how to change the world. sorta.
There’s an article Change the World in the May 27th New Yorker. (Two kids with weird looking lollipops or something on the cover.) Covers the intersection and interaction between Silicon Valley and the world of politics. It’s an awesome article because it confirms all my opinions of the Web 2.0 tech scene. Worth reading the whole thing online, but here’s some highlights and scattered thoughts of my own.
then and now
35 years ago Palo Alto was just another sleepy small town. Today the influx of easy money has changed it. The schools in the right neighborhoods have their budgets supplemented by (what I would call insane) charity auctions. In San Francisco, employees ride wifi enabled shuttles to work so they don’t have to suffer the indignity of taking public transportation alongside lesser people. Google more or less started this trend, but now everybody is in on it. Building not just office buildings, or even office parks, but self contained enclaves to prevent contact with the outside world.
Nobody really believes a banker who says he’s “doing God’s work by providing cheap credit,” but somehow if you work in tech, it’s obvious that your motivation is to make the world a better place. The millions of IPO dollars has nothing to do with it. Except to provide seed money for your next venture which will really change the world to be even more betterer. Employee quote: I don’t need to sit through Obama’s speech because “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make.” Strong libertarian vibe here (which I would mostly agree with ideologically, but when I look out the window, the government looks pretty damn influential).
A portrait of Joe Green, who could have been a Facebook founder but went on to found more activist oriented enterprises. A more traditional change the world type.
solve the world
Engineers approach political and social problems the same way they approach technical problems. As in “I could totally build that in a weekend. What’s so hard?” Or, in the words of Vanilla Ice, “If there’s a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.” People may be starving, but if you build a smartphone app to let them track the calories they’re not eating, problem solved.
This middle part of the article is the most damning, by far. Other examples: Public transit sucks, so let’s take Uber to get across SF and go to dinner. Problem solved. It’s left unspecified how Uber helps single parents pick up children from daycare. Speaking of Lt. Gov. Newsom, “Page and Brin, of Google, have led him to think that the company’s emerging fleet of driverless cars might make long-term spending on high-speed rail in California irrelevant.” That certainly sounds accessible and efficient.
Sam Lessin, twenty something at Facebook, grew up watching Seinfeld and has formulated the Kramer Principle: “nearly all the annoyances that gave the show its jokes - the time wasted trying to track down a friend, the inefficiencies that lead to ridiculous misunderstandings - had been “kind of erased.“” If only the problems faced by Seinfeld characters were a representative sample of real world problems. I can’t wait for the next round of entrepreneurs to solve all the problems of The Office.
Ironic stat: San Francisco, home to so many liberals, is the only city in California that’s actually getting whiter. Everywhere else the conservatives are losing their war against immigration.
I think what offends me is the hypocrisy and condescension. I don’t care whether people try to change the world or not (I’m certainly not), but don’t wrap it in the language of “disruptive” hype. Slapping a JSON interface on a steaming pile still leaves you with a steaming pile.
Some other articles were interesting, too.
Stakeout - Taking photos of people in their apartments with a high zoom lens. It’s art!
Tower Heist - A bar, of sorts, that’s squatting on top of an otherwise abandoned building.
A Word from Our Sponsor - David Koch doesn’t like his biography on PBS.
Rights and Wrongs - Apparently only one judge in New York is opposed to stop and frisk.
Crowded House - the one time stylist to Sting turns conman and rents out his apartment to dozens of people at the same time. Very much like Catch Me If You Can, minus the jet setting.
Back to Earth - Daft Punk review.