The Atlas Society Asks Blake J. Harris

October 14, 2021 00:59:54
The Atlas Society Asks Blake J. Harris
The Atlas Society Presents - The Atlas Society Asks
The Atlas Society Asks Blake J. Harris
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Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, is speaking at The Atlas Society Gala -- just THREE weeks away! In anticipation, we’re reading The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality -- the dramatic, larger-than-life true story of Palmer Luckey’s founding of Oculus, and his contentious battle for political freedom against Facebook. In this special webinar, we’ll talk to author Blake J. Harris, also author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation -- about Palmer Luckey’s entrepreneurial journey, and quest for virtual reality. Register HERE.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:01 Hello, everyone. And welcome. Welcome to the 74th episode of the Atlas society asks. My name is Jennifer on Jew Grossman. My friends call me JAG. I am the CEO of the Atlas society. We are the leading nonprofit organization, introducing young people to the idea of Iran in fun, creative ways like graphic novels, animated video, uh, living history. Today, we are joined by Blake J Harris. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I wanted to remind all of you who are joining us, not just on zoom, but watching us on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, type your questions into the comment stream, or going to try to get to as many of them as we can. So, uh, Blake J Harris is someone that, um, I have been following for a while. He's a writer and a filmmaker whose work has appeared in many outlets like ESPN and fast company. He is a two time best selling author, a console wars, Sega and Nintendo say got Nintendo. And the battle that defined a generation, uh, he and his partner is made that into a documentary, which is just a thrill to watch. Um, he is also author of the history of the future, Oculus Facebook and the revolution that swept virtual reality. So, um, Blake, welcome again. Thank you for joining us. Speaker 1 00:01:47 Thank you so much for having me, uh, you know, in line with your mission. I was once a young person, I know it's hard to believe that not, I was very influenced by Iran's books. They were, you know, they still stand as some of my favorites and they, I don't think I'd be where I am today without reading them. So it's an honor to be here. Speaker 0 00:02:05 Um, and we, we did not note that going into, to this interview. Um, but now that I do, I could see why Atlas shrugged, uh, as a great American novel about business, about people coming together, innovating Rearden metal, um, and, uh, and coming up against obstacles and finding innovation, innovative solutions. I could, I can now see some of that, you know, in, in your work. So as you know, Palmer Luckey is speaking at our gala in Malibu coming up in three weeks and one day, and your book, the history of the future is, is in part Palmer's story, uh, as well as the story of Oculus, um, the story of virtual reality and, you know, without giving too much of a spoiler, it, it also includes kind of a cautionary tale about cancel culture. And I get the sense that the story that you wrote was not necessarily the one that you set out to write, because you were doing interviews and research in real time. So you could not have predicted, uh, the way that things turned out. So let's maybe take a step back and start with what got you interested in the subject to begin with and, and how you got started. Speaker 1 00:03:33 Sure. Uh, I mean, you're absolutely right. We can talk more about how the story changed and how my life changed telling that story, but, but really fascinated me was the technology virtual reality to a degree, but it was, it was Palmer. Um, it is an ensemble story, but Palmer's the lead character for those who don't know Palmer, you should, uh, he was 19 years old in 2012, when he founded a company called Oculus, whose mission was to bring virtual reality to the masses. They created a headset that were launched on a, you know, like a virtual reality headset that you put on and you can see into a virtual world and have an immersive experience. They launched on Kickstarter, they raised over $2 million. It was, you know, one of the highest, most successful Kickstarters of all time. And then two years after that, when power was only 21, the company was sold to Facebook for $3 billion. Speaker 1 00:04:22 Um, and, uh, we'll talk about why he's no longer at Facebook and what he's done since then and how he's bounced back stronger than ever. But yeah, I mean, I love stories about entrepreneurs. Um, I think that business stories are also the most entertaining stories. I know that some people think that they're dry. Um, but I think, you know, there's inherent stakes to almost all business stories and especially when it intersects with culture, um, and technology, it's just really fascinating. Like you said, those are themes that are present in Atlas, shrugged and the Fountainhead. And, um, and I don't think coincidentally, even though not intentionally, uh, in my work. And so just, I wanted to see the story of, you know, how Palmer, how he went from idea to company, to, you know, being acquired for several billion dollars to no longer being at that company. And of course it was not just him, uh, his FA you know, co-founders were incredibly important and so are so many people along the way, but he's a very fascinating, uh, mesmerizing guy. Speaker 0 00:05:28 Yeah. Well, even the, the early story, um, of, of him, all of his quirks living in this trailer parked in his parents' garage. Um, but then having this idea just also reaching out, you know, to, to various people, uh, that could help him and not being deterred and then, you know, finding and, and understanding as well. Like, well, I, I got this idea, I've got this invention. Um, I know, you know, the hardware, I know the software to an extent, but I don't know how to raise money, or I don't have the connections or I don't know, marketing. And so just seeing how that team came together and, you know, for the most part for, for awhile worked together pretty, um, pretty well. So, uh, but so this is a show we often talk about philosophy. We talk about culture, we talk about politics. Um, so this is a bit of a departure for us. Speaker 0 00:06:35 And, um, but, but in terms of our audience and the broader public's familiarity with virtual reality, it was popularized by again, science fiction books, snow crash by Neal Stephenson, uh, Ernest Cline's ready player. One of course that was made into a tremendous fit movie, uh, by Steven Spielberg for Warner brothers, um, and earnest client. I should also mention, uh, you somehow landed to, to write the foreword to your book. So for the uninitiated and uninitiated who don't know what, you know, virtual reality is, it might actually be helpful to talk a little bit about those two novels, um, as a way of, you know, giving them a sense of what, what the potential, uh, is and what, what the vision is. Speaker 1 00:07:30 Absolutely. So, uh, ready player one by Ernest Cline came out, I think in 2011 and 2012, it was around the same time. It was within a year of when Palmer started Oculus. Um, and the timing, you know, there was something to that timing because, um, whereas like you mentioned, most virtual reality has existed in science fiction, and it's always been this very futuristic, sometimes