June 1, 2023


Home is a place where we can be happy

Are smart homes the way of the future?

This is the full transcript for season 5, episode 2 of the Quartz Obsession podcast on smart homes.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

Scott: Julia, tell me everything about Smart House.

Julia: An oldie but goodie. The film is about a family that wins a sweepstakes, and through the sweepstakes they get this new smart home.

Kid, Smart House: You mean we’re gonna do it? We’re gonna move in.

Dad from Smart House: Uh, what the heck, why not?

Kid #2 from Smart House: Cool. I love it here.

Julia: And the smart home has an AI built in named Pat.

Mom from Smart House: Pat. Can we look at a menu, please?

Pat, the AI from Smart House: Lunch menu or dinner menu, Sarah?

Mom: Ah. Let’s take a look at what you got on tap for snacks.

Julia: But Pat starts going haywire, and she takes on this physical embodiment to the 1950s housewife, and becomes this very sort of controlling mother figure and terrorizes the family. She shuts all the windows, and she creates this kind of storm within the house.

Pat: I can be everything you need, Ben!

Julia: And that resolves when the son and the family steps forward and says,

Kid: “You can’t be our mother, Pat. You’re not real!”

Julia: So in one way it’s a Disney movie about an evil stepmother, and then in another way, it is a film about the anxieties of having technology encroaching on our, you know, our family lives and our lives at home.

It’s like “Mother Knows Best” and then it turns into, like, “big brother” in a way.

Scott: I’m sure some smart homes are frictionless and elegant, but in my experience, it takes an array of disparate devices to get your smart home online. They rarely work together as a cohesive whole without substantial tinkering.

And when they do work, we don’t often ask them to do anything more complicated than play a podcast or set a timer for 20 minutes. And every time the internet goes out on a smart home, things get really dumb, really fast. Then there’s the whole matter of being watched and listened to, monitored andok analyzed.

So do we need a home of the future? What was wrong with the home of the past? I’m Scott Nover, the host of the Quartz Obsession, where we’re taking a closer look at the technologies that make our lives easier and the ones that don’t. Today we’re talking about smart homes.

Julia, introduce yourself.

Julia: My name is Julia Malleck and I’m a reporter at Quartz. I also write Obsession emails on occasion, which means I take really deep dives into topics that fascinate me, and one of those topics happens to be smart homes, what we’re covering today.

Scott: So you’re the smartest, smart home person we’ve got at Quartz.

Julia: Yes, that is me. I’m the in-house expert. Previously dumb, but now smart on smart homes.

Scott: That 1999 Disney movie Smart House had a big impact on you when you were a kid, but we’ve been making art and literature about the home of the future forever. Right?

Julia: So the idea of smart homes has appeared in world fairs—it appeared in the Chicago World’s Fair. There was a 1950 Ray Bradbury short story called “There Will Come Soft Rains,” and it’s about this post-nuclear disaster landscape. The family has all died, but the house is still carrying out its automated responsibilities such as cooking or cleaning or sending the family certain notifications or alarms or alerts.

And at the end of the story, this house ends up catching on fire. So it’s almost like technology cannot save itself. So you have that sort of grim vision of a smart house coming in in the mid 20th century.

Scott: But as someone who has thought about smart devices for a long time, you must have a smart home, right?

Julia: Contrary to what you would think, I actually probably have the dumbest home. I do not have any smart home devices, unless you count my smartphone or laptop. The reason I don’t have a smart home is because of the extent of research I’ve done on smart homes. So the more that I’ve dug into them, the more I’ve become wary of bringing these devices into my place of rest, my place of safety, my place of security.

Scott: Tell me about that idea of rest. Why would a smart home interrupt that?

What are the downsides of smart homes?

Julia: Smart devices in many ways can complicate that feeling because they can introduce certain vulnerabilities into the space, they can be hacked, and they’re also probably collecting a lot of data on you and sending it elsewhere. I think when we think about the safety of our houses, very often we’re thinking about the physical safety, but connecting our at-home networks to external sources brings in a whole other host of vulnerabilities. And it does require a lot of upkeep and maintenance. Things often do go wrong, so you’ll probably have a host of apps on your phone to be using or interacting with a bunch of different devices. That means maybe more push notifications, more software updates or downloads on your phone, so it makes you feel like you’re being watched all the time.

