An open letter to my friends with fuck you money
Dear friends with fuck you money. It's time we had a talk.
I've been living in Silicon Valley for ten years. During this time I've had the privilege to meet many gifted, benevolent, indefatigable people. You've always graciously offered me your time and resources, for no reason other than your love of the startup world. Thank you for paying it forward and sorry I was a pain in the ass.
We need to talk. Something's rotten in the state of tech. I know it, you know it, everyone who has any sense at all knows it. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are quasi-monopolies programming our brains, and we have no access to the source code. Our institutions are captured by agents who do not share our values, and will not stop until they remake the world in their gruesome image. No one is coming to fix this. No one is in control.
The turbulence has spilled over onto the national arena. In June, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley wrote a memo to the troops reminding them to uphold the constitution. This is not creative destruction as usual. Here be dragons. But to me the human aspect of this situation is woefully familiar. I try to avoid clichés, but in this case one is eminently appropriate. Social media quasi-monopolies and erosion of our institutions are two sides of the same coin.
So let's talk about coins. Many of you have house-in-san-francisco-live-off-capital-gains fuck you money. I feel your pain. I really do. You're capable of so much more. Are those take-my-jet-to-south-of-france-while-this-all-blows-over assholes really that much more talented than you? Ok, maybe Zuck is, but he's an exception. Maybe a couple of others, but they're exceptions too. But other than that? No way! Why do they get to sit at the secret tables, pull the secret strings, and live in the future while you're stuck in the present running into your employees at brunch as if you were an ordinary middle manager at Geek Squad?
I understand your reasoning. You should be at the secret tables! You should be in the South of France! Sit out this political kerfuffle. Live to fight another day. You'll make up for it later, when you finally get to one of those coveted seats. You're a good person. No reason to risk it all now. Better be patient and wait until your time finally comes— that's when you can do the most good.
This next part is awkward, but some of you are the take-my-jet-to-south-of-france-while-this-all-blows-over assholes. (Is South of France still where assholes with private jets go while everything is falling apart?) I don't understand your world nearly as well, but hey, we're all white males. How different can it be? I'm guessing you have many families depending on you. You plant seeds to improve the world every day— through your investments, your board seats, your philanthropy. You educate politicians and government officials. You coach your kids's middle school football team. Most of America’s taxes come from your pocket. Hell, you probably plant literal trees!
But between you and me, hanging out with university presidents and having authorized biographers is pretty cool too, isn't it? Some day, say, a century and a half from now, a young entrepreneur somewhere is going to pick up one of those biographies. Can anyone blame you for wanting to live a model life so this kid from the future is properly inspired by your example?
Let me tell you a less illustrious inspirational story. When I was a kid in Ukraine, I was taking a public bus to get to school. One time a mentally ill man got on. (In that distant world we had no dedicated school buses; this episode was surprising because severely mentally ill people were actually institutionalized.) He began walking up to people's seats and screaming obscenities. I must have been no more than twelve years old, but I vividly remember that scene as if it were yesterday. I can still feel the contrast of this man screaming and the otherwise deathly silence with everyone pretending to look out the window or read their newspapers as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
But Ukraine isn't America. An old babushka looked over the men on the bus and exclaimed: "Are you men or dogshit? Why do you avert your eyes like a bunch of cowards? Did you forget your balls in a jar when you walked out the door this morning the way I sometimes forget my dentures? There are women and children here! Do something!"
And that was the end of it. The bus driver pulled over, a couple of people forced the man out, and everyone went about their day, shaken, but with this particular problem out of their lives forever.
I don't mean to sound like an old babushka. I am on your side. I must unwittingly be using hundreds of pieces of software and hardware you've created, just to publish this post. I know the magic you're capable of. I want more of it! Much more! I want AR and VR and civil supersonic aviation and robots and AI and abundant energy and affordable trips to Mars and underwater cities and new physics and space elevators and organ regeneration and an antidote to aging and a thousand other innovations you're going to create that I can't begin to dream of.
None of that is going to happen without you. But it also isn’t going to happen if you keep hiding in dark corners, whispering your private thoughts when you think no one is listening. If America falls, it is the end. There will be no houses in San Francisco, no seats to covet, no strings to pull, no private jets, and no South of France. Not for you, anyway. And there will be no AR or VR or new physics or space elevators or organ regeneration for me. If she falls, it's back to the dark ages for all of us.
I don’t know what bewilders me more, your inaction or your performative over-intellectualization, as if reality were a Clubhouse cocktail party. Kuran’s book (or more likely the wikipedia article) isn’t a grimoire, and preference cascade isn’t a magic spell that absolves you of social responsibility every time you utter it. America has given you your houses and your jets, and has asked very little of you in return. It’s still asking very little— you can discharge your civic duty while eating cupcakes in your pajamas.
So pretty, please, with sugar on top. Make the announcements. Tweet the tweets. Pay off Jack's dealer to slip him placebo strips so he stops microdosing and pretending he's Steve Jobs. Use the photos you took of Zuck and Sundar at the shapeshifter brothel. Hire whoever you have to hire, fire whoever you have to fire, and do whatever you have to do to get this fucking thing off the bus. Make it your singular purpose. Because if you don't, it will be Dick Costolo's livestream commentary all the way to the bitter end.
P.S. All you ordinary folks reading, don't come after me with pitchforks. I could maaaybe ask for a favor or two, but only if they're small and only on a good day and probably not after this post. It's not like we get tested for COVID with secret instantaneous diagnostics only accessible to the elites and go to the shapeshifter brothel together. I don't get invited to those parties. Which is ok by me because parties make me anxious and shapeshifters creep me out.