just topic, just topic thing, but, but ready player, one seemed to introduce the technology that existed today, or that was very close to existing. And the idea was that in the future, I think it was in the year 2033. Um, every most people lived in trailers, not much of the everyday physical world was explored and every morning people would put on a headset and this headset would be so immersive, you know, um, you would feel like you were in another place and just for those uninitiated, you know, a very small example of what that means is if you're, um, you know, it's not just the 3d effect. Speaker 1 00:08:25 It's the fact that when you turn your head, the world doesn't turn with you, like as if you were looking at a television, um, you actually have a 360 degree view of your environment. You can move forward, you can move backward. Um, and there there's a lot of benefits to this, this idea that you could be anywhere at any time that I could feel like I was in that room with you right now, or even some things like I remember I got a really big, it was, it, it opened up something in my head one time when, um, you know, like right now I have a 45 or 50 inch television, but if you put on a virtual reality headset, there was a, an application that made you feel like you were in a movie theater. And suddenly you're sitting in a movie theater with a, I don't know, 80 foot screen. Speaker 1 00:09:06 And it really feels like you're watching an 80 foot screen, so you can play with scale and things like that. And I thought that, um, you know, the technology was really fascinating because it actually felt like, uh, w when Oculus had developed Palmer's invention, you actually felt like you were somewhere else. Like, I remember the first time I took a demo. I remember thinking to myself that if someone were to punch me in the stomach right now, it would take me like a half, a second to respond. Cause I didn't really feel like I was in my physical body. I felt like I was where somewhere else. Um, and so it's this really incredible technology for Palmer and his co-founders. It was about gaming. It was about stepping into the game. It was about this next generation of what gaming could be, where you're not just, you know, playing in front of a screen, but you're stepping into the screen. And then, you know, Facebook saw what Oculus was doing and like the gaming, but they, you know, on surprisingly like the social aspect, this idea that, you know, instead of watching a basketball game on your television, you could put on a headset and feel like you're sitting in the front row. And, uh, they made a big investment in Oculus and in virtual reality. Speaker 0 00:10:09 Yeah, no. And virtual reality, I think Paul, you described how Palmer said, well, he had this vision, he wanted to get to this kind of ready player, one virtual world, um, and FA made a bet that gaming was going to be the, the vehicle, uh, to get him there. But the world of virtual reality is not just gaming. It is social, it is training. Um, you know, the military uses it on there's therapeutic applications. And, um, and then also there's, Speaker 1 00:10:44 And that I, you know, I mentioned that I've written some stuff for fast company. One of the first article I wrote for them was about how the United nations was trying to raise money for, uh, refugees in Syria. And instead of, you know, asking potential donors, you know, can you give money to this? Cause here's what it's all about. They had a, uh, an eight minute short film made with a 360 degree view. So you actually put it on and feel like you're living in a refugee camp. Um, and so there's the sense of presence that you're able to achieve with virtual reality and Ernie's book, uh, which came out around that time was really impactful. And a lot of people in the tech community, not just as a cool story, but as something that, you know, maybe if they were to leave their jobs at apple or Google, they could actually help build the infrastructure for what this could be. Speaker 1 00:11:28 And, uh, and, and they're starting to do that. You know, it's a long ways away and, uh, unfortunately Palmer's no longer in that business directly in that same way. But, um, yeah, my, my story took a big twist, uh, originally as I'm sure it will surprise no one, when you, when you set out to write a book with a publisher, you have a contract for, you know, you have, you have a delivery date. Like I had 18 months to write this book and it ended up taking me four years. Um, and not just because I'm a slow writer, but because the story absolutely changed. Um, yeah, I don't know Speaker 0 00:12:01 We're going to get, get to that, but, but sticking with polymers, you know, beginnings, um, Speaker 1 00:12:06 Honestly this about farmer, uh, he, he is, um, he he's so charismatic. He puts a smile on your face to be around. He's one of the smartest guys I've ever met. Um, I remember, you know, like, like, like Jennifer mentioned, uh, so, you know, setting the stage on how, the way the book begins is in 2012, he's living in long beach, California, technically living with his parents, but he has his own space by living in a trailer, outside at the foot of their driveway. And he was describing this trailer to me and it had basically been totally gutted and it was turned into a makeshift mad scientist laboratory where you had like 40 different virtual reality headsets. And I said, you know, that kind of sounds like Walter White's meth man and breaking bad. And he's like, yeah, it was basically like that. But for virtual reality and just something that felt so Palmer to me was, um, you know, his girlfriend who is now his wife, Nicole Adelman, um, she was also on this call the one time I was talking to him about that. And, and she said, you know, it was so terrible. And Palmer was like, no, I loved it. Like he, he, he was able to find joy in the simpler things in life. He handled, living in a trailer, felt like living in a spaceship. Um, and, and he just has a really odd, optimistic way of looking at the world. Um, Speaker 0 00:13:20 Yeah, no, I, and, um, I remember at some point in your book after the company is sold, they are going to move up to, uh, Silicon valley. And, um, but he's, he has the idea that we're going to go and live in a junkyard. So that, that seems, it seemed like a great idea to him, but I have not yet met him, but I am looking forward to that. And I wanted to remind all of you who are watching, uh, that you have the opportunity to meet him too, and not just in virtual reality. So we'll put the link to the gala in, um, in the chat, but, uh, but you will, you will also have an opportunity virtual, there is a virtual option, but it's not going to not going to be virtual reality option yet, but given, Speaker 1 00:14:11 I think it's worth saying on the subject that I, that I probably should have said earlier, it's just that virtual reality for those of us who are, um, you know, our age, remember growing up in the eighties and nineties, and it felt like virtual reality was this thing that was right around the corner. Like if you had pulled me when I was 10 years old and said, you know, when's virtual audit coming, I'd say, oh, in five years. And then it never did. And it sort of became this technological punchline, like flying cars or jet packs. And that made people think it wasn't possible, but Palmer through an odd set of skills. And he was really into portable Lising consoles and, you know, taking retro gaming and, you know, he developed this fascination of virtual