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August 7, 2015

moving the sticks against the techno-dingbats

I'm beginning to think that the tide is turning a bit? For the past five years or so (George Packer notwithstanding), there seems to have grown an aura of invincibility and Utopian do-gooding around the tech sector, and those start-ups that move fast and break things and get movies made about them. I personally have been a bit dubious of this, given that these businesses are actually just that — businesses, with no more imperative to save humanity from itself than a ham sandwich. But I have been in the minority, as this cult of the disruptor has grown into a small army of people who shout louder than the rest of us.

But in the last few weeks it seems to me that there have been published a number of pieces that question this orthodoxy, and not always politely. In fact, it seems to me that maybe the skepticism of Silicon Valley/Alley is becoming less of a rearguard action and more of a consensus position.

Of course, examples! Well, there is this Mic piece which is spurred by some Silicon Valley type asserting that things like laundromats are no longer needed because there's an app for that. Ha ha ha really! Silly millionaire, since your app does not actually wash clothes but induces other people to wash clothes for you, actually then laundromats are as needed as ever.

Free marketeers who fancy themselves "innovators" believe that by cannibalizing other services, they can prove that these old industries are clunky. They want to break apart the existing structure and start reassembling it into their own ideal. But in that world, not everyone benefits equally.

If we stop sharing risk and responsibility, only those who already hold wealth and privilege will benefit. Let's think about health insurance for a moment. We all buy into it by sharing risk, knowing that at some point it may be us whose number comes up and who needs medical attention.

And, more pointedly, the creation and smarts behind these "innovations" belie a deep and intractable dumbness. For example, a running theme in all the press coverage of the ride-sharing apps, the Lyfts and the Ubers and what-not, is the wide-eyed founders of these concerns asserting that, by bringing people together and with the eventual advent of driverless cars, these apps will someday replace public transportation!

Which is just idiocy if you think of it, given that one of the purposes of public transportation is to get cars off the fucking road.

Moving along! If this small dollop of trenchancy from Warren Ellis is not indicative of a disturbance in the Zeitgeist then I don't know what is:

It is that time in the cycle where the Libertarian App Future Brothers start living off the grid, buying guns and getting good and weird out there alone in the dark. I wonder how we'll look back at this whole period of the last five or ten years. At how the digital gold rush and the strange pressures of a new, yet accelerated, period of cultural invention cooked a whole new set of mental wounds out of the people swept up in it.

Well, I'm of the opinion that we'll look back at the period as some sort of Asshole Supervillain Incubator, but that's just me, waiting for the bubble to pop but good.

I mean of course the battle is not yet won or anything, but I think that the bloom is coming off the rose a bit as far as the lock-step hagiographies of the tech billionaires and those that worship them. Or at least the default position on these dingbat capitalists is no longer Virtuous Hero, and the voices that question such default position are rising.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM