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Friday, November 20, 2015

Silicon Valley's thought-generating cliches

Buxx Andersen has a shrill essay, "Magical Thinking & Thought Terminating Clich├ęs", that takes a Paul Graham tweet as a jumping-off point for mocking the self-satisfied techno-capitalist-utopianism of Silicon Valley today.
There's truth to Andersen's point; there's plenty of pseudo-transcendent nonsense that provides a Theranos lots of cover for their grandiose promises, and makes it hard for Silicon Valley to admit when a visionary is actually defrauding people.
In my case, 23andMe charged me for months for services I never ordered, and refused to refund me--or even to consider their own emails they had sent me describing our agreement. It was certainly sobering to hear them talk about the democratic potential of genetic self-knowledge, all the while knowing that their actual business ran closer to a CD-of-the-month club that you can't remember signing up for. This kind of casual rapaciousness is more common than the cover of Wired will ever suggest.
But I think most arguments against the cultural and economic nexus of startup tech that I read--eg, Evgeny Morozov, The Baffler, Jacobin--are being ignored really because they are so ungrounded in any reasonable understanding of this world as multi-faceted. Piece after piece that loudly takes down Tech feels, to me, poorly thought out and argued. The accusations often don't really matter. I don't think the Tech world is using self-delusion and tautologies to evade criticism of tech. I think good critiques require better work than I see being done.
Andersen's piece is a case in point. I find the sneering tone and the routine obfuscation in his descriptions just cowardly and shallow. The sneering summaries of Paul Graham's career and Hacker News, a cultural product worthy of deep study and analysis, seems designed to cast them as pathetically worthless. This is the same way conservatives sneeringly dismiss media like the NY Times or The Nation; by reducing to bumper sticker fodder entire complex organizations that process massive amounts of information and produce a wide range of forms of digest.
We see that reductionism as not just an opinion but willful ignorance, and so is this.



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