reality. And, um, as you know, one other key player in the story of the book, as well as just the story of Oculus in virtual reality is resurgence with John Carmack. Speaker 1 00:15:00 And, um, you know, he put it really eloquently to me where he just said that, uh, his game that he created doom had been licensed for virtual reality in the nineties. And then he hadn't really thought about virtual reality for 20 years. And he just assumed it had progressed in like a linear or exponential fashion, but it hadn't because no one had been working on anymore. And I think that that's always just really was fascinating to me because, um, you know, a lot of things in life we just assume are going to happen, but unless someone actually does them, they don't. And also just, you know, the title of the book is the history of the future. But thinking about the future, I think that we all to some degree think that the future is this thing that is, um, if that set in stone or that there is a future out there, but in reality, it's more like digging up something from the sand and you could, there's one future, if you, you know, like a butterfly effect thing. So I just, you know, I guess a long winded way of saying that there are people who help make the future. Um, and it's not driven by malicious intent. It's driven by passion and desire, or at least in this case, it was, and that was what was so appealing to me. Speaker 0 00:16:06 Right. Well, that's the future isn't given that, that it isn't predestined, um, that, that many of us just wait for it, but then there are other people who actually, uh, achieve it and going back to, um, to Iran when she was asked about Atlas shrugged and, uh, they looked at it and they saw what was going around in the world going on in the world. And they said that it's prophecy. And she said that, um, it was not prophecy in terms of, uh, a, a future that, um, could not be avoided, but it was a testimony to our power to avoid that dystopian future if we choose to change course. So, um, so writing about the book you conducted hundreds of, of interviews, you were granted virtually unlimited access, uh, by Oculus Facebook to write about Oculus founding and the possibilities of virtual reality, but fast forward two and a half years, um, this access was abruptly ended. So why, why is that what happened? Speaker 1 00:17:21 Uh, sure. So to answer that we should get into a little bit of what happened with Palmer and why he left the company. Um, and so what happened was in, um, I think September 22nd, or September 23rd, 2016, this was six weeks before the presidential election between Hillary and Trump. Um, there was an article that came out from the daily beast whose headline, which was about Palmer, uh, said the Facebook billionaire secretly funding Trump's meme machine, and the, you know, main thrust of the article is twofold. One that Palmer's a Trump supporter and no one knew this. And this was, you know, blasphemy and Silicon valley. And two was that much more damningly that every terrible online thing that you've seen for the past election season, everything malicious, homophobic, transphobic, everything bad, basically Palmer was the money behind this, which was absolutely not true. It was true that he's a Trump supporter. Speaker 1 00:18:11 Um, and as so as often, the case happens these days, um, you know, the media ran with that narrative. They still believe it's true because it's written somewhere. Um, and it was just absolutely false. And, you know, it was like this game of telephone where the next headline was that Palmer was the Facebook billionaire secretly funding. Trump's racist to me machine. And, you know, every headline has to be more sensational than the next. Um, and so when all that happened, you know, I've mentioned that Palmer is a charismatic guy. He's a, he's a great natural public speaker and has a good sense. You know, he's very, he's very authentic and people like that about him. And so his authentic, desired response was to put out a statement that said, this is absolutely not true, these, this, this and this, but yes, I am a Trump supporter. And here's why to actually, you know, show people here's where he's coming from. It's not, you know, like there's, there's a lot of logic to why he was a Trump supporter. I personally am not. And I disagreed and have had nice to be with him, but he had good reasons and he wanted to put out that statement. Um, but he was not allowed to specifically mark Zuckerberg. Wouldn't let him put out that statement. Um, if he, he had to, um, basically the, Speaker 0 00:19:24 It was not the statement that ended up being put out under his name. Speaker 1 00:19:28 Right, right, right. Um, the statement that ended up being put out under his name was a statement that said he was that he had donated to this organization. Um, I guess I forgot to mention it. He donated $10,000 a little bit less than $10,000 to a, um, 5 0 1 C three <inaudible> that had put up one billboard and the billboard said too big to jail. And it had a character of Hillary Clinton looking kind of like a chipmunk, nothing, you know, like it was very tame as far as political ads go. Um, and so my first thought, even though, like you mentioned, I did hundreds of interviews for the book. I was largely in touch with. I was in touch with Palmer almost every day. And, and, but, you know, my first thought when I read the stars goal was if this is true, show me the memes. Speaker 1 00:20:18 There was, you know, you'd think an article about all these means, but anyway, um, so w uh, Palmer was Forrest in the sense that if he wants to keep his job at Oculus and to him at that point in his life, Oculus was his baby. It was virtual reality was everything for the past five years. This was his company. He was the face of it, even on the cover of wired and all these magazines, he was Oculus to most people. Um, so he put out that statement saying that he was supporting Gary Johnson. Um, he put up the statement on Facebook, of course. Um, and then flash forward, six months, he ends up getting fired. We can talk about what happened, but, um, getting back to why I lost my access to Facebook, that I had been granted, you know, sort of, um, unprecedentedly this incredible access. Speaker 1 00:21:02 Um, I knew that Palmer was a Trump supporter, and I also knew that Palmer was someone who believed it was really important to be honest with people. So it seemed really odd to me that he would write that statement. Um, and when I would ask him directly about it, he said, he couldn't answer me that he was sorry, cause you know, whatever, um, you know, he wants to keep his job and he was abiding by his agreement with Facebook at that time. And, uh, and one thing I had noticed was, uh, it was a really silly, stupid thing. But, uh, throughout the course of writing the book, there's a lot of times when someone had sent me email, I ended up having access to over 25,000 emails. And it wasn't given to me by Facebook. That part, I don't think they would've wanted, but, um, I got access to a lot of people's documents. Speaker 1 00:21:49 And then sometimes people would send me screenshots of emails so that I would type, you know, I'd put them on a computer so that it would be searchable. And whenever I would type an email that had come from Palmer, or that was from home, even if he had given it to me, he would always use two spaces after a period. And I would give him a lot of, uh, I, I would tease him about that. Cause I always use one space. I think that's old