Arielle Duhaime Ross - Reset
Arielle Duhaime-Ross is the host of RESET, a podcast by the Vox Media network that explores both why and how tech is changing everything. Arielle is passionate about a wide range of topics from science and the environment to health and LGBTQ issues. She examines technology’s impact on humanity and reveals the ethical pitfalls of our connected lives, the power structures driving or stalling innovation, and the dubious scientific claims that can creep into our collective psyche.
Arielle was the first climate change correspondent in American nightly TV news, and she’s written for Scientific American, Nature Medicine, The Atlantic, and Quartz. Originally from Canada, she has a bachelor’s degree in zoology, a master’s degree in science, health, and environmental reporting, and a CEGEP degree in classical guitar.Listen to Reset
Follow Arielle on Twitter: @ADRS
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. When you’re a writer, and you’re serious about being a writer, you read. You study the work of other authors you admire, and while you might not necessarily copy what they do, you learn, you grow. And if you’re a musician, same thing. There are just people whose work you keep returning to, and even if the way that they do something is not necessarily the voice that you want to emulate, the thing that they do so well expands your concept about what’s possible, what’s achievable, the breadth of the vocabulary of the form.
So I’m someone who hosts podcasts, and with that principle in mind, I listen to a bunch of podcasts on a range of topics. Food, actually, features pretty heavily, as does cinema, urbanism, politics, culture, and a bit of comedy, but of course there are tech podcasts in there as well. It’s a nice mix of stuff from a few different places around the world, and there are some people and some formats that I really admire. I dip in and out of them depending on mood and how busy I am doing other stuff that requires my ears and my concentration, but a lot of what ends up here as part of the MTF Podcast is at least partly inspired by my daily listening.
Now, to be clear, there are very few podcasts that I always listen to, but one that I never miss is called Reset. It’s part of the Vox Media network. It’s ostensibly about technology, though quite often there’s a deeper theme lying underneath the tech. They’ve covered medical research, privacy and security, people getting married in a game called Animal Crossing, sample libraries, political ads on streaming services, lots about the scientific and tech dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and lots more. And so one of the reasons I love this show is that it’s presented by someone who mixes intelligence, curiosity, humour, and humanity into unpacking some of the most important stories around right now. And so I invited her to join me for a chat. From what sounds like a palatial recording studio in New York, but which, in true podcast style, isn’t, this is Arielle Duhaime-Ross. Enjoy.
Dubber Arielle Duhaime-Ross, thank you so much for joining us for the MTF Podcast today.
Arielle Thank you so much for having me.
Dubber So I have a bunch of podcasts that I listen to on and off, but yours is the one that I don’t actually miss. It’s a perfect length, it’s a dog walk, it’s a… It’s exactly right. But it’s also very much my sort of thing so, yeah, thank you for that.
Arielle Oh, I really appreciate that. Thank you so much for listening. Right now podcasting is going through a little bit of a struggle because people aren’t commuting the way that they were before, which is largely when folks were listening to podcasts, and so every listener counts at this point. So I appreciate that.
Dubber So where are you right now?
Arielle I am in my bedroom closet, which is located in Brooklyn in New York City.
Dubber And how are things looking?
Arielle Currently, if you want to take it very literally, I am looking at a blazer, and so they’re looking very stylish.
Dubber But if you were to go and look out the window, is there panic in the streets or is…?
Arielle Oh, well, no. It’s quiet for New York City, for Brooklyn. There aren’t as many people on the streets as there used to be, and people are wearing masks. The people that you see on the street are largely either going to pick up some food at a restaurant nearby, maybe they’re going grocery shopping, or they’re walking their dogs, which all seem like very mundane tasks now, but are… People are taking a risk every time they venture outside, or some of them feel like they are. The risks of actually getting coronavirus from the outside air and just walking around is very, very low, but I think… It just feels eerie, it feels strange.
