day four

san francisco

Wake up around 7:30 a.m. after going to bed late last night around 3. Stayed up watching “World War Z” and “28 Days Later” because i’m a masochist. I lost count of how many times I heard the word “virus” and “infected” in both films. (I don’t recommend watching either right now.)

I immediately grab my phone and see a bunch of notification for Facebook. Some guy I haven’t seen or spoken to in 11 years decided to play “devil’s advocate” in the comments of a post I wrote last night. I expressed frustration around the photos of people crowding into bars and parties in the wake of the outbreak. He decided to give the flipside of that argument, and insult my “faux outrage.” I vaguely recalled him liking to pick Facebook fights years ago. Some people don’t change much. Time to de-friend his ass.

I take the dog outside and head to get a coffee. Hypocritical, I know. But I justify the coffee by thinking I want to support one of the local businesses I visit every day. It is the one pleasures I give myself right now. (I imagine they’ll be shuttering stores throughout the city soon, anyway.) I have a routine for every time i leave the house — which is primarily to take the dog for a walk — to minimize contact with others:

Next to my front door is a travel bottle of hand sanitizer. I take that with me along with a fistful of paper towels if I need to open any doors or touch anything. I keep track of when I have to touch something and use the hand sanitizer in between those moments. Soon, I’ll buy a pair of gardening gloves so I can ditch the towels. I haven’t used an N-95 mask yet, but we’ll probably get there soon.

Two weeks ago when the news started getting more traction, walking outside didn’t feel much different than a normal day in San Francisco. BART and MUNI might have been a bit more empty. But people were still going to bars, restaurants, shops.

This morning was different. The gravity of the situation is sinking in. Stores are mostly empty, save for lines out the door at Safeway, Whole Foods, Walgreens. My favorite coffee shop is a fraction as full as usual. Half the people I pass on the street are wearing masks.

Went to the pet store to get dog food on the way home. Woman came in, full mask, leather gloves, rubber boots — like she was heading to clean up a biohazard. She practically jumped back away from me and Bruna when I finished paying. My instinct was to be offended and mutter “GFY”, but I know I shouldn’t think that way anymore. I’ll shift my thinking from “Go Fuck Yourself” to, like, “Good For You,” I guess.

I’ve mostly been working for the past 16 days straight, which feels good. Keeps the brain occupied, and frankly I feel like I can actually do something beyond sitting and watching CNN all day. I’m collecting stories from peoples lives about how things are going down. Will start helping the National desk, heading out and around San Francisco to collect stories from the community. I’ll be looking like the Pet Store biohazard lady at that point, I’m sure.

To that end, if you have examples of things that could be stories around the coronavirus — whether they’re tech related or just interesting in their own right — I’m all ears. Don’t respond to this substack email, send me a note at my work email: mike dot isaac at nytimes dot com.

Talk soon, i’m sure.






the book is here

hey kids,

I’m convinced half of all blog entries involve some turn of the phrase, “i promise i’ll begin posting more often.” Mine is no different, but I’m sure I’ll say that again by the next time I update.

In any case, after two years of intense reporting and five years of covering the company, my book, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, is out now in the U.S. and U.K.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be able to share this with you all. It’s a book on Uber, but dare i say it’s also much larger than that. It is an artifact of this moment in technology, and how we think about the products and companies of Silicon Valley that shape our everyday lives in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

If the first 25 to 30 years of technology coverage was characterized by a sense of hope and optimism, I believe we’ve entered a new era of tech criticism, a moment where we’ve realized that a small patch of suburban Northern California has had an outsized impact on the shape of global politics, the vicissitudes of our fast-changing culture, on the flow and structure of digital discourse, and on how we navigate the physical world.

Most of all, we’re beginning to understand that even with the best of intentions, technology can be a corrosive force, as fast-growing companies usher in a host of unforeseen side-effects that can bring about as much societal damage as they do progress.

I believe Uber is the avatar for this shared moment, a company characterized by hubris and excess, great heights and stunning new lows; i believe Uber forced us to look at what we expect out of technology, and how future generations of founders can build the next wave of startups while trying to attempt the pitfalls of the past.