school and it's really annoying and takes up space. Um, but I noticed that in his statement on Facebook, he'd only used one space and I was like, all right, I know for sure he didn't write this. So I started to investigate and find out what had really happened to find out that mark had written this other statement that he, uh, ended up having to write. Speaker 1 00:22:26 And the reason I found that out was because a lot of people that Oculus who were really unhappy with how Palmer being treated also largely not Trump supporters, people who didn't share his views, but they shared the fact that they didn't like how he was being treated and that politics should have nothing to do with his, uh, being put on suspension or, uh, you know, sort of set aside as things were being figured out. And I got, I got these emails and then eventually after I was able to get enough information and I felt like, um, you know, during this time I would ask questions to Facebook employees, uh, about what had happened with Palmer or what was happening with Palmer, who hadn't yet been fired yet, but was basically put on sabbatical or, you know, it was figuring out what he was going to do next. Speaker 1 00:23:08 And they told me, uh, this fairy tale about what had happened and, and, um, you know, it was a, uh, concerted effort by a bunch of different members of a bunch of different Facebook members to tell the same exact narrative. And so when I would fact check with others, they would confirm this, um, you know, fake story about how power was a Gary Johnson supporter. And they didn't know anything about them being a Trump supporter. They didn't know anything about mark, um, forcing me to write in, and then eventually I confronted them with some of the evidence that I had uncovered and they never talked to me again. That didn't go well. Speaker 0 00:23:42 Yeah, no, I, one of the things you covered in the book was, uh, that this successful attempt to get Palmer to lie about, you know, um, his political support at the time was in fact, in opposition to two laws, California laws that said you can't force employees to support a candidate or, um, so that was, that was really very, Speaker 1 00:24:17 It's really sad because laws are very important and, you know, I would never advocate for breaking down, but even more important to me, it's just a morality, you know, like one person with a moral compass would coerce an employee not to share their views or to make them lie about it. And that's part of the problem. I think of why everyone had and has such a negative opinion of the other political side. And that probably goes both ways. It's just not hearing another perspective. And cause like I remember the first time Palmer mentioned that he was a Trump supporter. I was surprised because like most, like I said, most people in Silicon valley are not, but my initial thought wasn't, oh, Palmer's an idiot or it was, wow, power's a smart guy. I wonder what his reasons are. And I think it would have been helpful for other people to know what his reasons were. Speaker 1 00:25:03 Um, and so sad that there was a concerted effort at Facebook to suppress that view and, and have Palmer lie about it. And, uh, then eventually after six months, um, he was fired and this clearly had nothing to do with his job as an executive. It had nothing to do with business or virtual reality. Um, it was purely politics or at most you could say like bad publicity, but the bad publicity was largely caused by Facebook making him lie. Um, and, uh, it was just a really eyeopening experience for me. Um, I was actually speaking to all the people involved. Um, I spoke to the people at the organization that Palmer had donated money to. I spoke to the people, I got these emails from Facebook and, uh, and what was really sad for me was not just to see Palmer's, co-founders turned on him and lie about his, uh, you know, why he left. Speaker 1 00:26:03 And an example would be that I was told, you know, he had bad performance reviews. Um, cause that's something they thought I couldn't verify, but then I got ahold of his performance reviews and they were excellent. Um, and, but it was really sad for me at being a journalist is that, um, you know, my first book was, uh, largely well received, especially by the tech and gaming community, which was the community that was largely putting out a lot of, uh, negative stories about Palmer. And I would reach out to these journalists directly, people who I had a direct, you know, that's not a positive relationship with, I thought they would listen to me. And I said, you know, you have this, this and this wrong and your story. Um, like I, I, let me send the information or can we get on the phone? I want to explain to you why you're wrong and why this is important. And at the end of the day, their response in a nutshell was, well, yeah, maybe we got some stuff wrong, but he's a Trump supporter. And I just thought like, wow, you know, if my mom said that to me, I would be like, mom, come on. I'm like, that doesn't matter. But these are journalists. These are like of anyone that should, you know, separate that from their work. It should be them, but Speaker 0 00:27:07 Right. No. And I know that Palmer had, uh, been interested actually in possibly going into journalism early on, but some of, even his much earlier than this, uh, experience had disillusioned him, uh, about the accuracy, the ethics of journalists. And, um, and then I think there are also larger cultural trends, particularly now where people make these cognitive commitments to a particular narrative and, uh, and they are not willing to revise it, you know, based on, on news facts. Speaker 1 00:27:48 Yeah. Which is so sad because that is literally our job as journalists is to just take the facts and go where they take you just like, I didn't want to write a book about politics. This is not what I expected. I, I hate talking about politics. I hate writing about politics, but that's where the story went. You have to go where it takes you. And, uh, and, and, you know, it was just an eye-opening experience for me in so many ways. Um, I felt so bad for what happened to Palmer. I know that people say, um, some people think that what happened to him is, uh, is sort of like a, who cares situation because he's very wealthy and I am sympathetic that point of view, but I don't think you should care about him. I think you should care about the person who doesn't have billions of dollars. Speaker 1 00:28:28 Who's going to be going through something like this. And as we've seen in the years, since that happened in 2016 and 2017, it's happened to so many more people. I think it's getting to the point where it feels like most people have a friend or someone they follow closely that's been canceled or been in one of these situations. And, uh, and, and one of the, the shames too, and as you were describing where people just get locked into a cognitive position is, um, you know, the act one of the accusations was that Palmer was racist and people would ask me, you know, is you really racist? And I'd say, I spent so many hours with him. Like I've seen private things that he didn't want me to see. And I, I, I would swear on my life. He's not, and they're like, you have it prove it. I'm like, how do I prove something that's not true? How do you prove something that's not true is not true and there's no way to do it. And that's oftentimes what people will rest on when they don't want to change their mind. Um, and no amount of evidence seems to persuade