I went outside recently while I was walking my dog, and I didn’t… I wasn’t wearing a mask, and I… Because I forgot. And it’s not like it’s the law right now to wear a mask if you’re just outside, but I felt naked because I want to do my part as a citizen, and it feels… Well, not a citizen of this country, but just as a resident of this neighbourhood. And it felt strange to not be wearing a mask outside.
Dubber Well, especially in a high-density area. I guess that everybody is the danger.
Arielle Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and so being around other people feels strange, and I miss it. And I don’t know when this is going to end, but it does feel odd.
Dubber Sure. You seem to have picked a really good time to have a podcast that explains complicated things.
Arielle Yeah. The timing of this is… Yeah. Listen, I used to work in TV, and so right now TV production has ground to a halt, especially documentary TV production. Some people are still venturing outside or still filming things, journalists are considered essential workers, but documentary filmmaking is a lot harder to do right now. And the fact that I pivoted to podcasting in September 2019 feels like it was the right time to do that, all of a sudden, because I am able to work from home currently. And so in that sense I feel very fortunate. And also the fact that this podcast is about technology and science, and this is the story of the hour right now with this coronavirus, is the combination of the two. It does feel like I get to do reporting that is important and useful and helpful, and in that sense that’s also… I do, I also feel very fortunate because of that.
Dubber Has the mission of Reset changed because of the virus?
Arielle Oh, I would love for you to give me your impression about that. Do you think that the show has changed a little bit?
Dubber I actually have a theory about an overarching theme of Reset which I want to run past you. But I guess… Okay, so let’s start with The Parable of the Sower, right? Which I know you’re really into.
Dubber And it’s got this overarching… For anyone listening who’s not familiar with it, it’s a speculative fiction book by Octavia Butler, and the… Basically, it’s about this tension between subjectivity and community, the idea of the individual versus the group, and that feels like some of that is infused through Reset. That all of the stories are a way of telling how we negotiate the tension between the individual and community. Is that something that’s deliberately in there?
Arielle Yeah. I think in some ways that was in the DNA of the show prior to the pandemic, in the sense that a lot of what we talked about was the difference between what is… The push and pull between convenience and security, right? In the sense that a lot of the things that encroach on our security and liberty tend to be for reasons of convenience, and I think that that is the individual versus community discussion a little bit, right? You can draw parallels there.
Right now, yes, I think there is a lot of tension between how people would like to protect themselves and what kind of things and activities people would like to enjoy and the good of the community, and I think that that’s correct. And maybe that’s why we have started recently doing a lot more stories about how people live today and doing a lot more stories about the impact of this on various industries. Through a tech lens, but very much the stories that we are telling are human stories that cover the impact of the pandemic. Very much so.
Dubber Right. Do you think of science journalism as a subset of political journalism?
Arielle Oh, that’s such an interesting conversation to have. I would argue that for a long time science journalists did not see that that way. They thought of themselves as being very separate, as not being political, because “Science is science, right? Science is not political”, or at least that’s how a lot of scientists and science writers would like to think of their field. Especially the old school folks.
Dubber Yeah, they were just facts.
Arielle But I think that over the years, with climate change… Not that climate change is political, it’s not. It is fact, it is just a thing that is happening in nature. But it is really, really hard to report on science without also talking about politics, and I think that that is something that people were struggling against for a very, very long time. And that has now… It’s impossible to ignore now, and so if you are still a science writer who sees the world that way, I think you’re way behind the curve.
Dubber Speaking of climate change, you were the first climate change reporter on American television.
Arielle Well, I don’t know if I was the first climate change reporter, but I was the first climate change correspondent with that official title on American TV news. Yeah.
Dubber Right, okay. So was that like pushing a big rock uphill, or was it welcomed, or…?
Arielle I think a lot of people have done a lot of work in the past to make that happen. But, yeah, it felt strange to be the first person to solely focus on this, with that title. To really… Because the thing is, that title itself is… You say you’re a climate change correspondent and people just look at you weird sometimes, right? Having those terms in your title, at least in the US, is to a certain extent controversial. And the fact that Vice News Tonight and Vice Media as a whole was willing to take that step, that wanted and thought it was important, thought it was necessary, and thought, in fact, that every nightly news show should have a correspondent with that title in their name, that felt important. As to how I was received, I think that some people were extremely happy that I had that title and that our focus was climate change, and some people weren’t, and that is the US and it’s view of climate change in a nutshell.
