SAN FRANCISCO — From 3-D screens to privacy to augmented reality, Kara Swisher, a journalist who has chronicled the digital age since 1997, shared her views on the risks and rewards packaged with the latest wave of innovation.
Swisher, speaking during the Real Estate Connect conference on Tuesday, talked about the rise of Facebook, the loss of privacy in an "over-sharing world," and the seeming quest by companies like Facebook and Google for "full digitalization of every single thing on the planet."
"You have to be very wary of what you’re putting (online) and what you’re trading away. You have to be thinking about the implications of this as you move on," she said.
And while her spouse is a Google executive, "Google people freak me out from time to time," she joked.
As co-executive editor for All Things Digital, a techie site that is part of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, and co-producer for the "D: All Things Digital" tech and media conference, she has had face time with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech giants including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and even "Avatar" director James Cameron.
She talked about the "sort of a love-hate relationship" of Gates and Jobs, who actually shared the stage during an "All Things Digital" conference, and about the mystique of Steve Jobs even among Apple employees, as if "he’s Willy Wonka and everyone else is an Oompa Loopa."
Jobs has revolutionized computing, she noted, and "he’s very unapologetic about what he’s doing" at Apple, she said.
"He’s eliminated a lot of things on a computer he complained about … they’re no longer there," she said
One of his latest battles is "eliminating (Adobe’s) Flash completely from the earth," Swisher said, as he’s pushing the adoption of alternative Web coding solution HTML5 as a new standard.
As for Facebook, the company has "been making a lot of privacy decisions that are a bit controversial," she said, and its business model relies heavily on people’s willingness to voluntarily "vomit" up information, though she said the company has been working recently to address some privacy concerns.
Swisher said she gets a fair amount of insider tips through her work, and in some cases relies on anonymous sources — "They’re not anonymous to me. I know exactly who’s talking to me and I know why" — in her reporting.
"I don’t use any sources I am not 100 percent sure have the information," she said.
She does receive some forwarded "fabulous memos," she noted, including some interesting ones from Yahoo.
She joked that Yahoo is like an "Internet company that keeps falling down the stairs and you’re like, ‘Oh … not dead yet.’ "
Mobile computing is changing society, she also said. Speaking of her 5-year-old son, "every time he gets near a screen he starts whacking it" because he thinks it’s a touch screen, she related.
She discussed trends in augmented reality, such as Google Goggles, a tool that uses a camera on a mobile device to capture an image and deliver relevant information about the object featured in the image.
Such tech tools could conceivably lead down the path of facial recognition tools in the hands of mobile-phone users, she said. But that’s the mixed bag with new technology — "it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing," Swisher said.
In an interview with Inman News following her presentation, Swisher said that real estate has been a particularly ripe industry for new technology development.
"It’s a perfect industry to attack because it’s been such a nontransparent industry," she said.
"It’s one of the great areas to be affected by technology" because of the high volume of information about schools, crime, neighborhoods and properties, she said.
And some new technologies promise a more immersive online experience to view home information, she said. Technology could make virtual walk-throughs commonplace, she noted.
And as technology encroaches on agents’ turf and makes real estate information more freely available, agents have to work to build stronger relationships with clients, she said.
Real estate professionals can still provide the "analog" of the homebuying experience, she said, as housing is "so linked to our welfare and feelings about ourselves."
The democratization of information has been empowering for people around the world, she noted, and she believes the price of communication tools will continue to fall.
She is not too concerned about whether the constant flow of brief communications these days is dumbing down society — "You can’t blame Twitter for the end of civilization," she joked.
"It’s the human condition to be trivial — it’s also the human condition to be great."
But as a parent, she is concerned that people sometimes act a bit "like little hummingbirds," constantly distracted by the next "shiny, pretty" new thing, whether or not it’s the best focus for our attention.
That’s nothing new — it’s the lettuce vs. doughnut debate, she said. "The doughnut tastes better."