them well Speaker 0 00:29:25 And following the story and following the facts and the development, uh, where they, they led, um, you know, again, this doesn't come until about, you know, two thirds or three quarters of the story. Um, so it really is kind of a surprise, um, to some extent when the story takes that turn, but you had already written console wars. Um, it was a runaway bestseller, uh, not just, you know, in the tech press, but in, um, got great reviews in the popular press as well. Um, you also experienced, I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as cancelled culture, but it was certainly silence culture just in the way that, uh, those two books were, were received re reviewed or not reviewed. So maybe tell us a little bit about, about that and whether it, you know, impacted some of your perspective on politics or culture. Speaker 1 00:30:31 Yeah, it's a good, good question. Um, so my first book council wars came out in 2014. It was reviewed by hundreds of publications. Like you said, tech gaming places, as well as just, you know, nostalgia things and mainstream press, you know, and, and for the most part, it was well received, but I'd like to say that it got a broad reach and people who didn't like it said, well, they didn't like it as is their right. Um, my second book came out and I still don't think there's been a single actual review of it by, uh, uh, uh, you know, a member of the press. Uh, fortunately, you know, the book found its audience largely with the help of a very unexpected to me, ally and Glenn Beck, who someone that I never really thought much about. And probably, you know, I definitely would say I didn't share his views, but, um, he found out about this story and that I was reporting it and that Palmer shared different politics and said that this was sort of exactly what we want our journalists to be. Hang on one second. Speaker 0 00:31:28 And I wanted to encourage all of you who are watching go ahead, type in those questions. We are going to get to some of them. So, yes. Speaker 1 00:31:37 So, uh, yeah. So, um, I guess to answer your question about, uh, my perspective on issues that I, I expected that I would, that I expected actually negative reviews. I wasn't expecting no reviews. Um, I don't know, which is better or worse. It kind of is irrelevant to me, but, um, having seen what Palmer went through, um, I knew that what was happening to me was like not worth crying about like he got his life was destroyed. I was just ignored. Unfortunately it was, you know, that sold a lot of copies. So, um, but I, and I do remember I put out a year before the book came out, I put out sort of a test balloon, I an article. I was just curious how people would react and I didn't want it to be anything of my view, like Tara's as an author, it was just a, uh, it was a list of the headlines that came out about Palmer and the tweets that came out about Palmer in, within the 24 hour time span that the story broke. Speaker 1 00:32:35 And it was just basically, it was, it was in detail how that game of telephone happens, where one person, um, misreports something, and then someone either misinterpreted or maliciously makes it even worse. And it just becomes this, this gospel. And, uh, that was the other thing when I'd reach out to journalists and say, this wasn't true. Um, and even if the ones that were willing to listen to me, I would show them the evidence and they'd say, yeah, but this guy said this and I'm like, yeah, but any, I can say anything. Um, and so, um, yeah, I mean, I feel very fortunate to, I feel very fortunate that the book was able to find its audience and sort of to your point, like the book doesn't start off at page one being about what it became. And I think that it was always, to me a wonderful thing about it, uh, you know, taking it back to iron Rand, uh, you know, those books weren't given to me as, oh, here's the philosophy book like it was, Speaker 1 00:33:31 Yeah, it was this wonderful, epic story, this great narrative with great characters. And in the process of following their story, you encounter all these things that you maybe wouldn't have signed up for or known that you would be interested in. And that was, you know, I always hope that readers would go through the experience similar to how I did as the regular researcher where it wasn't what I wanted set out to write about what I wanted to write about, but it's very important, I believe. Um, it's very sadly interesting. Um, and I do think that it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the success and, and to look at this case, knowing that it, that it, you know, knock on wood, that it worked out well for Palmer in the end, uh, since leaving Oculus, he's founded defense technology company called the <inaudible>, that's already valued higher than Oculus was, uh, you know, he's saving the taxpayers money and doing really cool, um, defense technology things. Speaker 0 00:34:23 And at the end of the day, uh, did that sort of blackout of press, uh, reviews for your book, uh, did it affect sales or how did, how did the sales of Speaker 1 00:34:36 That's a good question. It really did at first, uh, you know, um, when the book comes out, most of its sales will occur within the first week or two, uh, you know, for classic books. That's not necessarily the case, but, uh, but most of the, you know, with counselors, most of the sales happened within the first few weeks and the sales for the first few weeks were okay at best. Um, and then without any way, for, without people hearing about it from other sources or readers, um, you know, without the press, it was sort of a dying and that's what I happened to be on Glen Beck show. And so I, like I said, I have a, you know, this gratitude for Glenn Beck who I, that I never expected, but he was wonderful. He really implored his reader, uh, his viewers to consider buying the book, or at least to hear it. Speaker 1 00:35:22 And to let me on a show, if you're tying to tell the story, um, and I had some other good press opportunities to, uh, you know, I got to go on Tucker Carlson and talk about as opportunities on Fox news. And, you know, I could honestly say I have a appeared on Fox news more than I've ever watched Fox news equal to, uh, you know, the audience for listening to the story. It's a, there's a lot of important things in there. Um, again, like, you know, Paul, I think a lot of people do care what happened to Palmer, but if you, if you don't care about Palmer directly, you can see what happens to him as just a microcosm of what's going on in our culture in many ways. Speaker 0 00:35:57 Right. Right. Well, we're going to put the link because we are going to urge our viewers to, to buy, uh, the history of the future. I actually listened to it on audible, and that was, that was a lot of fun. Um, and w I listened to it and then I was like, got the Walker. I'm like, oh my God, that was a big, but, but the book is great because it has like these wonderful pictures of Palmer and, uh, and his wife and all of their cookie cookie glory. Speaker 1 00:36:30 I like that you show those photos too, because I remember after with one of the Facebook Oculus executives after I sort of, you know, told them that I knew they were lying about Palmer's bad performance review, they went to like, excuse number two and excuse number three. And then one of them was like, yeah, but he just doesn't act like an executive. And one of the examples was that, you know, he would go cosplay at these conventions and stuff like that. And that was, you know, he said, can you imagine apple executive doing that? And I sent him, like, I can't imagine myself doing that, but I think you're really, like, we're older that the world is changing. I could imagine Elon Musk doing that. I can imagine the leaders of tomorrow doing that. People appreciate someone presenting their authentic self. And that was always something Palmer gave. That's why he was so immediately appealing to people. Um, and so, yeah, Speaker 0 00:37:19 Uh, you probably couldn't imagine it, but the Atlas society does it. Um, cause I mentioned we have graphic novels. One is of Anthem. The other is of red pawn. And, uh, one of our biggest distribution channels is Comicons. And so I have an iron Rand costume and an iron Rand, uh, impersonation, which actually does enrage a lot of people, but, um, it also delights and it's something different, you know, that, um, that is, that is fun. And I think being willing to be different is, um, is important. And it does show, I think an authenticity, at least even if you're being like authentically stupid, you know, or authentically weird, you're, you're not just following the script of what you're supposed to do because everybody else is doing it. Speaker 1 00:38:10 Well, that word you said there was like a, this was a certain delight to it. You can tell that Palmer was having fun, then you're probably you're having fun. I think that that conveys. Um, and I just, I remembered, I think it was worth sharing as a small example to how, you know, in addition to the media, just smearing Palmer with, uh, untruths, the, you know, the way that these narratives build, um, you know, you want to get to the business standpoint, you want to try to convince Oculus or Facebook, why it's bad for business to have Palmer. And I remember, uh, there was, uh, there was like two developers game developers, people who make games that were going to make a game for virtual reality. Um, that said the night of the story broke, I'm not going to work with Oculus. If Palmer works there, these are two companies that had never put out a game that, uh, never did put out the game. Um, and then one of them actually said a week later after they never saw the means that Palmer allegedly funded, they said they regretted putting it out, but the media was able to say, oh, Oculus is losing business because of two random unverified tweets. And just, you know, that was the tip of the iceberg, but that one always sticks with me. And the fact that that company actually had the decency to acknowledge that they had been duped by the media and still no one cared Speaker 0 00:39:24 Right now. And that was sort of a rare exception that you described. So, uh, let's get to some of our questions from the audience. Uh, not a question here, but John from Uganda is grateful for the Atlas society. And we're grateful that you are watching, uh, cliff Maloney from Facebook cliff. I don't know if that is my cliff. Uh, I hope it is, um, is, uh, been a friend of the Atlas society says Palmer is the goat. Um, what advice does Blake have for up and coming entrepreneurs who are worried about failure? And that's a great question. Um, I think like, because you know your story as well, when you were just coming out of college and getting started and making films and figuring it out and including you had this idea, w well, okay, if people aren't showing the film, I'm going to contact colleges and try to get it shown on campus. And I think contacted 400, uh, different campuses and ended up with, I don't know, like a dozen or 20, uh, you know, that, that, uh, but behind, you know, that was the success, but it was being willing to kind of move through the failure. That that was one of the entrepreneurial stories I took from, from your experience. But perhaps you can share some others. Speaker 1 00:40:54 Yeah. So to, to keep it to myself, but then we can talk about maybe lessons learned from watching Palmer was that I, so out of college, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea how to monetize that desire. So I had a day job trading commodities for Brazilian clients. So literally from the age 21 week after I graduated from school, until literally they had my 30th birthday, I was selling sugar and coffee and soybean futures for Brazilian clients. And it was, uh, not what I wanted to be doing, but it paid the bills. And during that time, like you were describing, I made some films, I wrote screenplays. And, um, I had a situation where a screenplay I wrote, um, sort of like instantly deemed it was about a dictator. And then Sasha Baron Cohen announced he was doing a dictator movie. Speaker 1 00:41:39 So my script became worthless. And, um, that was really hard for me because I realized that much more successful people than me were going to, you know, like I understood where the studios were coming from. Of course, they'd rather have a script from Sasha bank Coleman from unknown Blake Harris. Um, but, but that was ended up being life changing in a good way. And I think that this addresses the sense of failure is that after that I came, I came to the conclusion that fortunately turned out to be wrong, that I was not going to ever be a professional writer, that I was never going to make a living doing that. But at the same time, I love writing. So I was never going to stop. And so my solution was all right, I'm only going to work on things that I absolutely love. I'm no longer going to try to do things that I think will sell or be commercial. Speaker 1 00:42:17 Um, and as is often the case with people I've interviewed that mentality is what leads to success. So I guess that's a long-winded way of saying that, um, you know, failure's hard to prepare for, um, and it happens randomly as well as, you know, um, it doesn't mistakes, right? Yeah. Um, as well as because of mistakes, but, but as you know, we see with Palmer, as long as you are working on something that you love, it's a lot easier to pick up the pieces cause you don't stop loving that thing and you still want to grow it or build it or keep moving forward. Speaker 0 00:42:53 That's that's that's good advice. Um, and then also from console wars, I mean, I think that there is a lesson there you had Sega that, uh, was up against a competitor that had 95% of the market, and yet, um, they decided that they could make a go of it. And actually at some point became the dominant player in that market. What are some of the lessons that, um, sort of entrepreneurial or business lessons that you took away from the console wars? Speaker 1 00:43:32 I think in contours, as well as this, the story about Oculus, you know, it really is a team effort, which is actually a cliche, very cliche thing, but it's, it's, it's in a way, it's not just the fact that you need different people to wear different hats or that there's so many responsibilities that everyone needs to be wearing so many hats to some degree. It was something that, um, there's a, there's a, a part of the book it's very brief, but, um, Chris Dixon from Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capitalist, uh, told me a story that's in the book or just this idea that one of the reasons that they invested in Oculus was because of this, something called the bat signal effect, which was a term that he coined, uh, you know, putting the bat signal in the air and that, that man up, but basically with Oculus, it put this thing in the air and that attracted other like-minded people. Speaker 1 00:44:16 And I think that when I say the team is