Dubber Right. Because at a certain point I guess it looked like a slow-moving story, and then suddenly Australia’s on fire.
Arielle Right, yeah. And California’s on fire and corals are dying in the Great Barrier Reef and… Yeah. All of it is… I used to say that I was covering the slow-moving apocalypse, but about halfway through my work at Vice News Tonight I stopped saying that because it didn’t feel slow-moving anymore. And I actually think that I was wrong to use that term, and it is… Climate change is actually quite fast if you really take a step back and look at everything that has happened over the last few decades. It’s actually been very fast.
Dubber Right. Does the virus feel slow?
Arielle No. No, it feels fast. I don’t know. I felt like the month of March felt like it was the slowest month, just from a personal standpoint, and then April went by in a flash, and I can’t believe that we’re in May already. But, no, this virus is… It could be a lot worse. It could be a lot worse. And I think that this isn’t the worst pandemic that I might see in my lifetime, but it is… It does feel pretty awful. And being in New York City, with the high rates of infection and the deaths that we’ve been seeing… Things are… Right now, on this day, the numbers are going down, but they could go back up and that does feel quite scary. I think that what feels most significant is just how quickly life has changed. That’s probably what it is.
Dubber Do you think it can change back?
Arielle I don’t think it’ll go back to exactly the way that it was. Maybe in seven years things will feel perfectly normal and exactly the way that they were before, but I think quite a few things will have to change. I think people, those who can, will be working from home for a long time, and I think that the way that offices are laid out might have to change. Open-air offices might not be as popular now, and cubicles might make a comeback for all we know. And the way that we open doors, door handles, and having a lot more… In some ways, this might make the world a lot more accessible and a lot more handsfree, but I think… I’m trying to imagine a world where I will go back to just willy-nilly shaking somebody’s hand, and that seems a little far-off to me right now, and I don’t know how we’re going to be greeting people.
My family is from Montreal, I grew up in Montreal, and there it’s two kisses on the cheek. And I was talking to my family recently and saying “Dad, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while”, and he was like “No, impossible. We can’t get rid of that, that’s too important. That’s part of Quebec culture, it’s deeply ingrained”, and I was like “I just don’t think it’s a good idea right now. I don’t think…”. Even when this subsides, I’m not sure that that is the best kind of greeting. At least for a while.
Dubber Sure. I heard your dad on the podcast, since you mention him, and it made me think a couple of things. One is about the extent to which you bring your personal life into something like this, a technology podcast, but it also made me wonder about that journey. Your parents and how their journey might have influenced your own.
Arielle Yeah. So I think, just addressing your first point, I have been… Throughout my career, I’ve been very careful about how much I reveal about my family and how much I reveal about my personal life because there have been times where I was getting harassed a lot online. I was getting death threats or rape threats on Twitter, and this was… I want to say four or five years ago, but it had an impact on me. Because I was a woman covering science and speaking out about sexism in technology or sexism in science and… There was some backlash from that. And so because of that for a while I didn’t even post pictures of my wife on my Instagram. I tried to keep things very, very, very separate. And I’ve loosened up quite a bit since then, but, yes, I…
Dubber Is that because things are better now, or…?
Arielle Yeah, things are better now. I’m no longer the target of that nearly as much. And also I’ve unfortunately gotten used to it, so when it does happen I don’t get as scared as I used to get.
Dubber Right. When I say ‘things’, I mean the world. Is the world a better place now, or is it… You’ve just hardened?
Arielle Oh, no. It’s a terrible place for women and queer folks and people of colour on the internet. No, I don’t think the world is a better place than it was five years ago with regards to that kind of harassment, no. Absolutely not. But, yeah, so I… But with the podcast, for the first time in my career, I get to be a little bit more personal. I get to talk about my life a little bit more than I used to, and in some ways I was resistant to it at first. It’s not like anybody pushed me to do it.
Dubber It’s not Vox style guide.
Arielle Right, no. And I think a part of me wants to do it, I want to have this very personal relationship with my listeners, and I think that they respond to that. And I get something out of it when I hear from listeners saying “Oh, it was so nice hearing your dad on the podcast”, or they… I want people to feel connected to me, in some ways because I think that in my own podcast listening, that relationship matters. And there’s something about podcasting that allows for that far more than it ever felt like it did on TV.
Dubber Conversational medium?
Arielle Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’re also just… You’re in somebody’s ear. You are… It feels so much more personal. When I was on TV, it… We also made a point of it never being about the correspondent. We tried to remove ourselves from the story as much as possible and just be an avatar for the viewer. But with podcasting it is very much about you to a certain extent, and so I have opened up my life a little bit more.
So Tuesday’s episode of this week my wife was on the podcast, just in the intro, and that was the first time that she was actually in an episode. And it feels nice to be able to let her in on that world because she’s a huge podcast fan, so I think she got a kick out of it.
Dubber And the question about your parents and their influence? Their journey and that influence on your journey.
Arielle Yeah. They were… My parents have been a huge influence in my life. They are lovely academics, and they very much approach most things in life from that lens which was extremely beneficial for me growing up because we had a lot of intellectual conversations around the dinner table, and they got a kick out of trying to… We would have healthy debates around the dinner table, and we would try to get to the bottom of things. That was a huge part of my life, for sure.
And my father is… He’s from Trinidad. He is an immigrant, he moved to Canada. That’s where he met my mother when they were both doing their doctorate degrees. And, yeah, they… Growing up with the Trinidad culture and the Quebec culture, the Francophone Quebec culture because I am Francophone, was a really nice way to grow up. It was very, very nice.
Dubber Science, specifically?
Arielle No, actually, they’re not scientists. They are marketing professors.
Dubber Really? Oh.
Arielle Yeah, they’re… My father’s retired. But, yeah, marketing professors. I think we talked a lot about… We talked a lot about politics, we talked a lot about the influence of… We’d talk about marketing to a certain extent, but we talked a lot about academic life. And so growing up I actually thought that I was going to be an academic as well because that’s all I knew. I knew of the flexibility of that life, I knew of the internal university politics which were always fascinating to me, and it was very, very attractive. I am, however, extremely happy that I did not go down that road.
Dubber Yeah. As somebody who was a professor until about five years ago, I can tell you it’s not what it used to be, for sure.
Arielle I bet, yes. I think that… They both had tenure. They were… They came up at a time… And don’t get me wrong, it was hard. My mother was a woman in academia, and that’s hard. And my father was a black man in academia, and then that was hard. And it wasn’t all rosy, but they did come up at a point where it was a lot easier to be… The life of an academic was a little bit cushier, I would say.
Dubber Sure. To get back to the science communication side of what you do, I feel like there are a lot of people out there who need some serious science communication. There are people who are really angry at Chinese people or telephone poles, but they’re not really Reset listeners. How do you bridge that gap?
Arielle It’s interesting who… So when I was a climate change correspondent on TV, I knew that I was not necessarily going to be the person to change someone’s mind about anything. When you watch a documentary TV segment about climate change, you’re going to take away what you want from it. And if you’re already convinced, you’re going to say “Okay, this is further evidence that supports my view of the world”, and if you are not convinced, you’ll somehow find a way to take a sceptical view of it, or go “Oh, but…”. To nit-pick.
