NGP’s Katelyn Goodpaster Interviews John Gable
John Gable is a co-founder of Allsides (allsides.com), a site that intends to remove media bias on political issues. Next Generation Politics interviewed him to learn more about the source, and the man behind it. After reading this article, we encourage you to check out the site, as well as his Ted Talk with Joan Blades “Free Yourself from your Filter Bubbles” .
KG: Who are you? What drives you to be who you are?
JG: That is a big question. I’m a dad, husband, techie-guy who has Star Trek nick-nacks on his desk and used to (still kind-of-do) worship Mr. Spock, Vanderbilt philosophy major who even taught a bit ( [I] almost got a second major in math but my last semester decided to instead take Popular Narrative and Zen Buddhism so I could study cartoons and meditate for credit), Duke MBA, Episcopalian, Republican who worked full time in politics in the 80s nationally and locally to try to improve the world, technology product guy who joined the original Microsoft Office team in Seattle and later was the team lead PM for Netscape Navigator (where I had a bigger impact on the world than I did when working in politics), tech entrepreneur, USTA tennis player (3.5 and 4.0 levels) who wants to make the world a better place in my own unique way and arrogant enough to think I can do it.
KG: I know for a fact that you have a rather impressive political resume. What can you tell me about that?
JG: My first political job was working for Senator Howard Baker. He became the majority leader and later chief of staff for President Reagan. He was known for his ability to bring two Senators from across the aisle into one room, have them say their bit, and then repeat things in such a way that they both could see where they agreed. I’ve also seen other great men and women with very different styles and strengths do great things. I worked with two other Senators who became majority leaders – Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell. They are very different – Trent Lott has a bigger than life presence, while Mitch McConnell has the most focused mind and discipline. A former Congresswoman from Kentucky, Anne Meagher Northrup, has more of an athlete’s style of competitive drive. Tenacity with a sense of purpose beyond themselves is a common theme for all of these people.
We often forget that our government is for the most part run by people driven to do good. The popular belief that our guys are good and their guys are evil is simply false. Yes no one is perfect, and there are some rotten apples there, but the ones that make the most difference are usually the ones most driven to do good.
The great lesson for me is that any of us can do good, each in our own way with our own unique set of talents. We don’t have to try to be someone else to do good.
KG: You mentioned earlier that you also come from a tech background. With the integration of that knowledge along with your political acuity, where do you see the future of politics and technology going?
JG: I like to think of that in historical context – ask this same question hundreds of years ago and it might be “what do you see the future of politics and the printing press?” The analogy with today is spot on.
When we think of the printing press, we tend to think of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But we forget that when the printing press first started mass producing books and pamphlets that were small enough to travel on horseback, things got much more chaotic before they got better. Books challenged authority, published pornography and spread false information (fake news). Many were concerned that people would keep their heads down and “live” in their books (picture a teen with her head down living in her smartphone). Authorities fought back with book burning, censorship, tribunals and worse. Chaos and riots ensued. Not until people began to understand how books should relate to their lives, and not until we created new systems and technology (like libraries that could identify the more credible books), did we reach the Enlightenment.
I believe that we are in the early “dark ages” of the Internet (and other new technologies) and are suffering much like the people in the early days of the movable type printing press. We have not yet learned how best to interact and use this technology in our lives, and we still need to create new technology to help us better navigate this new world.
The key to successful use of technology comes down to how well it empowers the individual and the best aspects of that individual. Right now, technology has put us into severe filter bubbles that cut us off from each other and divide us into different tribes that become more extreme and less accepting of each other. When it comes to politics, this institutionalized mob mentality, peer pressure, and us-versus-them thinking. It empowers marketers working for politicians, advocacy groups and businesses that want to manipulate us to vote or buy in one way or the other. Fortunately, people are becoming aware of the problem, and are looking for a new way.
I think we can (and must) learn how to integrate technology better and in a more positive way in our own lives. I think technology can (and must) evolve to empower our better selves, not manipulate and divide us. Rather than use algorithms, big data and AI to do the thinking for us (which puts the technology and those who control technology in power to manipulate us), let’s use that technology to empower us to better understand the world and each other. Then we will be able to solve the big problems of today, from immigration, health care, education and jobs to climate change and the national debt. And more importantly, it will help us overcome our individual challenges and build stronger relationships and a sense of well-being with our friends, our family, and with ourselves. That is what we hope AllSides can help do for society.
KG: You can really see how these parts of your life have played into your confounding of Allsides. What can you tell me about AllSides now, and what’s in store for its future?
JG: We see AllSides as one of the leaders that empower people to better understand the world and each other. We think we can help lead the transition thru the dark ages of the Internet that is currently full of division, despair, and dysfunction to a new enlightenment of better relationships and understanding. The Internet has enabled this better world in so many ways, but for politics and controversial issues it has done the opposite, it has made things worse in many ways. We think that AllSides can help “fix” the Internet so it can live up to its potential for good.
Things are a bit tough in America right now with the overwhelming division and break down in society. It is unclear to me if we are near the bottom or if things will get significantly worse before they get better. But they can get better – it is up to all of us. AllSides hopes to help.
Our democratic republic requires a healthy society – one that is informed and can collaborate or at least tolerate each other. Learning to listen to and appreciate other ideas and people who are different is a skill. It’s a skill like any other, it can be taught through experience.
Mismatch can give our next generation (and the rest of us) the experience of a healthy, respectful conversation. It can help develop the skill set to listen and appreciate one another across divides. This is essential in our daily lives, in our families, in our businesses, in our communities, and in our nation.
The stronger listening and relationships that Mismatch helps provide is a perfect complement to the news media part of AllSides. Our news and issues from across the political spectrum help teachers discuss politics without being partisan or biased themselves. It teaches students that there is more than one way to look at things, that the world is bigger, more diverse and more interesting than they might realize. It gives them a broader and more accurate view. And it warns them of the dangers of being manipulated or being locked into just one perspective.
KG: A big part of AllSides image is advocating for bipartisan/multi-partisan education. How would you define partisanship? Is there a remedy for this political-social malady?
JG: Partisanship is not necessarily evil. The opposite of partisanship, in the worse case, has no commitment to a party or governing philosophy about what is best for our nation but instead is just a bunch of people vulnerable to shifting with the tides of the moment. Swinging this way and that with no particular direction or plan – that can be dangerous.
Excessive partisanship where people blindly stay the course regardless of logic or consequence, and that refuses to honestly engage or listen to the other side – that is a problem. The only way to solve that is to have real dialogue and relationships across differences and across the aisle. With that openness to the other side and the other person, we become aware of our own weak points and discover new and better solutions together.
I’m a huge fan of cross-partisan and multi-partisan. I find that “non-partisan” often devolves and falls short of its name.
KG: When you look at GenZ, what do you see? Going along with that, what is your impression of Next Generation Politics, a collective Gen Z members, and our mission? Is ours a fight worth fighting?
JG: GenZ, as well as Millennials to a good extent, places a greater value to diversity than any other age group: diversity of people, diversity of thought. However, more so than any other age group, GenZ and Millennials have the least diversity in terms of political news they consume. There is strong data behind both of these seemingly contradictory statements. They suggest that GenZ can be either our great savior or our great divider.
Through our own experiences, we know that when we show someone that the news and information they are getting is contrary to their core values of diversity, they make a change. In other words, with some knowledge and the opportunity to think for themselves, GenZ can be the generation that turns things around for the better.
Next Generation Politics is taking the very path that I think can make the most of GenZ and turn it into the great change agent for our society as a whole. It can but us on the path to a much stronger society, communities and families. This is precisely the fight you should be fighting.
Just one word of caution. Be careful not to become too homogeneous or insular yourselves. Keep working to have a diversity of perspective and background in your groups, or you will accidentally become another tribe blinded by your own filter bubbles. You have a great opportunity and a world that I think is ready – go for it.
KG: So I have one final question for you; it’s a bit silly, but often very insightful in regards to personality. How do you take your coffee? Or do you drink tea?
JG: I don’t like coffee – it tastes bad and burns my lip. That made me a social rebel in coffee-crazed Seattle in the early 90s when Starbucks was starting (I loved Starbucks from the beginning – great place to get together – and I now like their Chai Tea almond milk latte). But my favorite drink by far is Mountain Dew, and I permit myself one “mini Dew” in the afternoon.