Ed Zitron, tearing it up about Silicon Valley’s toxic mythology of “The Founder”:
Society has all but ignored Steve Jobs’ abusive and vile personality, Zuckerberg’s theft of intellectual property and manipulation of users for profit, Travis Kalanick’s creation of an app-based underclass of labor, and almost everything about Elon Musk because they “built things,” even if that isn’t really true.
This is what happens when you build an industry to fund and support a very specific kind of guy and an even more specific kind of narrative. When you valorize the _process_of founding and funding a company without valorizing the actual output – the true difference it makes to the world – you effectively frame “success” as “media hits and money.” The vacuous cryptocurrency boom of late 2020 through late 2022 was its most vulgar, aggressive form, with empty-headed valley conspirators like Chris Dixon and Sam Lessin mumbling meaningless nonsense about “decentralization” to try and gloss over the fact that they effectively removed any of the value creation of venture capital other than that which they delivered to limited partners and their own firms.
The current AI boom – while there are actual use cases, somewhere – feels so similar because of how unerringly vapid the conversation has become, with so few actual examples of AI making our lives measurably better. Much like cryptocurrency, the AI conversation almost always discusses what might happen rather than what is happening, making any normal person ask the question “why did venture invest $15 billion in something you can’t really describe?” The argument, of course, is that AI is “in its early days,” the same noxious defense that was used for cryptocurrency – which had also been around for many years before its venture-backed boom.
Ed is spot on, as usual.
I am particularly glad he called out Jobs, who always struck me as being a colossal prick. I know the argument is that these guys have to be abusive jerks in order to create all these fantastic products and companies, but I would suggest that 1) a bunch of these products and companies are actually kind of crap, 2) you don’t have to be a jerk to run a quality shop, and 3) if we have built a society in which we have to indulge and tolerate this kind of noxious assholery in order to have nice things, maybe we ought to re-think that.