Walt Mossberg ’69

Walt Mossberg
Mike Kepka
Walt Mossberg

In 1991, in his inaugural “Personal Technology” column in The Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg ’69 proclaimed, “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn’t your fault.”

When his lifelong friend and Brandeis dorm-mate, Ira Shapiro ’69, casually observed that the newly minted tech columnist didn’t actually know that much about the engineering of computers, Mossberg replied, “That’s the point.”

Mossberg had spent two decades covering national and international affairs for the newspaper, writing about labor, trade, energy and foreign policy. Personal computers were his hobby, their sales were beginning to take off, and Mossberg believed that was going to change the world. And so he became the champion of the average tech consumer.

For 22 years, the opinionated geek wrote his Thursday Wall Street Journal column the afternoon before publication. It was a habit held over from Brandeis, where he wrote every paper the night before it was due. “From scratch,” he says. “No drafts.”

Mossberg’s product reviews could make or break companies, send stock prices soaring or plummeting, and infuriate CEOs. Wired called him “the Kingmaker.” The New York Times called him a “protean critic of the new economy’s tools and toys.”

In 1997, he and business partner Kara Swisher founded D: All Things Digital, a technology website and conference, where Mossberg grilled everyone who was anyone in technology. Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates appeared together for the first time at the conference. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke out in a cold sweat during Mossberg’s questioning about user privacy.

In 1999, Mossberg became the first technology writer to receive the Loeb Award for Commentary, and in 2017 he was awarded the Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mossberg left the Journal in 2013 and, with Swisher, launched the independent technology website Recode, which was acquired by Vox Media two years later. Mossberg stayed on as editor-at-large. He also hosted a weekly podcast, “Ctrl-Walt-Delete.” He announced his retirement from weekly writing and podcasting in 2017.

Although the Kingmaker is no longer reporting from the tech trenches, his opinions still matter. Mossberg’s decision to deactivate his Facebook account in December was covered by The New York Times, which surmised he quit the social network over user-privacy issues and mishandled user data.

“This is a decision I am making just for myself,” Mossberg told the Times. “If the company or the service change significantly for the better, in my view, or become effectively regulated, I may resume regular use.”

Still championing the interests of ordinary tech consumers.

What was your idea of perfect happiness when you were at Brandeis?

Hanging out on the lawn by the chapels with my girlfriend and my pals.

Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?

Political scientist Eugene Bardach.

Where did you usually spend Saturday night?

In Cambridge.

If you could be any other Brandeisian, who would it be?

Louis Brandeis.

What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?

To question authority.

What was the most important shortcut you learned in college?

If you can write well and organize your thoughts, you don’t have to read every required book.

Which talent did Brandeis help you develop most?

Relentless inquisitiveness.

What do you wish you had studied harder?

Art, music and literature.

What three words of advice would you give to current Brandeis students?

Pursue social justice.

If you could go back to college, what would you do differently?

Get involved in student government.

What would your friends say is your greatest strength?

My ethical values.

What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?

Talking too much.

What is your blind spot?

Staying present.

What book do you read again and again?

“1776,” by David McCullough.

What movie changed your life?

“Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Which possession do you most like to look at?

Photos of my family, past and present.

Whom would you like to sing a duet with?

James Taylor.

Which deadly sin is your middle name?

Sloth.

Which bad break was your biggest blessing?

Being rejected by Harvard.

On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?

My wife, Edie (Marcus) ’69, and my kids and granddaughter.

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