Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Deteriorating Belief in Silicon Valley

For the Atlantic, Anna Wiener reviewed Alexandra Wolfe’s new book about Thiel Fellowship recipients from 2011 until 2016:

[Wolfe] also undercuts her own point about the disruptive ethos of the place. “Today’s uber-nerds are like the robber barons of the industrial revolution whose steel and automobile manufacturing capabilities changed entire industries,” she writes. “But instead of massive factories and mills, they’re doing it with little buttons.” Portraying Silicon Valley’s powerful as “uber-nerds” who struck it rich is as reductive and unhelpful as referring to technology that integrates personal payment information and location tracking as “little buttons.” The effect is not only to protect them behind the shield of presumed harmlessness, but also to exempt them from the scrutiny that their economic and political power should invite.

The sort of mythology that celebrates a small handful of visionaries and co-founders blurs important social realities. Technology has always been a collective project. The industry is also cyclical. Many failed ideas have been resuscitated and rebranded as successful products and services, owned and managed by people other than their originators. Behind almost every popular app or website today lie numerous shadow versions that have been sloughed away by time. Yet recognition of the group nature of the enterprise would undermine a myth that legitimizes the consolidation of profit, for the most part, among a small group of people.

This is a recurring trope I’ve seen amongst those who report on Silicon Valley — even from technology-centric reporters.