And so what I have learned over the years, and also what one of our recent guests talked about, Liz Neeley, who’s a science communication expert for a non-profit called The Story Collider, is that a lot of the way that people change their minds is through the people that they have surrounding them, right? That what you hear in the media and what you read on the news, if you’re an avid Fox News listener, that’s one thing. But you then also turn to… You also really care about the people around you and what they think, and so if you have somebody in your life that is sceptical of climate change or that believes that 5G cell phone towers are somehow inducing the symptoms of coronavirus, as opposed to an actual virus, you can play a role in guiding them away from that thought process, and…
And the way to do that is not just saying “You’re wrong, and here are all the articles that prove that you are wrong” because that won’t work. The way to do that is to have a conversation with those people and to take them seriously, and to be empathetic and to say “Okay, explain to me why you feel the way that you do”, and really listen. Really listen to the entire thing, all of the arguments, which might be hard. And then at the end of that, you can… What you will most likely hear is fear. What you will most likely hear is a problem with uncertainty, and that is… Those are the threads that you can take and use and say “You know what, I understand why you’re scared. I understand this is scary and…”. Don’t repeat information that is incorrect, don’t repeat the 5G coronavirus thing, but you can say “Here’s what these experts, that most people trust, are saying”. And that’s not always going to work, but if you are somebody that that person trusts, it might.
And so I think that we all have a little bit of a responsibility, within reason, to talk to individuals in our lives who may have views that are leaning towards conspiracy theories. That said, I will say that those kinds of conversations can be taxing, and I believe that they are all really only worth it under specific circumstances. Circumstances where somebody might, for instance, be harming themselves or harming others. And so you’ve got to pick and choose your battles, basically, because it’s self-preservation. You have to take care of yourself as well.
Dubber Sure. I want to talk about favourite episodes for a second, and I’ve got some of mine. Obviously the ‘ok boomer’ Neil Young episode about analogue versus digital sound. Sample libraries and pop music, obviously very interesting to me. The one about working from home when your job is driving the Mars rover. But then what airborne means when it comes to viruses, that was really interesting analysis. And obviously lots of episodes about the relationship between technology and COVID-19. What have been some of your favourites?
Arielle I was really proud and happy of that airborne episode. I think that was a good one because I think we were a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of having somebody on, Roxanne Khamsi, who’s a good friend of mine and a science journalist, to talk about what that word means and why it’s so controversial. Because what happened after we put out that episode is that a bunch of… The New York Times was writing about this, and The New Yorker was writing about this, and everybody was putting out an article trying to explain whether this coronavirus is airborne.
And the truth is, is that there is a hesitancy to use that term because it is scary. And public health experts don’t particularly like using it, even though a physicist will tell you “Well, yeah, it’s airborne because it’s in the air”, which is just a very simplistic view of it. There’s more to it than that, of course. There’s the size of the droplets, there’s the size of… There’s airflow issues, and right now we are still trying to figure out exactly how airborne this coronavirus is. And that is the whole… That is the issue, right? At what point… “How airborne does it have to be until we can use the term airborne?” is very much the centre of that conversation. But besides that, I was really, really happy with the bookstore episode where we looked at how…
Dubber Oh, yeah. That was lovely.
Arielle Yeah. That was something that was personal to me, too. I opened up the episode talking about my favourite bookstore in all of New York City, which also happens to be my favourite place in the entire city, just bar none. It is… It’s called The Center for Fiction, and I… It is a place that for a long time I didn’t tell people about because I didn’t want them to show up there. I wanted to keep it for myself, very selfishly. And then with this pandemic, my view on it changed. I want people to know about this place now.
And the struggle of indie bookstores to remain alive, to suddenly try and sell books online when the entire point of an indie bookstore is that you don’t want to buy the book online, right? You’re actually paying a premium to not buy the book online when you’re walking into a bookstore because you can probably get the book for cheaper on Amazon. And talking about what it means for these bookstores to try and make that technological pivot was something that I really cared about a lot because bookstores and libraries are my favourite places in the whole world.
Dubber There’s something of the cynic in me that thinks that there’s something very deeply American about looking at people experiencing “My bookshop business is going under. I’m having real problems”, and somebody sitting there thinking “I can make a buck out of that. Let’s make a service that connects those things together”. Do you think that that’s the technological drive within, I guess, the Silicon Valley culture of “Look at people who are having a terrible time” and trying to profit from that, or is that unfair?
Arielle I think with the case of www.bookshop.org, they actually did launch before the pandemic. So I don’t think that that particular company is… I think they are trying to make money to a certain extent. I think a lot of companies that are built around profit are aimed at doing that. But, yeah, I think there’s something about Silicon Valley where they try and see gaps that other people don’t see, and they try to connect certain services. Now, some of it is ridiculous, right? If you really take a look at ridesharing and apps like Uber and Lyft, all they did was create an app that connects a driver to a rider, and you can view that as being extremely innovative or you can view that as being extremely simple. And a lot of it is marketing.
And so I think that Silicon Valley is overblown, and I also think that they have done wonderful things, and I also think that they are putting a lot of people’s privacy and security at risk. All of these things are true at once. And is it very American to try and make a profit in times of crisis? Maybe, yeah. I think those people who were hoarding Purell hand sanitisers and then trying to sell it at a premium on Amazon, that’s definitely an example of that. And there are… I think any crisis will… Is an opportunity for grifters to surface and try and make a buck.
Dubber And you mention privacy and security. That does seem like something in the current crisis that we have to make a lot of trade-offs about.
Arielle Oh, yeah.
Dubber How do you make decisions about where the line sits now?
Arielle Oh, yeah. Yeah, the line… That line has moved. I think that we… A lot of countries, including the United States, are talking about using Bluetooth technology to do contact tracing, to trace cases of the virus, and so if you walk past somebody who… If you walk past somebody on the street one day, and then a few days later that person tests positive for COVID-19, you might get a ping that says “Hey, you were in the vicinity of somebody for a certain period of time that has tested positive now, so you might want to get tested too”. That idea is interesting.
Is it a huge privacy risk? It’s Bluetooth, so it’s hard to tell how much of a risk it would be. But I think a few years ago, or just a few months ago, I would have been like “Oh, hell no. I would never use an app like that”. Now the likelihood that I would is a lot higher. I can’t actually say for sure whether I feel completely comfortable with it, but I think I’m a lot closer to that than I ever thought I would be. And it’s touchy because it’s health information that will be in this app, and I guess somebody could hypothetically, it’d be a little bit complicated, but hypothetically get that information. But, yeah, I think that for the good of the community does come with some privacy risks. There are… There’s real tension there, for sure, and that’s one example.
Dubber There are topics that have come up a lot for us, and I guess they probably come up for you a lot, and I’m not sure the extent to which you’ve covered these, but things like ethics in AI, things like blockchain. Are these tropes that turn up in technology podcasts, are they of interest to you or does it need to be topical in order for it to really sit?
Arielle The bar for blockchain for me is really high. It’s really high. And it’s not because it’s not being used. Back when I was at Vice News Tonight, I did an entire segment about how pork was being traced through blockchain. There’s a company in Taiwan that is doing that. And it was interesting, and the idea that you could pick up a piece of pork at a supermarket, scan it with an app, and say “Oh, this pig was killed on this date and it received these vaccines on this date and it was fed this much” and you get that information, some people might think that’s interesting. In some ways I think it’s a teachable moment, right? It reminds you that you are eating an animal that was raised for this purpose, and I think that there are benefits in the sense that people who live in cities are very, very removed from the food supply chain, maybe less so now because of this crisis, but I think people are very, very removed from what it means when they buy a slab of meat at the grocery store. So I think there are benefits from that. Do I really need that information about the pork that I am going to consume? I don’t know. I was really on the fence about it. It’s an…
And ultimately, blockchain… Yes, it can’t be tampered with once it’s in the blockchain, sure, great, awesome, but at the source it’s a person putting information into the blockchain and so the source can be tampered with because people want to lie all the time. And I’m sure some people will push back on me on that because they will say that there will be checks and balances, and that’s all great. But the bar for blockchain for me is very, very high because it has to be actually being used, it has to actually have a benefit, and I think that right now a lot of things are interesting and could be interesting in the future, but I’m just… I have yet to see something that feels incredibly compelling. And I’m not talking about currency, that is certainly interesting, but when we’re talking about consumer products that people can buy, I’m just not there yet. So the bar’s pretty high.
