Of all the odd couples I’d guess would start a podcast this year, Bill Gates and Rashida Jones were nowhere near the top of the list (about on par with Amy Poehler and Jeff Bezos). Yet this Monday, the first of the six episodes in Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions went live.
At the start of their debut—titled “What Will the World Look Like After Covid-19?”—they offer no explanation as to why this thing exists. But it does! And so far it’s a decent listen, but less than vital. In the 44-minute conversation, Gates and Jones set up the dynamic: He’s the optimist, she’s the pessimist. They talk about Covid-life. Who’s Gates going to hug when restrictions lift? Bono of course. Will Zoom stick around in its current capacity? Who's to say.
Then Dr. Anthony Fauci, a longtime friend of Gates, swings by for a 15-minute conversation. There are no great surprises here if you’ve been paying attention to pandemic news and talk. Should we get flu shots? Hell yes. They talk the logistics of dispersing a Covid-19 vaccine. How, because whatever treatment gets authorized will likely need two doses, we’ll need 700 million doses or so to vaccinate everyone in the U.S. How will a vaccine get dispersed? “It hasn't been officially determined yet,” Fauci says. But probably it'll go to groups in this order: health care providers, those who have underlying conditions, essential workers, older people, students, “and then you get everybody else.” We want multiple good vaccines, Fauci says, since different ones might be better for certain groups, such as the elderly. And even once most of the U.S. has been vaccinated (maybe 30 percent of the population won’t be willing, Gates and Fauci think), we aren’t out of the woods. Stateside infections can crop back up if Covid is still simmering elsewhere on earth.
Fauci figures life won't return to normal for quite a while. "But I think we're going to get closer and closer to normal, namely a combination of the protective effect of the vaccine and a moderate degree of public health measures. I don't mean lockdown. I mean, you wear a mask when you're in a crowded situation. You maybe have theaters or sports events that you don't fill to full capacity, but you at least have spectators.”
Then Fauci bids them goodbye and Jones and Gates ponder some more of what’s changed during Covid. Does Gates do virtual happy hours? Just “visits with friends where we drink wine.” And what will society look like after this? Gates believes people will socialize less at work (since so much will remain remote) but more with our communities and friends. “I hope that you're right,” Jones says. “I really do, but in my pessimistic mind, I still worry about this American identity and this need for autonomy. And the autonomy is always at odds with the greater good of this country.” The episode doesn't add up to a whole lot, since there's plenty of light, affable banter scattered through it, like Gates comparing the anti-mask crowd to nudists: "We ask you to wear pants. And, you know, no American says—or very few Americans say—that that's like some terrible thing."
Episode four will be about climate change with guest Elizabeth Kolbert, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. Next week’s, which airs November 23, is about growing inequality. Raj Chetty, an economist, and Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, will stop by to speak on the topic. But Gates had better have something to say, too.
So, wait, why do Gates and Jones have a podcast together? This year, that should be the least of our worries.