I’d be honored if you purchased the book, here or in your local bookstores, and if you enjoyed it, please leave reviews on Amazon and GoodReads:

Amazon Page for Super Pumped

GoodReads Review Page for Super Pumped

Thanks to all who have supported me and the making of this book. And additional thanks to every one of you willing to buy the book and read this insane story. I truly hope you enjoy it.

And if you can, please come out to any one of my upcoming events across the country (and beyond!):

— Mike

Mike Isaac: Cruisin' USA

it's book tour time, baby

hi kids

been a minute since i wrote a newsletter, so im gonna have to start doing that again. frankly, i blame twitter.

but on to more important things. namely, a chance to hang out IN PERSON, TOGETHER, for my BOOK TOUR!

my book on Uber comes out September 3rd in the United States and the United Kingdom (PRE ORDER IT NOW) , and i’m doing a tour to promote it. yes, i will actually leave my house, something that will be difficult for me, a hermit who loves nothing but his dog and the tv.

for real though, i’d love to meet you and hopefully say some interesting things about Uber, tech and Silicon Valley writ large in a series of conversations i’ll be having with authors and journalists around the country. we’re doing roughly a dozen dates in the U.S. plus a few in London, and I’ll continuously be adding to my events page on my website as we schedule more through the end of 2019 and into 2020.

Details below:

more info available on the EVENTS section of my site, below, and I’ll be updating it regularly as we get closer to the tour with addresses, conversation partners and links to ticket sales. (some of these tickets will go fast, so hop on ‘em!)

if you want to come out and buy a signed copy of my book — plus shoot the shit with me in public, or possibly call me names and yell at me if you dont like my coverage — it would mean the world to me!

ta ta for now. i promise ill blog more things that are (slightly) less self-promotional soon.

nothing bad can stay

the impermanent internet

thesis: the permanent social internet is dying. the impermanent social internet will need to replace it. and it will be even more difficult to make money on such an internet than it was before.

first, a bit of history.

facebook, twitter and the like were largely predicated on the idea that people actively desire a record of their activities online. in 2011 or so, facebook rolled out "Timeline,” basically a roadmap of your entire facebook life. most product development thereafter focused on documenting interactions between users and assuming FB’s customers would enjoy these things. the word “canonical” came up a lot when i spoke to execs back then.

this kind of internet, as it turned out, also happened to be convenient for building a business. if facebook knows everything about you, it is easier to sell ads against you. and pretty much every product on FB was built to extract as much information about you as possible.

now, these companies are in a pickle. as facebook matured, we discovered the unintended consequences of living a life online. an errant, ignorant tweet from our teenage years can get us fired—or worse, canceled. our parents could have created an entire instagram dedicated to our poopy-diaped years without our knowledge or express consent. forget running for office if youve ever tweeted about, like, anything.

I cant remember at what point my posts started becoming a liability rather than a rich text of my life. it was probably around the time G*merg*te happened and the gutter of the internet started weaponizing peoples’ pasts against them. or when i started writing about reddit for the nyt, and some of the more vicious, men’s rights activists types decided to go after me. (MRA’s are the true shitbags of the web. try to never invoke their ire.)

the bottom line is that we dont want our histories to come back and fuck us.

Evan Spiegel, for all his faults, realized this early on. (he’s a very guarded, private person, which shaped his idea of the kind of internet he wanted to create for himself.) ive long believed the creation of snapchat was largely a response to a post-Facebook world, and the ideas around the permanence of putting our lives online. it was a stroke of genius from evan, even if ultimately not an enormously lucrative independent company.

that’s where we find ourselves now—evan’s world. people are beginning to post less publicly online. even Mark Zuckerberg has said as much. “In 2019, we expect the amount of Stories that are shared to outnumber the amount of Feed posts that are shared,” he said, referring to Facebook Stories. (fb and IG stories are FB’s blatant ripoffs of Snapchat.)

