Quotable (#171)

Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley in The New Yorker:

The show’s signature gag, from the first season, was a minute-long montage of startup founders pledging to “make the world a better place through Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols,” or to “make the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between endpoints.” This scene was set at TechCrunch Disrupt, a real event where founders take turns pitching their ideas, “American Idol”-style, to an auditorium full of investors. Before writing the episode, Judge and [Alec] Berg spent a weekend at TechCrunch Disrupt, in San Francisco. “That’s the first thing you notice,” Judge said. “It’s capitalism shrouded in the fake hippie rhetoric of ‘We’re making the world a better place,’ because it’s uncool to just say ‘Hey, we’re crushing it and making money.’” […] … Roger McNamee, who has been a successful tech investor since the late eighties, told me, “When I first met Mike, I asked him, ‘What’s the gestalt you’re going for with this?’ His answer was, ‘I think Silicon Valley is immersed in a titanic battle between the hippie value system of the Steve Jobs generation and the Ayn Randian libertarian values of the Peter Thiel generation.’ I had never articulated it that well myself, and I lived it!” McNamee recently wound down his most recent venture fund, which he co-founded with Bono; he now spends most of his time touring the country with his two jam bands, Moonalice and Doobie Decibel System. He continued, “Some of us actually, as naïve as it sounds, came here to make the world a better place. And we did not succeed. We made some things better, we made some things worse, and in the meantime the libertarians took over, and they do not give a damn about right or wrong. They are here to make money.”

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Quotable (#165)

As this indignant but not entirely uninformative article suggests, the disorienting characteristics of the current conjuncture stem in part from the submerged lineages feeding into it:

Of special interest [to the Extropians] were science fiction, cryogenics, cryptography, anonymous digital cash, nanotechnology, the Singularity, artificial intelligence, mind-uploading, smart drugs, immortality, cybernetics, robotics, and how much the Government sucked.

A suggestively prophetic set of interests, surely? Even to those who hate all this stuff with a passion.

One further (highly topical) snippet from The Awl piece:

A sacred cypherpunk tenet was “cypherpunks code,” as in they actually implemented these things, and worried (or not) about any consequences later. This is where PGP and TOR came from — and eventually what became Bitcoin and Wikileaks also came out of that list. Thiel’s mantra, “Don’t Ask For Permission, Ask For Forgiveness,” as widely adopted now in SV start-up culture, is just an updated take on “cypherpunks code.” It’s the same impulse, to circumvent existing structures through technology (break shit), and worry (if you do at all) about the consequences later. The very staunch Libertarianism that is so alive in Silicon Valley now has this long, odd pedigree.

Uncanny Valley

The politics of Silicon Valley on exhibition, in a data-rich, graphically-supported presentation by Greg Ferenstein.

In a nut-shell:

The ultimate goal is to make life as close to the college experience as possible: a life dedicated to research, exploration, and creativity, while automation ensures that everyone has enough food and leisure time to pursue their unique contribution to the world.

There’s a libertarian streak, but it’s not very dark.


The subtext here is that we’ve scarcely begun talking about acceleration:

Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman says the secret of Silicon Valley success is not the startup. It’s the scale-up. […] Over the past 20 or 30 years, he explains, the rest of the world has realized the value of the Silicon Valley-style startup. “We’ve beaten the drum very well — and a lot of people have heard — that it’s good to build a small team that is willing to take a bold risk, to assemble some knowledge and some capital and really take a run at it.” What the rest of the world has yet to grasp, he says, is that success — true success — requires something else. In a modern market accelerated by the long reach of the internet, once you have something that people want, you also need the means and the wherewithal to expand your operation at ridiculously fast speeds.

“What most people don’t appreciate about why so many great companies come out of Silicon Valley is the knowledge of how to do scale-up. It’s not just that you build an app and everything works out,” says Hoffman, a partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock. “What first mover means is first mover to scale. If you don’t play the move-fast game, you can frequently lose out to someone who is.” […] Hoffman calls this blitzscaling

(What I especially appreciate about these guys is their extreme sensitivity to any possible accusation of technofascism.)

Burning Man

… a celebration of the post-democratic order, according to Jacobin mag (who have lured UF into taking a non-dismissive glimpse for the first time):

In a just, democratic society, everyone has equal voice. At Burning Man everyone is invited to participate, but the people who have the most money decide what kind of society Burning Man will be — they commission artists of their choice and build to their own whims. They also determine how generous they are feeling, and whether to withhold money. […] It might seem silly to quibble over the lack of democracy in the “governance” of Black Rock City. After all, why should we care whether Jeff Bezos has commissioned a giant metal unicorn or a giant metal pirate ship, or whether Tananbaum wants to spend $2 million on an air-conditioned camp? But the principles of these tech scions — that societies are created through charity, and that the true “world-builders” are the rich and privileged — don’t just play out in the Burning Man fantasy world.

It’s intriguingly reminiscent of this.

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Death Valley

Strictly gossip-level, but the bold predictions gets it a mention. It’s Breitbart, so understatement isn’t going to feature:

San Francisco, heartland of wacky progressive politics but also home to some of America’s most innovative technology companies, is in trouble. Not just trouble, actually, but serious shit. […] And the main reason is China. The Wall Street Journal has a good explainer on what’s going on over there, but the basic thing you need to understand is that a lot of glossy American stocks are about to take a tumble, especially tech stocks.

The core of the analyis:

Fear and greed run the stock market, which is, of course, exactly as it should be: they’re the instincts upon which capitalism is built. But that’s a problem for companies who suffer dramatically when global events conspire to shunt investors into safer bets. […] Businesses like Twitter and Facebook have always been grotesquely overvalued, according to conventional analyses. Technology companies get away with hilarious valuations mainly thanks to upward pressure; the inflation happens right at the start when companies raise hundreds of millions of dollars on multimillion dollar valuations, despite not earning a penny in revenue and having no immediate plans to do so. […] That’s in outrageous contradiction to their price-to-earnings ratio, one traditional and very reliable way of valuing companies. […] Tech stocks have absurdly high price-to-earnings ratios, and any blip in the market has a much bigger effect on high PE stocks than low PE stocks. So investors are counting on massive future growth that will likely never come and betting against global events that shave billions off the value of frothy investments.

It could get a little rough.