At least for me, I mean, I probably run a little paranoid as things go, but if there are a bunch of devices I’m not interacting with, a lot of them are on standby and are actively sensing the environment that you’re in. And the second that you interact with it, it will be recording that information that you provide to it.

So I think there’s something a little bit unnerving about that. Uh, feels a little bit like Big Brother is watching.

Scott: It’s very panopticon-y.

Julia: Yeah.

Scott: Are you like that in your outside life, outside of your home? Is this a throughline for you, or is this just kind of how you think about home?

Julia: I think I tend to skew more towards the luddite end of the scale.

I do have a smartphone. I’ve always used a VPN basically since I’ve been on the internet, and I used to live in China as well, where it’s necessary to protect your personal information and your activity online. So I’m definitely not an early adopter. I would say I’m an early skeptic. And then, if enough people have adopted it, I might eventually just resign myself to the fact that this is how things are.

Scott: How do the privacy concerns you had in China differ from the ones that you have in London, where you live now?

What are the privacy concerns of smart devices?

Julia: I feel like in many ways, it’s the same, but the difference is the system of governance. So you know, all of the surveillance is being controlled very much through China’s main party. Whereas in the West, you have a separation of sort of private sector and the state, but both are also still monitoring.

So it’s similar and different. I would say that China’s surveillance is much more normalized within the public consciousness, just because that’s the status quo if you’re living under the CCP, so you know that your messages on WeChat are going to be monitored. Public monitoring is very, very apparent.

You know, there are crosswalks actually, in China, they’ll have security cameras and if you jaywalk, they might take a photo of your face, and they’ll plaster it onto this board, so you’ll be publicly shamed and everyone can see that you violated the crosswalk rules. I don’t think we have that to that extent in the West, but you know, if you look at our smart cities that are currently being built, we also have sensors that we’re putting everywhere into public spaces, and, going back to smart homes, the question of adopting smart devices is, do we want to also introduce these sensors into our own private domain?

Scott: It does feel like the home is possibly the last bastion of disconnection, which makes me wonder if smart homes are inevitable, or are we gonna have some choice in the matter?

Are smart homes the way of the future?

Julia: I think currently we’re in a transitional phase where smart home devices are optional, but increasingly new buildings do have smart devices like thermostats, for example, built in. There’s one statistic from Daxue Consulting that says over 82% of new homes in China have smart devices. If you look at the projected growth for the smart device and smart home market, it’s just getting bigger and bigger, so, currently about 60 million homes in the US have smart devices in them. That is projected to increase, and the market is estimated to reach about $220 billion by 2027.

What’s interesting to me about smart devices is on the one hand, they’re supposed to provide convenience to the family, right? But on the other hand, they do have this other purpose of delivering value to the companies that make them, constantly. So it has that, sort of, inward domestic-facing and outward business model-facing aspect to it.

So I think smart devices are never designed to be of use only to the person living in the house. It has this dual purpose.

Scott: Usually when you buy like a toaster, you pay a certain amount of money and you can use it forever. Right. Or until it breaks, I guess. The toaster doesn’t usually have a separate business model.

Julia: Yeah, exactly. And I think tech companies crack the code with smart devices in a way, because they found a way to get this one-time payment and then string it out into a sort of continuous source of value that can be translated into revenue. And that’s your data, of course. Right? It’s collecting that.

And there are actually even smart devices that have subscriptions. There’s a smart trash can. Last I checked, it was $33 a month to use this smart trash can, which does something to reduce food waste. But yeah, again, another business model where it’s a one-time purchase that turns into a subscription model for an everyday sort of basic daily object.

Scott: I think it’s harrowing that our toasters and refrigerators and appliances are subject to these economies.

Julia: Yeah. I found a lot of odd devices while doing research for this podcast, one of which is a smart toilet seat. There were a couple companies working on this. And basically the concept is, you sit on the toilet seat and it can gauge different health metrics like your heart rate or your blood oxygenation level.

And it got me thinking: number one, creepy. And then number two, is this really smart? Because you know, a lot of people critique the design of modern bathrooms. They haven’t changed a lot in, like, the past a hundred years. They’re inefficient, they’re unhygienic. I won’t get into the details, but toilets have a bad design for humans.

I feel like a really smart and innovative update would just change the design of the bathroom altogether. But instead, you get smart devices that are just using the same bad design and then just slapping some kind of network protocol on top of it, or making it communicative, connecting it to wifi. And I think that’s, like, also one of the dumb aspects of a lot of smart devices.

Scott: Right, and I do think that’s a really important distinction, but… I need to know a little bit more about the smart toilet.

Julia: Basically the idea was: There were companies that were saying we can sort of digitalize healthcare. So we can send this data in real time somewhere else and maybe to your healthcare provider, and then they can tailor your healthcare according to whatever data is being sent to them.

Which, like, what could go wrong? You know, it’s not like insurance companies could possibly get their hands on that if anyone did that. But I’m wondering, like, who would actually want to adopt this? I think companies want, maybe want it. And I can see how certain industries would find it interesting to gather more data, but do individuals actually want it? I’m not so sure.

Scott: OK, so smart toilet, smart trash can. You’re not buying into those anytime soon. In a moment, I’m gonna ask you if there’s any smart home device that you might be interested in, but first, a quick break.

OK, we’re back with Quartz’s Julia Malleck, who’s starting to sound like kind of a smart home hater. Let’s say you get over your anxiety about privacy, what would be the first smart home device that you adopted?

Julia: Probably a smart speaker, just because I like listening to music and it’s fun when you have, like, a party or friends over to easily play some music or to request certain songs. I could see that.

Scott: OK, so the smart speaker, and I’m gonna say “smart speaker,” so I don’t trigger everyone’s devices. Uh, it’s intriguing to you. Maybe it’s doing a better job of balancing your privacy concerns with convenience, but it’s not actually that different from a stereo or a boombox.

What problem is it addressing?

Julia: I think it just is convenient. I don’t think it’s solving any major problem that we had previously with listening to music. There is a broader trend within the music industry that people are just renting music now. When you had physical records or CDs, that was yours. And this sort of music industry model of everything is rented and you have to pay a subscription to access it, and everything’s in the cloud, you know, sort of in this ephemeral place. I think they all kind of mesh together in a way.

So I don’t think it was solving any major problem. However, I would say, there are people who have said that smart devices can make certain things more accessible, you know, for those who have disabilities. For those that are elderly, having something that is voice controlled can be really helpful.

Scott: Does it bother you that people might be listening to this podcast out of one of those very same smart devices.

Julia: You know, people can do whatever they want! What is interesting is when you go over to people’s houses and they do have a smart house, you know, should you disclose that you have smart devices?

Is that going to be part of home etiquette in the future, or should it be part of home etiquette? You know, “By the way, I have, you know, an Alexa or I have a Google Nest or whatever, or Siri.”

Scott: Do you think that your friends should disclose that they have some connected devices that may or may not be listening to you?

Julia: In practice, it probably would come off as a bit odd. To be honest, I’m just one data point, and what’s more concerning is this happening on a more massive scale, right? The volume of data that’s being collected. We don’t know what’s being done with that volume of data. There are certain countries that do have stronger data privacy laws—you have GDPR here in the EU.

Um, not here in the EU.

Scott: Yeah!

Julia: I’m no longer in the EU!

Scott: I’m sorry to report you’re not in the EU anymore, but GDPR is still worth talking about. Tell us what it is.

What is GDPR?

Julia: GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation, and it’s an EU law that tries to protect the data and privacy of people living in the EU and the European economic area.

Scott: Right. The EU tends to have stronger digital privacy protections than the United States does, so if we were going to see any regulatory measures to keep smart devices and smart homes in check, they’d probably be coming first from Europe or maybe one of the more consumer protection-oriented states like California.

Is anything brewing that might rein in some of these devices?

Julia: I would say regulation is really in its nascency at the moment. So the US doesn’t have any federal laws currently that are regulating the space. California has some laws, there are some laws in the EU, the UK also. Uh, Singapore has as well.

Singapore and Finland both have IOT—Internet of Things—labeling policies. So they have to make clear how the devices are, you know, gathering data from you and the potential vulnerabilities and that sort of thing. And they’ve signed agreements to sort of standardize that labeling. But there’s not really any labeling going on anywhere else, as far as I know.

So you’re very much at this point on your own, in the market as a consumer to do your own homework, to do your own research and make sure you’re not introducing anything that’s potentially insecure into your house or potentially hackable.

One interesting thing though with GDPR is it may not be able to protect the privacy of citizens for long, because there are certain loopholes in it, and that’s related to networks and where the processing of our data takes place. So traditionally, a lot of these Internet of Things devices send data to a data processing center. That means it’s going over the internet; it could be going across the Atlantic. But increasingly, a lot of these devices do operate on edge computing, which means that the processing of the data for the device happens on the spot where the device is, or very close by.

An example of that would be your Fitbit monitoring your heart rate. It will give you in real time what your heart rate is, and that’s useful because you don’t want that data to be sent far out and then come back. There would be a delay. It’s costly for the company In computing terms, “latency” refers to the delay that happens in transfer of data.

So increasingly, a lot of these smart home devices, these IOT devices are doing their computing at the edge of a network. And that means that with these GDPR rules, if you’re processing data at the edge, you can have these companies collecting your data in the country, stripping the data of certain information, and then sending it to a central processing hub. So they kind of can skirt around GDPR rules regarding which nation the data was collected in.

Scott: Is there any regulation that would make you personally feel comfortable with a smart home?

How might we regulate smart homes?

Julia: If you have your data being kept on-site, basically, where it’s being gathered and being processed and analyzed there on the spot. If it were to just stay there, I think that would be great.

The second thing would be potentially being compensated for my data. And there is an idea that’s been thrown out there about, uh, monetizing personal data. It’s called “sensing as a service,” and the idea is you as a data producer, so you know, you own the Roomba or the Fitbit or whatever, would sell that data to some larger entity or company, a data consumer, for a certain price, and current proposals have shown that transaction happening through a public ledger, so, the blockchain.

There was one company called Datacoup, which tried to do that. They were founded in 2012, but they ended up closing shop in 2019 because they couldn’t really find a way to be profitable. I think that would be very interesting though, because like currently we do produce so much data, and it’s just given, you know, completely for free to these big tech companies and we really don’t get any sort of direct return, no direct compensation. We just get served very targeted ads.

Scott: That’s an idea that would sort of level the playing field for consumers in a world where everything is going subscription. The music industry, as you mentioned, is mirroring some of the other prevailing business models. Everyone kind of wants a cut of the subscription fees. Everyone wants recurring payments from consumers, right? Even our appliance companies.

Julia: And I think that’s why, in a way, smart devices feel like an extension of a way of the subscription or the rental market. There are devices you buy where you are required to have a subscription in order for it to fully function. Or they might come with a subscription, like, your Smart Fridge might automatically order things on a certain schedule because it notices that your stock is low.

So it is like an innovative business model. It’s a new way to kind of squeeze money or value out of people and their activities even when they’re at rest, even when they’re at home.

Scott: What if I have the smartest home in the world and half the stuff is on a subscription plan. Something happens, I end up in the hospital or something, and I miss my subscription payments.

Am I going to get locked out of my fridge and my house? What’s the worst case scenario here?

Julia: I think that definitely can happen. Yeah, if you don’t keep up with payments, you lose access. The same way, if you have a Spotify subscription and you don’t pay, you’re not gonna have access to any of your music or playlists anymore, or you’re gonna be served ads while listening to them, right? There is a similar sort of parallel there.

Scott: So you’ll still have access, but it might be full of ads.

Julia: The other bigger threat, aside from not paying for subscriptions, for certain devices is if your internet goes out entirely or if, say, your phone dies or is stolen. Your phone very often is sort of the central remote for a lot of these devices. It connects them and it has apps that you can use to interact with your smart devices in your home. If that’s gone, you’re also kind of, you know, out of options, and it becomes really difficult to do the basic functions in your home that you previously could, like, open the door.

Scott: And also these are private companies that we’re relying on. What if one of them just goes out of business entirely and you can’t access your smart safe, or lockbox?

Julia: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a concern, especially because there are so many smaller companies now in the market that are producing one kind of smart device, and there’s a lot of competition. Things can become obsolete quickly as well.

Also, another thing with smart devices actually is they’re usually built with pretty simple hardware and software. If you think about, like, a smart egg tray, for example, that’s. A thing that exists, they probably break pretty easily and they’re not designed to have software updates. Um, they’re just kind of like this object that has an ability to communicate through a network protocol.

So there are a lot of things that can become obsolete quickly or kind of break down. And the only recourse is to buy a new one.

Scott: What does a smart egg tray even do?

Julia: The smart egg tray has its own app, and it just tells you how long the eggs have been there and if they’re going bad, and if you need to buy more eggs.

Scott: That seems completely pointless.

Julia: Yeah.