This is a big deal. Facebook’s moneymaker has always been the News Feed, filled with 15 years of posts, photos and status updates. but in an impermanent world, the fewer so-called “organic” posts that appear in the Feed—meaning, the stuff you or i post on our own accord—the fewer paid ads facebook is able to insert between them. (the company has basically already maxed out on stuffing FB and Instagram feeds with ads, anyway, so this only compounds that problem.)

so what to do?

to Facebook’s credit, the company is mobilizing fast. Zuckerberg is all in on stories (poor snapchat!); he’s created a stories product for every property he owns—Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp— and is promoting the hell out of them. It’s impressive to see an enormous company turn on a dime like this, and few orgs at Facebook’s size would be able to do this so quickly or effectively.

there’s one more big problem: Making money off of Stories is not as simple as making money from the News Feed. the advertising formats are fundamentally different. it’s easy to skip a story ad with a tap of the finger. you don’t linger on the image or video as long when you realize it’s an ad. and the less time you spend on ads, the less Facebook gets paid. that’s a remarkable contrast to how much time people spent lingering on news feed ads.

here’s an example: snapchat, which has been impermanent from the very start, ended 2018 with a little over $1.1 billion in annual revenue from its different ad formats. Facebook, by contrast, raked in more than fifty times that amount, some $55 billion, most of that coming from news feed ads. that is an insane amount of money. but it is also based on a permanent internet, one that is quickly going away.

so we are left with a few questions. as people realize their digital pasts are a liability and post less frequently, are some of these companies going to grow smaller and less lucrative? will facebook — the biggest social network on the planet — end up shrinking? will those annual revenues dry up?

and what happens to Twitter, the absolute furthest behind in terms of any and all product development that deals with an impermanent internet? (in my mind, twitter is super fucked if it doesn’t start testing different versions of itself to experiment with ephemerality. but god knows whats going on over there these days, since it takes them 3+ years to formulate a plan to deal with its harassment problems.)

anyway, food for thought. those bullish on FB will cite the company’s ruthless and efficient history of execution. they’ll believe that new, innovative advertising products are yet to come, and that they will make the company stronger (i.e. richer) than ever. those bearish on FB will probably look at the enormous amount of flak it’s taking from literally every regulator around the world, and wonder if it will be broken up into parts. or maybe people are actually pissed off enough right now at the numerous scandals and data leaks that they’ll actually delete FB en masse. (i doubt it.)

this newsletter/blog post—as is the case with blog posts—is permanent, so i will eventually have the benefit of hindsight to tell me if i was fantastically wrong. or, as is often the case with the internet, we will undergo another enormous shift with how people carry out their digital lives.

maybe i’ll delete it later.


it is saturday and it is raining, so here’s some travis:



they say you have at least eighteen years to write your first album. and only eighteen months to write your second one.

in most creative pursuits, really, you’re only as good as your last piece of work. (this is particularly true for journalism; the half-life of a scoop is measured in minutes rather than months. A well-executed feature might leave a stronger impression and linger in memory for a good week or so. maybe a magazine cover will win the month’s mindshare. if you’re lucky, a book might win that year’s award for best “whatever”

but just after your work is released into the world, it starts to die. if you’re lucky enough to have people take interest in what you’ve made, it is digested, absorbed and passed. almost as quickly as it arrived, we are ready for whats next.

thats what i was getting at with the woodwinds. to outdo yourself you feel like going bigger, grander than before. for musicians, it often means getting symphonic. sometimes, the second album goes big and is greater for it. more often, going big doesnt always work.

pressure does strange things to people. in my early years, anxiety paralyzed me and kept me from doing things i dreamed of (that led to a lot of chemicals and a hazy, misspent blur of a coming-of-age story, an entirely separate conversation we may have here one day). later, i snapped out of it and used that pressure to force myself into performing. now, i often need a (metaphorical) gun to my head to snap into action and create work that i’m proud of.

this is a common journalist trope: i need two weeks to write a worthy feature piece. 13-and-a-half days to worry about it, and 12 hours to actually write, revise and publish it.


im thinking of all of this in the context of my first book, which is set to publish in the coming months. (self-promotion: preorder this bad boy, please, if you haven’t already.) as a writer who generally finds something to dislike about most of my work, I’m actually excited for people to read the book when it comes out. My editor, fact-checker and I spent a lot of time making this into something we can be proud of, and I think we ended up with a truly worthwhile work of narrative nonfiction.

now, they tell me, is the time i am supposed to think about what’s next. the next book, the next job, the next whatever. i honestly am not quite sure what that is yet. but i am certainly beginning to feel the heat. i’ll either rise to the occasion or flounder about for a while in a state of self-doubt until i figure it out. i’d prefer to do the former — it’s more expedient — though even if i go the latter route i’ll still get to where i need to go eventually.

whatever the case, i don’t think it will incorporate woodwinds.


now listening:

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