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Source Code: Tech talks the protest talk

Image: SpaceX
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

Good morning! This Monday, the tech community tries to figure out how to talk about protests, the CDC has ideas about office design, and SpaceX hits its mark.

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People Are Talking

Amid a weekend of protests, Tim Cook told Apple employees that it's time to step up:

  • "At Apple, our mission has and always will be to create technology that empowers people to change the world for the better. We've always drawn strength from our diversity, welcomed people from every walk of life to our stores around the world, and strived to build an Apple that is inclusive of everyone. But together, we must do more." (More on this below.)

Successful investing is a solo show, Chamath Palihapitiya believes:

  • "The fundamental underwriting decisions of great investors over long periods of time are very lonely individual decisions. It's about a kind of pattern recognition that very few people have. I don't know if I have it. But in order to find out, I need to isolate myself and do it myself."

EU government officials called on tech companies to give them more access and data for contact-tracing projects:

  • "In a time like this, when the use of technology is critical to fight this global crisis, as governments, we expect the technology companies to take into account the countries' overall well-being and needs when setting digital standards."

The Big Story

Tech talks the protest talk

Google added a note to its homepage over the weekend: "We stand in support of racial equality, and all those who search for it." YouTube's homepage showed a video called "Stand Against Racial Injustice."

  • And Sundar Pichai tweeted: "Today on U.S. Google & YouTube homepages we share our support for racial equality in solidarity with the Black community and in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery & others who don't have a voice. For those feeling grief, anger, sadness & fear, you are not alone."

All weekend, tech companies were posting similar messages, supporting those protesting against racial injustice:

  • Twitter changed its logo to a black bird, and offered tips for people to better follow the protests happening across the U.S. all weekend. Jack Dorsey spent the weekend tweeting and retweeting about what was happening, while the company's Twitter Together team shared information on what allies can do.
  • Airbnb's Brian Chesky said "Black lives matter. We stand with those using their voices and peacefully calling for justice, fairness and racial equality."
  • Amazon tweeted that "The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop." AWS CEO Andy Jassy wondered what it'll take and "how many people must die" before things change.
  • Not that the numbers really matter, but Netflix had the brand-tweet everyone was sharing: "To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up."
  • There were many more statements, too — here's one really good list of what different companies have said.

An interesting thing happened in response to all these tweets (I mean, other than the predictable politics and fighting): People asked tech companies what they were going to do about it — how they'd put their money where their mouth is.

  • A good example: All those brand statements became a meme, ridiculing the generic corporate messages, in record time.
  • Away's Jen Rubio and Slack's Stewart Butterfield got a lot of praise on Sunday night after announcing they're giving away $700,000 to 10 different social-justice groups.
  • But in general, people wanted tech companies and executives to do more.

After the last few days, in which we've also seen Facebook employees speak out against Mark Zuckerberg's decision to not moderate Trump's tweets, the chorus is only getting louder in asking tech companies to take more action, spend more money, and pick more fights in support of their values.

These questions are bigger than social, bigger than moderation, and bigger than Trump even. They're about what tech companies are supposed to do, and be, and represent in the world. And I don't think they're going away.

Space

Up, up and away

In happier news, Launch America launched! A few minutes before lift-off, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said that "I stopped getting nervous for launches. Today I'm nervous again. Super nervous. Stomach in throat." But things went as smoothly as could be: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley took off on Saturday, and docked with the International Space Station on Sunday morning. SpaceX even managed to catch the Falcon 9 rocket with its drone ship, the one hilariously named "Of Course I Still Love You."

If you missed it, you can still watch the whole 9-hour launch livestream, or the footage of the Crew Dragon docking with the ISS. (The video is amazing enough that it made my wife, Anna, say, "Yeah, I get why people think this stuff is faked.")

  • I particularly liked watching footage from inside the craft, where you can see Behnken and Hurley control the ship. It's basically just a bunch of iPads! This is a VR simulator begging to be made.

This whole thing was cool because, well, space is always cool. But don't forget what's at stake:

  • NASA's Jim Bridenstine said we're entering "an era in human spaceflight where more space is going to be available to more people than ever before. We envision a future where low-earth orbit is entirely commercialized, where NASA is one customer of many customers."
  • As for why it matters that it was American companies, American astronauts and American soil? Voyager Space Holdings CEO Dylan Taylor told me in our conversation last week that it's about self-reliance. "Let's assume you have technology on the ISS that's sensitive, and you have Americans up there, we shouldn't be at the whim of a foreign power that many say is hostile to the U.S," he said.
  • From GPS to satellite internet to all the tech yet to be developed, being able to control its own space destiny is key for any country. Just ask China: It's speeding up its own plans to build a presence in space.

A MESSAGE FROM WALMART

Walmart

How Walmart Is Promoting A Safer Store Environment

The retailer has expanded paid leave policies, closed stores for overnight cleaning, installed plexiglass barriers and social distance markers and introduced temperature checks for associates.

Read more here.

WFH

Back to the office? First, a renovation

Desks 6 feet apart, separated by big transparent shields. Temperature and symptom checks every time you walk into the building. Face coverings at all times. When offices do start to reopen, the CDC recommends companies make huge changes to how they're run. Many of the adjustments are borderline impossible.

  • Airflow is a big one: The CDC recommends improving ventilation and opening windows. Good luck with that on the 56th floor of your skyscraper.
  • Anything that everyone uses has to go: "Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as prepackaged, single-serving items."
  • In general, the main rule is 6 Feet Apart — even in the elevator. I don't know what kind of gigantic elevators the CDC has, but I don't think that's going to work for most offices.

The CDC also suggests a rethink on what to do with "work and common areas where employees could have close contact." Cafeterias, break rooms, even lobbies are all danger zones now.

  • Problem is, those places, and the human interaction they create, are also the primary reasons to go to the office! If it becomes a bunch of disparate cubicles that discourage or ban group activity, that's almost exactly like working from home. Just with more commuting.
  • If you must have a meeting, the guidelines say, do it outside.

No wonder so many companies are adopting permanent remote-work policies — that might be easier than trying to get everybody back, at least for now.

Coming Up This Week

Protocol's next Virtual Meetup is on Thursday. I'll be talking with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer about moderation, remote work, AI, brain computing and much more. Come join us, and ask Mike your burning questions!

Cisco Live starts Tuesday, with free talks on all things tech and IT. (Though maybe it's now more like Cisco Digital.)

Zoom reports earnings Tuesday. We'll see what's happened to the poster company of quarantine, which has gone through about 40 hype cycles in three months.

Sony's holding a PlayStation event on Thursday, where it'll share much more about the PlayStation 5 and the future of gaming. And that weird controller it's been teasing for a while.

In Other News

One More Thing

It's so beautiful it'll destroy your phone

There's a photo making the rounds. A picture of a sunset over a lake. But if you try to set that image as a wallpaper on your Android phone, it might crash so badly you have to reset your phone. It has to do with a wrongly coded color profile, but it's a nice reminder that the ways to brick your phone are weirder and more plentiful than you ever imagined. Also, that the best way to get someone to do something stupid is to tweet "don't do this, it's stupid" at them.

A MESSAGE FROM WALMART

Walmart

Walmart Makes Face Coverings a Requirement for Associates

Walmart is providing masks for associates in stores, clubs, offices, and distribution and fulfillment centers. This is in addition to in-store measures like plexiglass barriers and customer limits.

Read more here.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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