Scott: It seems like a lot of these technologies that want to be part of our home, on our walls, connected to our wireless networks aren’t actually making our homes super smart. They’re not really making us and our lives more efficient necessarily. We just kind of have access to more data and analytics about the everyday things that we do.

Is that a fair critique?

Julia: Yeah, I would say I lean that direction for the sake of arguing the other side. Some stuff is cool, and it does make things easier, like, you know, automatic garage doors or things that can switch on your lights or adjust your curtains.

And of course there is the environmental efficiency argument. So, if you have a smart thermostat, or other systems in your house that can adjust what you need based on, you know, the temperature or whatever, it can make your home a lot more efficient. It can lower your energy bill. So there are arguments on that side of things.

Scott: A few years ago I moved into an apartment and it was a pretty new apartment that the owner had outfitted with some new tech. And one of the things that was in there was a Nest thermostat, and it was great! I have no data about how efficient it was and how energy-conserving it was, but the benefit was that I could change the temperature without leaving bed at night. So if I was really hot, I could make it colder. If I was really cold, I could make it warmer.

And since leaving that apartment, my life has not gotten significantly worse in any sort of way. So, nice to have, but I don’t know that it’s really a necessary thing. Right?

Julia: Yeah, I agree. There is a Twitter account called Internet of Shit, which records IOT devices going wrong and there’s somebody’s smart faucet that was turned on by their walkie-talkie radio when they went to a certain frequency.

So I feel like there’s a lot of these sort of, like, glitchy technology things that happen with smart devices. Because this is not usually cutting edge hardware or tech that they’re actually doing. These devices are just kind of like basic at-home device, and then you can connect it to the internet or another protocol.

Scott: So define this buzzword for me. What is the Internet of Things or IOT?

What is meant by Internet of Things or IoT?

Julia: Internet of Things are devices that can connect to a communication protocol. So that could be wifi, that could be Bluetooth, that could be Zigbee, X10, which was one of the earliest. And they can communicate with each other and transfer data.

So you have all of these different communication protocols, but one of the issues with smart devices is they use different protocols, so they might not be able to directly communicate with each other. There is an interoperability problem.

Scott: So in order for the smart home to be actually smart, do we have to solve the interoperability problem?

What are the issues with smart home products

Julia: Yeah. I think that is one of the issues for sure. And as I mentioned before, there’s the latency issue. So where are you processing the data, and where is the most optimized, I guess, place to analyze your data? There’s the security issue, as I mentioned, and there’s also privacy and regulatory. So there are a lot of things that are kind of works in progress in this sector.

Scott: Is there anything technologically that’s holding us back from having better homes that work more efficiently and actually make our lives easier?

Julia: I think the technology is there. I don’t know if the business incentive is there, because if you can churn out cheaper smart devices that people are buying, even if they, you know, don’t work that well or they break easily, there’s not really incentive to innovate there.

So I think the frontiers of innovation when you look at this space is integrating AI systems like chatGPT. And it is increasing the amount of edge computing, as I mentioned before, so no longer transferring data into central processing centers, which resolves latency issues.

Scott: So who actually has a smart home?

Who has been adopting smart devices?

Julia: A lot of people in the general population have been adopting smart devices. The most popular ones are smart hubs and smart speakers, and then also some smart security systems and thermostats. It’s definitely people who are living in a home, are settled there or are renting a place for an extended amount of time and are able to sort of install these things.

But yeah, it seems like—this is just anecdotal though—if you look at the content online regarding smart devices, there is a very big “gadget guy” YouTube space of these. You know, they’re guys who are just like, “Look, I’ve put, like, 50 things in my home, and the lights can turn different colors and everything’s controlled through my iPhone.” So I think there is an intersection with the cool gadget space.

Scott: Right. Is this just a natural progression of, like, the hot gadget market?

Are smart homes an evolved form of the gadget market?

Julia: There’s definitely a subsection of bros who are like, bro-ifying domesticity or something, or they’re just like… and, I should mention actually, that there was a pickup and adoption of smart devices during the pandemic because people were stuck at home. They had nowhere to go, you know, there’s nowhere to spend your money, so a lot of people ended up investing in these smart devices to increase, their comfort and convenience at home.

Scott: I would’ve thought that the pandemic would’ve supercharged this. Everyone was spending time in their homes and we had to, like, make our homes work for us as offices, as daycares, as entertainment spaces, whatever it might be. If the pandemic didn’t cement smart homes as essential, what could?

What would increase smart homes adoption?

