mine, Gawande is an American surgeon who gained popularity with his first book Complications back in 2002. Better is the second of his three major publications, and in it, Gawande again infuses his deep medical knowledge with his knack for storytelling to ponder how physicians, and all us humans, can strive to be better. He attributes exceptional performance down to three components: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity, and manages to distill some of medicine’s most chaotic moments into meaningful narratives while preserving their complexity. In the same way a surgeon has a moral obligation to continuously strive for better provision of health care, I finished this book with a profound sense that all of us can and should indeed strive for betterment.
  3. How to Create the Mind, Ray Kurzweil
    I came across Ray Kurzweil while reading a Bloomberg profile on Bill Maris, the precocious head of Google Ventures, back in the spring. In the article, Maris speaks with calculated fervidness on the prospect of living to the age of 500. To do so, Maris and futurists like Kurzweil portend the “Technological Singularity”, a term coined to describe the moment when computers outpace human abilities, resulting in the capacity for humans to transcend biology using such new technologies. Kurzweil’s seminal work, The Singularity is Near (2005), can do better justice in outlining such predictions, but after slogging through the Singularity, I picked up How to Create the Mind in hopes that a better background in both human and artificial brain functions and limitations would help frame my understanding of all his futuristic ideas. And it did…sort of. Create the Mind is definitely more digestible, and gives you a peek into how our brains can inspire the future’s digital brains.
  4. Remember Me Like This, Bret Anthony Johnston
    I’m weirdly obsessed with reading book reviews. I’m particularly fond of the ones in The New York Times, and I stumbled upon Johnston’s debut novel from reading Eleanor Henderson’s review on it. Reading the synopsis, it would be easy to dismiss Remember Me as another tale on child kidnapping or victimhood. However, the further I got along the book, the clearer it became that this is a story entirely focused on family and the unimaginable lengths we’ll go to protect and accept those we love.
  5. Zero to One, Peter Thiel
    I’d imagine that even if you are not plugged into the start-up or tech world, you know of or have heard of entrepreneur extraordinaire Peter Thiel. At the very least, you’ve heard of his company PayPal (and maybe even of Palantir). Zero to One is 2015’s Lean Startup – a must-read on any budding founders’ and creators’ short list. Truly revolutionary companies and products seeking to shape the future should aim for zero to one growth, and although I was a bit turned off by his disparaging tones on even the semblance of convention, Thiel’s broad concepts on building transformative businesses provided some interesting color on the reasons for their success.

Currently enjoying Oliver Sacks’s Anthropologist on Mars, but I’d love to know: what have been your favourite books of 2015 so far?

A Year in Retrospective

This post has been a long time coming. I recently “celebrated” my first one-year work-versary, and with the completion of my first triathlon, I now actually have time to collect and organize my disparate thoughts.

A little over a year ago, I graduated university and started my first full-time job in New York. Despite having grown up near New York and being familiar with the city, it was thrilling to be a part of a new culture: the post-grad newly employed crowd where the days are long, the nights are longer, and we seem to share the mantra, “work hard, play harder.” The first six months were marked by the steep learning curve that accompanies a new job, outings with old and new friends, and a surprisingly successful hunt for a NYC apartment (thank you, Craigslist – I’m serious).

The latter eight months have not been dramatically different, yet further reflection suggests that I’ve undergone a tremendously different sort of learning curve – one that has contributed to my own self-discovery and development. I’m sure these aren’t profoundly new revelations, but they are the most significant takeaways that I have recognized and hope to build upon as I continue growing, both personally and professionally.

1. Time is the most valuable commodity – Prioritization is key

In a sense, time is the great equalizer. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day to accomplish whatever goals you have. I acquiesce that some of us are privileged with certain affordances that provide us some liberties with respect to time management, but ultimately, I do my best to avoid wasting mine. Whether that means waking up a few hours earlier or choosing one activity over another, certain trade offs are made in the prioritization process. And most of the time, they aren’t sacrifices so long as you can determine that such time is spent doing something meaningful and worthwhile for yourself.

2. Create the social capital you want to be around

We spend a lot of time at work, and then when we’re not at work, we’re trying to catch up with friends or meet new people. Fostering relationships and establishing a network are integral pieces to success so surround yourself with individuals who have aspirational qualities and from whom you’ll learn and be challenged. I am fortunate to be able to call some of the most interesting, intellectual, and engaging people my friends and co-workers. They expose me to new disciplines and hobbies, and we’re able to learn from each other.

In optimizing the social capital around me, I’ve found it also eliminates negativity. Maudlin conversations are rarely constructive or productive. With banalities set aside, we can explore each others’ interests more deeply and derive a greater conversational experience, which in turn, expands our own knowledge bases.

3. Learn to love your own company

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant movement that is New York. There are meetings to attend, people to meet; yet the revolving door of human interaction can be exhausting (or maybe that’s the introvert in me speaking). Similar to unplugging, taking time to be on your own to decompress and clear your head is highly therapeutic. It helps hone in on what you really need/want versus what you think you need/want. I recently took a week long solo trip to Italy and thoroughly enjoyed having the time to answer to no one but myself. There is a distinction between being alone and feeling lonely, and in extinguishing the external din, you’ll find being alone can be incredibly liberating. So don’t fear the occasional dinner alone or solo weekend getaway – you might just find some much needed clarity.