( essential read. choice passage: )
"Living in America — indeed, in any of the economically top-tier countries in the First World — is like living in a big room. It’s huge, this room, so big that you can’t see the walls, and it’s nice and cozy. To paraphrase Depeche Mode: all you ever wanted, all you ever needed is here in your arms. And you’ve never been outside the room. Intellectually, you know that there’s a world outside, maybe one that’s not quite as nice and cozy; you’ve seen it on TV, after all. But it doesn’t really affect you. When you think of the world, you think of the room; your idea of normality is based on what’s normal in the room.
There are nearly a billion Facebook users in the world, and half a billion Twitter users (though of course there’s probably nearly a 90% overlap between those two). Those are indeed astonishing numbers, but the problem is that sometime around March 12, 2012, we passed seven billion people living on Earth. That means that the vast majority of humans aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. The majority of people have mobile phones, but there are more people still who don’t have mobile phones than use Facebook.
Most of us never see these people, of course, except as faces briefly glimpsed in the background of news footage. They are outside our Big Room. Not because we’re intentionally keeping them out, you understand; at least, not really on any overt institutional level. Basically. We don’t do that any more, and we feel good about it.
It’s just that living in the Big Room is expensive, you see…and, well, these people can’t afford it. They don’t have Facebook because they can’t afford the technological artifacts that would allow them to be on Facebook. They don’t tweet about how much the new version of iOS sucks, because they don’t have any way to tweet and they damn sure don’t have a device that will run iOS, because these devices cost more than these people often make in a year.
But, hey, look, things are tough all over. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty for having the basic economic and cultural capital to be able to read this essay. You probably had no more control over your circumstances than a boy-child growing up in the streets of Kibera did, and no reason to feel guilty. We are where we are.
But it’s important to understand that the capital-F Future where we become cyborgs permanently mind-melded with our technology is open only to people who can afford that technology in the first place…especially when technological innovation is driven by Silicon Valley-style venture capitalism.
I’ve been a coder for most of my life — not a very good one, necessarily, by the standards of any given hackathon, but I’ve made my living doing it for a long time, at least when I wasn’t making a living by writing. Consequently, I’ve worked with and been around Valley-style entrepreneurs and investors quite a bit. And it’s taken me fifteen years of hanging out in the tech industry and around tech industry people to fully realize that I can’t stand being in the same room with most of them.
“It’s no trick to make a lot of money,” says Everett Sloane in Citizen Kane, “if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” And it’s true. All you have to do is find a lot of people with disposable income, figure out what they’ll spend that income on, and sell it to them. At the heart of it, that’s what Steve Jobs did, to some extent with the personal computer and to a greater extent with the iPhone. Later, Mark Zuckerberg figured out a neat, if creepy, angle on this trick: find the people with the income, find out what they spend it on…and then sell that information to the people who sell the people the things they want to buy.
That’s what Silicon Valley is for: making shit for people with disposable incomes to buy. (And making shit for companies to buy so their workflow is more efficient, so the people who own the company and work for the company can buy more of the other shit.) If it was ever about trying to make the world a better place, that train left the station a long time ago.
It’s my experience that most venture capitalists and serial entrepreneur types are almost identical, personality-wise, to the street hustlers and drug dealers whose acquaintance I’ve made over the years. They may wear polo shirts instead of Fubu and spend their money on organic produce instead of custom hubcap rims, but they operate on the same principle: waking up every day figuring out new ways to get paid. Whether these ways are good for society as a whole, or even for the person who’s doing the paying, is a minor consideration next to the paycheck itself. And if you’re not a means to that end, well, fuck you. More than once, I’ve seen the exact same behavior in a Stanford-educated dot.com startup founder at a tech meetup and a smacked-out panhandler on the Las Vegas Strip: they’re all smiles and handshakes when they approach you, but as soon as they realize you’re not a potential mark with an open wallet you can watch their eyes go dead and look right through you, on to the next target.
I hate these people and wouldn’t piss on most of them if they were on fire, but that’s fine; I hate bankers and lawyers too, like every other blowhard bohemian iconoclast does, and I doubt any of them are losing any sleep over it. What bothers me is that we’ve effectively put these walking hardons in charge of building that capital-F Future, in every sector of the innovation industry, from genetically grown food to biotechnology to communications to spaceship-building.
And none of them, not a single one, is interested in any Future if they can’t sell it for a serious profit. Nor do they care if the process of selling and profiting leaves a swath of collateral damage the size of a Gulf Coast oil spill in its wake.
Which leaves those six billion other people, the people who don’t live in the Big Room with you and me and Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg, pretty well fucked.”