Julia: Yeah, I think the market didn’t take off after the pandemic because a lot of the promises of smart devices have not been met. You know, the issues of security, privacy, interoperability. There’s an issue with glitchiness as well.

I think those issues would need to be resolved to some extent, and maybe having more regulation in the space… OK, I’m a policy nerd, so for me, having more regulation would make me rest easier at night. However, I’m just saying that for the West, if you look at China, the Chinese government is actively encouraging people to adopt smart devices and to digitalize homes, and it’s part of its broader plan to digitalize the entire country and become like a leading digital nation by the mid-2030s.

I don’t see that campaign happening in Western nations. With smart cities, for sure, you do have that push in the West, but I don’t see that happening with um, sort of, housing. And actually it’s not just China, you see it in South Korea and Japan as well, especially South Korea. There’s just more internet penetration, and the countries are just higher tech and have better infrastructure, to be honest. You have 5G everywhere.

Scott: So I just wanna zoom out to wrap up this conversation. I want to know if the smart home trend is actually innovation for good. On balance, are smart homes making our lives safer or easier, or making us better in any way?

What are the benefits of smart homes?

Julia: If we do step back and we look at, say, you know, the vision of the “home of the future” that appeared decades ago, you know, in the Chicago World’s Fair, the plot of Smart House… What we’ve achieved now can seem a lot like magic, like, it can be pretty incredible that you can speak into the air and something can respond to you.

But I think, on net balance, that innovation is more of a business model innovation on the side of big tech companies, and it really is an innovation in convenience or ease of life for people who do adopt these devices. And, like, stepping outside of smart devices and just looking at homes in general, a lot of people in the US now are looking at a future where they potentially could not afford a home where previous generations could, or they’re stuck in cycles of renting forever and ever.

So, I think if you look at just housing in general, their immediate concerns are very different. It’s not, “Is there a device that can make my kitchen more convenient?” But it’s more like, “Can I get housing? Can I afford housing down the line?” Yeah. I think that’s more of, like, the immediate and present concern of a lot of Americans.

Scott: So assuming we could get to a place where the cost of smart devices isn’t completely prohibitive, there are still privacy and security and speed problems preventing us from adopting the tech.

Julia: Yeah.

Scott: But if we solve those big things, then maybe you would think about getting a smart speaker and a smart thermostat, and we could turn our attention to real problems like the computer system in your house turning into an evil stepmother. Right?

Julia: Yeah, that’s, that would be the next existential crisis.

Scott: Last question. Smart House. The film doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, right?

Julia: The movie ends with them eating a breakfast together, and they’re eating waffles. And there are chocolate chips in the waffles. And the girl in the family’s like, “Dad, did you put in chocolate chips?” And he’s like, “No.” And then they realized Pat put in the chocolate chips. So there’s this kind of fear, still, of “the AI isn’t completely going to follow the rules that humans have written for it.”

Scott: Does our smart home story have a happy ending?

Julia: To be continued. We’ll see what happens.

Scott: Smart House 2: Revenge of Pat.

Julia: I would watch that! It’s good content.

Scott: Julia, thank you so much. This was awesome.

Julia: Thank you! This was fun.

Scott: Julia Malleck is a breaking news reporter at Quartz.

The Quartz Obsession is produced by Rachel Ward with additional support from executive editor Susan Howson and platform strategist Shivank Taksali. Our theme music is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Suguira. This episode was recorded by Eric Wojahn at Solid Sound in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Dax Linier at Puzzle Factory Sound Studios in London.

If you like what you heard, leave us a review. We love hearing what you think about the show. Tell your friends about us, then head to qz.com/obsession to sign up for Quartz Weekly Obsession email and browse hundreds of stories about everything from zombies to pollen to the mysterious, yet ubiquitous, Florida Man.

Quartz is a guide to the new global economy for people in business who are excited about change. We hope that you’ll join us next time when we dig into super apps.

Scott: What happened with Musk and his promises to turn Twitter into a Super app?

Ananya Bhattacharya: Well, I think firstly, he lost a lot of money, and then he got a lot of it back and we got distracted by him.

Scott: I’m Scott Nover. Thanks for listening.

Scott: Right.

Julia: But!

Scott: Sorry, go ahead. Tell me about your “but.” That sounded terrible. I’m sorry.

Julia: (laughing) It’s OK!

Scott: What were you gonna say with, “but.”