AI we’ve certainly talked about, for sure. I think the thing that people might think feels like… I might sound like a broken record at this point, but we talk a lot about bias in artificial intelligence because, again, this is another situation where there is a person who programmed those algorithms. There is a human being, and humans have a very limited view of the world. And so, one, that’s one very good argument for promoting diversity in technology companies, but as long as there is a human that is involved, something will get missed, something is not… It’s not all going to be perfect, and so what I push back on a lot is the idea of technology as this silver bullet, as this thing that can pierce through everything and that will be error-free and that is just a solution for everyone, and I think that that is false. That is… Largely technology is a solution for the rich and the privileged, and taking that kind of view when you host a technology podcast is not everybody’s cup of tea, but that is very much how I view it. And don’t get me wrong, I’m obsessed with technology, I love it. I am consumer-gadget obsessed, and it’s not necessarily something that I’m proud of, but that is how I view the world.
Dubber And a gamer?
Arielle A gamer? I play Animal Crossing and I play Pokémon on a Nintendo Switch Lite, but I’m not really a gamer.
Dubber That counts.
Arielle Yeah, it counts. I just… I haven’t been playing video games every day for years the way that a lot of other people have. I definitely have an interest. I used to, back when… Because we had a computer in my house my entire life, on MS-DOS I used to play Commander Keen, and I loved my SEGA console when I was a kid, and I loved playing The Lion King and Sonic Spinball and those kinds of games. But I dropped off in my teen years and early twenties and I’m now finally getting back to it, and it does feel good to get back to it.
Dubber You’re also a classical guitarist. Do you compartmentalise that creativity/music side of things from the science journalism side, or do they work together in some way?
Arielle So weird to be called a classical guitarist. I did… I do play classical guitar, and I do actually have a degree in classical guitar, but I haven’t… I don’t play that much anymore, and that is one of my biggest regrets, is that I stopped playing it after I graduated and got that degree. And I think I needed a break. I think I had been running myself really ragged because I did a double degree at the time in health sciences and classical guitar. And this is in CEGEP, so this… I just… So it’s not like I have a bachelor’s degree in music. I have a CEGEP degree in classical guitar. CEGEP is something in Quebec which is in between high school and college, and it’s usually two years but because I did a double degree I did two degrees in three years. So it was pretty intense, and I think I needed to take a break, and I… My break was too long. And now when I pick up my instrument, and it is staring at me in my bedroom, I feel an immense amount of regret and… Because you lose those skills if you don’t use them over time. You can get them back, but I haven’t dedicated the kind of time that I should to my instrument. And so I don’t play nearly as much anymore.
Dubber Do you think of it as work or as play?
Arielle I get a… I think I’m competitive by nature, and so work and play can… They mix a lot in my life, so that’s interesting. Yes, it is play, but when you know that you used to be able to do something that was… Not really great, I was never a great classical guitar player, but when you know that you used to do something that was good, it is hard to… On the ego, probably. Really, this comes down to an ego issue, to start at the bottom again. And so I need to get into the right mindset to do that, but I have continued with music to a certain extent. I recently purchased, a few months ago, an OP-Z synthesiser by Teenage Engineering, and I have so much fun with that thing. It is such a blast, and I think it suits my personality more in some ways than even… Than classical guitar ever did because I get to create music in a solitary fashion, and I get to try a lot of things without people ever knowing that I made something that was shitty until I’m ready to hear them… Let them hear something that is passable.
