Last week I happened upon a very bad tweet and it's been haunting me ever since, filling me with a quiet and persistent rage I can only release through the art of the written word. From the deranged mind of Silicon Valley's Balaji Srinivasan — member of the board of Andreessen Horowitz and CEO of some Bitcoin startup — comes this unfortunately myopic way of looking at the world.
Balaji blocked after I wrote that this is everything that's wrong with Silicon Valley. C'mon Balaji, isn't social media about starting a dialogue? Techfluence me.
Here's the thing: Only an incredibly out-of-touch person would like this tweet. Being part of the one per cent, more often than not, renders you out-of-touch with the rest of us. I try to be accepting of all viewpoints — but really Balaji? Where do I even begin? First, let's contextualise how batshit crazy Balaji Srinivasan is. He has kooky ideas about living forever. Back in 2014, Srinivasan made headlines because he was very vocal about his belief that Silicon Valley should secede from the rest of society. Specifically, he offered up this plan, emphasis mine:
Just like the Amish live nearby, peacefully, in the past - imagine a society of Inverse Amish that lives nearby, peacefully, in the future. A place where Google Glass wearers are normal, where self-driving cars and delivery drones aren't restricted by law, and where we can experiment with new technologies *without* causing undue disruption to others...
I believe that regulations exist for a reason. And I believe that new technologies will keep coming up against existing rulesets. I don't believe the solution is either to change the rulesets (which, again, exist for a reason) OR to give up on new technology. I think instead we need a third solution: a way to exit (whether to the cloud for purely digital technologies, or to a Special Innovation Zone or ultimately a startup nation), prove/disprove these new technologies among a self-selected, opt-in group of risk-tolerant early adopters, and report back to the mothership on what works and what doesn't.
This is a guy who thinks a group of millionaires and billionaires should be able to lead lives unrestricted by pesky "laws" and "regulations", drinking Soylent in their own Special Innovation Zone where no one gets bullied for wearing Google Glass. Balaji wants to live outside these restrictive societal norms, so, to reiterate, it makes sense he also holds these beliefs:
Don't argue about regulation.
Don't argue about monetary policy.
Don't argue about it.
Build the alternative.
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) July 15, 2016
The tweet doesn't adhere to those pesky rules of "logic". But then again, the Silicon Valley elites are too rich and innovative to care about such petty things.
Uber doesn't stop any argument about regulation. Apps like Uber, if anything, get people very talkative about said "regulation", even if they were designed to evade it. Recently, Uber settled two lawsuits to ensure its drivers would stay contractors; this way, the company won't be obligated to do nice things for its drivers, like pay minimum wage or social security. Uber isn't a solution to regulation; it just found a gap in the system and is rich enough to take advantage of the people who make the company all its money.
The Bitcoin claim is far more absurd, mostly because no one outside of the tech world gives a shit about Bitcoin. Heck, Florida doesn't even consider Bitcoin to be real money. It's far from any solution to monetary policy. Recently, hackers stole over $US72 million ($94.9 million) in Bitcoin. And still, Bitfinex, the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, won't even give you the option to store your Bitcoin offline, meaning if you want to keep your Bitcoin safe from hackers, you're on your own. Clearly, this shit won't be replacing legitimate money anytime soon. And again, if anything, creating this new medium of currency has prompted more conversations about monetary policy.
Here's the heart of why I hate this tweet: We should argue about regulation and monetary policy. These are important conversations. Talking about problems with people who don't agree with you is actually a really good and important thing. Rich people might not like this because rich people don't have to be frequently subjected to people who disagree with them if they don't want to be. I get it, billionaires, regulation suxxxxx because it hinders your pursuit of capital, or as Silicon Valley bros call it, "innovation".
There's this predominant ideology in the tech world that these startup daddies can fix any problem by building something "new", by innovating and techfluencing and whatever the buzzword of the day is. (Synergy?) People like Balaji Srinivasan think they're renegades and underdogs because they're creating new technology. Tech isn't inherently innovative nor is it a solution to the world's problems. Especially if the tech set are so intent on avoiding "arguments" about policy. When it comes down to it, the people at the top of Silicon Valley aren't focused on necessarily "bettering" society; they're trying to find new ways to get as much money as possible. The only difference between them and business men? They wear hoodies instead of suits and are "nerds" because they can code.
At the end of the day, if your app is built on exploitation, it's not truly innovative.