important, I think it's around being, being around other true believers is really important because when you're doing something that people say is impossible, um, you know, everyone else is going to tell you not to do it, or everyone else is going to tell you you're doing it wrong. And if you have a vision that you believe it could be, it should be done differently or that what you're doing is actually the right way. Um, it helps to have, I guess, in a sense that echo chamber, um, in the professional sense, you know, uh, cause cause, uh, I think doing any endeavor is, uh, is a lonely experience, um, except for those who are also on that same mental space as you, or in that same trajectory as you. Um, so I think you can learn and, you know, with counselors, I guess another good example was, um, doing like just capitalize, uh, with Sega, they came to basically acknowledged that Nintendo owned the age six to 14 market and then competing with Nintendo in that regard was worthless, at least early on. So they tried to turn that lemon into lemonade and say, okay, well then we're just gonna go after an older market. And that's a big part of why video games nowadays are for adults because that was Sega's um, you know, explicit. Yeah. So, you know, basically trying to figure out where your, um, where, where other competitors are not doing something and you have the chance to flourish and distinguish yourself. Speaker 0 00:45:43 Ah, well that resonates with me at the Atlas society knows we're not the only organization, um, that is out there promoting the ideas of Iran, but we're definitely the Sega to, to the Nintendo. And, uh, and so that, just that spirit of like finding opportunities, seeing what, uh, the big players aren't doing, having a higher tolerance for risk, um, being able to, to make changes more nimbly, uh, is, is something that I think you get when you are not the, you know, the dominant market player. Okay. Speaker 1 00:46:22 And then one more thing on that, um, that I think will definitely resonate with, uh, you know, the iron rans philosophy, uh, you know, the, the, the third book I'm working on now is about Larry David, who, uh, people, you know, may or may not know he's the co-creator of Seinfeld and the star and creator of curb, your enthusiasm, and sort of famously with Seinfeld, which is a show that, uh, now it seems almost unanimously hailed, uh, people that was a terrible idea. And Larry threatened to quit so many times when the network wanted him to change what the show was, the show about nothing, but he stuck to his guns and he genuinely was willing to walk away cause he didn't want to make something that wasn't his vision. And, um, that is hard to, you know, we all would like to do that. It's difficult to sometimes do that. Um, given the practicalities of, you know, feeding our house, but, but like what I always loved about Iran's books, um, was that even, you know, just that feeling, it gave me that confidence. And so maybe I wouldn't be able to be as strong as, as worked or, but, but there was something, but I could strive for that. Um, you know, there's something to strive for. Speaker 0 00:47:30 Yeah, no, I, I think that, uh, her fiction was very different in that it was, uh, it was idealized in the sense, in a sense it was focused not just on, you know, mediocre people with their quirks and their foibles. Uh, it was ROIC characters, you know, the idealized characters and it, and it did give you something to, uh, to, to want to, to aim for. And I think that theme of independence, you know, and, um, Howard work, not compromising his, his work, even deciding to take a job, uh, breaking rocks in the quarry, uh, rather than compromise his vision is something that, um, I think would be a good piece of advice for, for young entrepreneurs, um, as well. But, you know, also to not quit your job, not quit your day job necessarily. Yes. Speaker 1 00:48:27 And also, you know, I, I, I found this to be true. I don't know if it was always true peoples that I think because, um, you know, as an artist and that I ran books book me so much, like there was this idea, I almost feel like I romanticize being uncompromising, but I've also found that it's important to listen. You don't, but there's a lot of times when I realized, oh, your idea is better than mine, or, oh yeah. I was kind of wrong about that. And so I feel like in my younger years, I was a little bit more, uh, in it to just do my vision because it was, I got to stick to my vision, but the open, you know, um, you know, w whether it's business or whether it's writing a book, you know, if someone has input, I always tried to listen. I mean, thanks. No, thanks. Speaker 0 00:49:16 I think, and that's, you know, uh, if, if there is an Atlas society brand, this, this idea of no, yes, we feel confident in our beliefs and in the philosophy and these principles and these ideals, but we go in there with a certain amount of, um, understanding that, you know, we could be wrong and maybe we have something to learn from others. And I think that we can also see it even in Iran's own journey as a, as a novelist and as a writer, uh, that this quality that served her so well, to be able to shut out, um, all of the people that were saying, you know, terrible things about her, given her fierce sort of anticommunist stance at a time when communism was kind of, um, glamorized at least in, in Hollywood. Uh, but that ability to shut things out also became kind of a, um, uh, a detriment when, um, she was perhaps less porous to feedback that, uh, that was well, you know, intentioned wanting to help her, but she had already kind of created that, that armor. Um, all right. Well, we are, uh, winding up here. Uh, we've got about 10 more minutes and, um, time for other questions. Uh, Lawrence asks, do you think that the next leap for virtual reality technology is going to come from independent and veteran Venters or do big tech companies have, um, a stranglehold on the progress and perhaps more broadly where you see, uh, the, the virtual reality, um, technology going at this point? Speaker 1 00:51:04 That's a great question. Cause I, I, I think that, you know, I'm considering myself an idealist as I maybe hinted at earlier. And when, when I saw this whole new business land, you know, potential business landscape is frontier virtual reality. My eyes lit up this idea of the next Google, the next Facebook, and maybe they help be so evil. Um, and I remember meeting with, uh, with a VC early on in the project and asking him, you know, if he saw, if he was investing in what he thought was the next Google or the next Facebook. And he, he hoped that that was the case, but he said, he thought that virtual reality is going to be a situation where the rich get richer, where, you know, it has these big tech companies. And, and that's largely just because of the costs of, of, of doing this, that, you know, Facebook spends, you know, I would say to their credit spends billions of dollars a year on the R and D for virtual reality and augmented reality, you know, they're not making any money. Speaker 1 00:52:01 And I say that to my advantage because I like the technology though. I don't like the company. Um, and I think that, you know, even the, I think will probably yourself and many of the viewers have had issues with YouTube and somebody, you use policies, and there's this idea of why doesn't someone just start another YouTube. Um, and aside from just the difficulty of creating a popular platform is just the backend costs. It's, it's