And so I think I’m very much like that, I like learning in private. I do not like learning in front of other people. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’m dyslexic, and I think that I have difficulty not being… Maybe showing weakness and being not perfect right off the bat, and so I always prefer to do things on my own. Even during my classical guitar lessons, my teacher would show me something new and I would do it a few times in front of him, but really I just wanted to run home, practice for hours and hours and hours and then come back and show him that “Hey, I’m good at this now”. I didn’t like having to demonstrate what he’d just taught me in front of him when I hadn’t… When I felt like I hadn’t been given the opportunity to succeed yet. So, yeah, that’s where I’m at. Sorry, my dog is barking.
Dubber That’s absolutely fine, I’m surprised mine aren’t. So I guess this is you outing yourself as The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder.
Arielle Oh, yeah. Absolutely, 100%. That’s definitely me. No, but Breakmaster Cylinder did create our theme music, and I am very, very happy that they did because I think they’re incredibly talented. But, no, I do think that science and art does mix. I think that was your original question, right?
Dubber It was, yeah.
Arielle It absolutely does mix. I believe that one of the best ways to communicate science is through illustrations. There are science illustrators who do such wonderful work. And comics. Comics and science have gone hand in hand for a long time. Just thinking back to the very classic comic The Swamp Thing, it’s all about science and a science experiment and where memory can be stored in the body. That is the origin story of The Swamp Thing, which people may or may not know, but I think that there is a lot to be said for using art to communicate science, and maybe… And ultimately, when you make music it’s just air being pushed around, right? And that’s just physics.
Dubber Right. When it comes to podcasting, journalism, interviewing, broadcasting, is there anyone you look to and think “That’s who I aspire to be”?
Arielle Oh, there are people who I admire deeply. In terms of their writing, I would love to write like Ed Yong at The Atlantic. In terms of their podcasting, I think that Rose Eveleth at Flash Forward is fantastic. These are people that I happen to have had on my podcast and they’re also friends of mine, but they’re people that I admire deeply for the work that they do. But I stopped, a long time ago, imagining somebody as “That is the career path that I want to follow”, and I think it’s because I’ve bounced around from medium to medium so much. I used to be a writer, I moved to TV, and I knew that I loved audio and so I decided to go host a podcast.
And I don’t know what will come next. I might… I certainly hope that I will stick around in podcasting for a long time because I really do love it, but I think I like switching things up. I like learning new things. More than anything I love learning new things, and so I don’t know anybody who’s had my career path. I don’t know anybody who has done… God, maybe the closest one, and this is a very rough comparison, is Rachel Maddow, in the sense that she worked in radio and then went to TV hosting. But I have no interest in hosting a nightly new show where I sit behind a desk every night. That does not appeal to me, at least not right now. And so, no, there isn’t somebody that I look towards, a single person that I look towards, in terms of who I admire. I think it’s a compilation of people.
Dubber Finally, I guess, what do you hope for Reset? What’s the long-term objective?
Arielle I want us to make people feel things, which seems so basic to say. Such a… It’s a very basic principle. But I want people to feel something. I want people to… I don’t think that technology is very often about empathy, and I would like that my podcast to change that. I very much would like Reset to be a podcast where people learn about how other people live, and learn to appreciate their struggles and admire their ability to perhaps overcome those struggles. And, yeah, I want to make the most human tech podcast you have ever listened to, and… Because ultimately I think that is the mistake with tech journalism, is that it does not feel very human. Those human stories don’t get told nearly as much as they could be, and those are the stories that I’m interested in telling.
Dubber Fantastic. Arielle, thanks so much for your time.
Arielle Thank you so much for your time, Andrew. I really, really enjoyed this conversation.
Dubber That’s Arielle Duhaime-Ross, the host of Reset, your new second favourite podcast. The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so make sure you subscribe and the next one will just turn up all by itself with no further effort on your part. Reset comes out three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and like this show you can get it anywhere you listen. That’s it for this week, I hope you enjoyed. Don’t forget to share, like, rate, review, or just tell someone about it in your next Zoom meeting, which can’t be too far away, and I’ll catch you soon. In the meantime, have a great week and stay safe.
Dubber Can I get a “Later nerds”?
Arielle Sure. Later nerds.