very, it's a big technological challenge and it's very expensive. And so it'd be really hard for independent company to compete. I w I would not say it's impossible, but similar to with counselors. And I love that Sega was the scrappy underdog. And I would like to think that maybe nowadays another take, it gets brought up. It's just unlikely because there's so many, you know, back then they cut the barrier to entry was millions of dollars, but now it's billions of dollars to develop this technology. And so it's just really, really tough. Speaker 0 00:52:52 Uh, we have another question about, um, the role of regulation. So, you know, you, you mentioned generally that you, you were not a Trump supporter. Palmer was, um, one of the big things that, that Trump did at the time was a real focus on deregulation. Um, that's probably going to get changed now, but, um, it was, I was reminded of it and watching console wars, because this whole issue of regulating gaming, I think came up, then I think it continues to be an issue now concerns about violence and, you know, gore in, uh, these, these games. Um, and whether you have a view on, uh, the role that regulation plays, um, do we need more regulation of virtual reality and gaming, or should we let the market, you know, work it out? Speaker 1 00:53:52 Um, I feel like there's a third app. I feel like we should let them work out is how I usually feel about most things. So we should, I wish Facebook would let the market work it out instead of setting their own guidelines based on their own agenda. But, um, but I'm glad you mentioned the counselors example, cause this is a really interesting one because you know, my, my knee jerk reaction to regulation is like, I want less, you know, sort of, uh, um, even though I'm lifelong Democrat, I definitely have a libertarian streak and see things, a lot in that regard, but counselors is fascinating because, um, the issue was the violence was violence in video games that with mortal combat and, uh, you know, full motion video, people were concerned and the games were getting quite gory and they were, yeah. And so in December of 1993, uh, Senator Joseph Lieberman held, uh, some congressional hearings on, uh, on video game violence. Speaker 1 00:54:43 And you know, is that even if that, when that happened at the time or, or something someone happened today, I would say like, oh, the government should stay out of that. But the net results and what the net result that the government actually wanted was that the, that the companies would regulate themselves, which is what happened. They created the ESR TV, and now all the video game companies, um, you know, they put money in and they put the resources towards having a regulatory body that's that. And I think that's great. I don't want the government to be determining whether this game is too violent, but I would love for the video game association. And again, it's just, it's like you don't, if a game has Speaker 0 00:55:20 Consciousness of it, Speaker 1 00:55:21 Of it. Um, I don't think that's, um, this is obviously not my area of expertise, but given my limited sample size of stories that I dove into for years, I always wished that there was some sort of regular, you know, self-regulatory body amongst the internet companies. Um, cause I don't, I don't think it should come from the government. You can see with during any of these hearings, I'm working on a project about GameStop or watching the hearings with when Zuckerberg was there. And Ted Cruz asked him about Palmer and he lied again. Um, but like, it does seem like our, our, uh, elected officials are not, uh, they're not tech savvy and they don't even know the questions to ask. So it seems like they should be the last people to, to regulate things. Um, and I would like to see it come, they have the ability to come from the companies themselves, you know, self-regulating, I dunno, maybe that's a pipe dream. Speaker 0 00:56:13 So, uh, as we're wrapping up here, maybe tell us a little bit about, uh, this, this next project on, on game stop. Um, and hope to have you back to talk about and where we can follow your work and what's what's next for you? Speaker 1 00:56:29 Sure. So, uh, I will make her, I have, uh, a business and creative writing, everything partner, Jonah, to list him. And I told her I could pencil words together and he's directing this movie about GameStop, um, and, um, producing it. And they've been, you know, helping him along the way. Uh, I'll have more details soon about when that comes out, but, uh, it's really not, you know, with all these stories, uh, whether it's about Larry David or Palmer innocuous, like I I'm, this sort of speaks to modern hurdles. And I think it's just so hard to be responsible and tell these stories about the people who lived it. Um, otherwise you're just speculating. And so fortunately, in our case, we were lucky enough to get the dog investors who were in GameStop years before we even heard about this being a big deal. And we get to see why this became a big deal and who was really there from the beginning and this community of people that came together. So more details to come. Uh, you can follow me on social media, I guess though. I try not to go on there. I am on Twitter occasionally and I think Blake J Harris NYC. And one thing I will do is if anyone ever has a question about writing, because it's hard to become a writer and grateful that I, or, or by works, whether it's criticism or a question, I always, I always answer. So if you have any questions you can find me on there. Speaker 0 00:57:50 Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Blake really appreciate it. I know that you just got back from, uh, California. We'll keep my fingers crossed that you might be able to come out again. Um, we have our, our gala coming up as mentioned in three weeks in the day in Malibu. Um, but I really enjoyed reading and listening to the history of the future, by the way, what, what is this? I like, it's a great cover, but like, is there something about the blue, Speaker 1 00:58:19 There is, uh, it's one of those things where they, uh, the publisher mocked it up and send it to me. And if we had talked about it beforehand, I would've said that's a terrible idea, but it just struck me. Um, I saw it as twofold. I saw it as the history of virtual reality. It feels like it's new, but really it's just the tail end of this thing that's been going on since the 1960s and Ivan Sutherland. And then also, because the book became so much about Palmer. I, you know, D that's the elephant in the room and all we're seeing more than, you know, dragons, you know, Palmer's the dragging in the room that we're not seeing, but he's in every scene where he's not. So I liked that aspect. Speaker 0 00:58:54 That's great. All right. Well, thank you, Blake. And I want to thank all of you for joining us on various platforms also to the many that listened to this and its podcast form. If you enjoy these webinars as interviews, please consider making a tax deductible donation to the Atlas society. We really appreciate that. We'll put the link in there and I'm hope you guys will join me tomorrow. I'm going to be back on clubhouse with our senior scholar professor Jason Hill, and then again on Tuesday on clubhouse with Robert <inaudible>. And then next week we have our current events panel, uh, with professors Richard Salzman. And of course our founder, David Kelly. So thanks everyone. Thanks Blake. Bye.

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