From loc 1171-1189 of Frenemies, Ken Auletta’s new book about the declining fortunes of the advertising industry:

Then as vice chair heading Business Innovations, Comstock became the company’s chief futurist, attending digital confabs, planting herself in Silicon Valley, scouting and making it her business to know cutting-edge agencies and entrepreneurs, seeking out partners for unusual ways to market. A marketing challenge for GE, enunciated at every monthly marketing meeting chaired by CMO Linda Boff, with their agencies in attendance, is to shift the brand ID of GE from an old industrial to a cool digital company. Cool digital companies are more attractive to Wall Street because they are perceived as growth stocks, and are seen as welcoming to the young engineers that shape digital companies. A way to advance this goal was for GE to establish under the auspices of the CMO a four-person office, the Disruption Lab, directed by Sam Olstein, thirty-three, who comes to work with his hair spiked and wearing jeans and sneakers. His foremost task, he says, is to “have a good perspective of trends and technology; of where we see activity of new start-ups forming around, say, messaging, around content creation.” He says they search “for what people think is cool and interesting and primed for growth.” He scans Apple’s App Store to check on new apps that break into the top 100. Encouraged by Comstock and Boff, he pushed, he says, to make GE “a publisher, a content creator. What our brand represents is science and technology and the awe around science and technology, and that’s a very focused perspective. It’s the same focused perspective that HBO has, that Discovery channels have, that the Walt Disney Company has. We want to build a platform with the reach of any other media and entertainment platform out there.” It need not be branded like Disney, but he believes GE can create content and distribute it over its own Web site, over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, National Geographic channels, or online publications like Slate.

There’s an interesting anecdote on loc 3960-3972 of Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s gripping account of the Theranos scandal, recounting a follow up meeting between Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Holmes which sealed the former’s investment in the latter’s company. I thought it was a vivid account of the distinctive corporate culture which had emerged within Theranos and how this ran contrary to the expectations that could be found within other sectors, even amongst international elites who could be expected to have seen a great deal in terms of the personal entourage of fellow elites and the business expectations they bring with them into potential collaborations:

They met again a few weeks later at the media mogul’s Northern California ranch. Murdoch, who had only one bodyguard, was surprised by the size of the security detail Holmes arrived with. When he asked her why she needed it, she replied that her board insisted on it. Over a lunch served by the ranch’s staff, Holmes pitched Murdoch on an investment, emphasizing that she was looking for long-term investors. Don’t expect any quarterly reports for a while, she warned him, and certainly not an initial public offering. The investment packet that was later delivered to Murdoch’s Manhattan office reiterated that message. Its cover letter stated in the first paragraph that Theranos planned to remain private for the “long term” and went on to repeat those two words no fewer than fifteen times.

There are financial consequences to start-ups remaining private for longer, in some cases seeking to avoid going public altogether. Furthermore, it is only a possibility because of the ready availability of capital driven by low interest rates and the (illusory) promise of exponential growth. But what are the cultural consequences of firms remaining private for longer? How were the cultural pathologies of Theranos facilitated by their status? How did this corporate culture shape how the firm was seen by outsiders? Was the corporate culture of Theranos exceptional or can we see extreme manifestations there of tendencies which can be identified in other firms?

The singularity is a speculative notion referring to the point at which exponential innovation generates a fundamental transformation of human civilisation. As Murray Shanahan puts it in on loc 78 of his book The Technological Singularity:

In physics, a singularity is a point in space or time, such as the center of a black hole or the instant of the Big Bang, where mathematics breaks down and our capacity for comprehension along with it. By analogy, a singularity in human history would occur if exponential technological progress brought about such dramatic change that human affairs as we understand them today came to an end. 1 The institutions we take for granted—the economy, the government, the law, the state—these would not survive in their present form. The most basic human values—the sanctity of life, the pursuit of happiness, the freedom to choose—these would be superseded. Our very understanding of what it means to be human—to be an individual, to be alive, to be conscious, to be part of the social order—all this would be thrown into question, not by detached philosophical reflection, but through force of circumstances, real and present.

How we should interpret this notion remains controversial. My own instinct is to see this as a form of techno-religion, delineating the point at which we transcend through our technological creations. But it is also something I feel we need to take seriously in order to understand, particularly how it is a framework for the future shaped by the conditions of late capitalism. It is in this sense that I was intrigued to see acceleration so explicitly invoked as a force which could be harnessed in order to drive this innovation. From pg 44 of the same book:

The last of these options raises the possibility of a whole virtual society of artificial intelligences living in a simulated environment. Liberated from the constraints of real biology and relieved of the need to compete for resources such as food and water, certain things become feasible for a virtual society that are not feasible for a society of agents who are confined to wetware. For example, given sufficient computing resources, a virtual society could operate at hyper-real speeds. Every millisecond that passed in the virtual world could be simulated in, say, one-tenth of a millisecond in the real world. 

If a society of AIs inhabiting such a virtual world were to work on improving themselves or on creating even more intelligent successors, then from the standpoint of the real world their progress would be duly accelerated. And if they were able to direct their technological expertise back out to the real world and help improve the computational substrate on which they depended, then the rate of this acceleration would in turn be accelerated. This is one route to a singularity-like scenario. The result would be explosive technological change, and the consequences would be unpredictable.

My point is not to dispute the scientific plausibility of this but rather to ask how the notions in play come to acquire the resonance they do for those advocating and exploring the prospect of the singularity. 

Does social media lead to a devaluation of introspection? This is what Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp claim on loc 4098 of their The Mediated Construction of Reality:

The selfie stamps the marker of ‘the self’ onto whatever things a person wants to record as a way of increasing its value. But why should that have become so important recently? There are no doubt many overlapping factors at work here including the changing affordances of smartphones, but one background factor, we want to suggest, is the increasing devaluation of introspection: that is, reflecting, comparing, building the basis of a memory through organized thought that remains ‘internal’ (still unshared). Introspection, in the habit of taking selfies, gets overridden by the ‘higher’ value of generating an exchangeable trace of one’s ‘experience’ whose form is tailored exactly to the data-based needs of social media platforms.

This is an example of why I think Margaret Archer’s work on reflexivity might prove extremely powerful in making sense of how social media is reconfiguring subjectivity. Couldry and Hepp assume here a zero-sum relation between interiority and exteriority, as if the disposition to share (cultivated through repeated exposure to the incentives of the platform) necessarily implies the diminution of introspection. There is certainly a tension between these internal and external moments: it is a matter of the time available to the agent and the duration of their subsequent mental activity if nothing else. However, there are many ways in which this tension could be negotiated, reflecting characteristics of the people concerned and the situation they find themselves in.

This is what I think of as reflexive variance: the variety of ways in which individuals orientate themselves to their situations, linking self and circumstances through the generation of action trajectories. Recognising reflexive variance is something which sociology has never been good at because it is a phenomenon which sits uneasily at the intersection between the domains of psychology and sociology. It is a matter of introspection, social action and environment: the relation which obtains between them in a particular situation. It’s much easier to leave the introspective to the psychologists (who circumscribe its objects by admitting only a limited range of social referents) or to subordinate it to social action or to the environment through various theoretical devices. But the diversity with which people orientate themselves to what are empirically similar experiences will tend to get lost in this case.

There are descriptive and explanatory problems which emerge from this. However, it also facilitates cultural critique of a rather irritating sort, with identifiable trends afflicting some within a group being assumed to hold true for all members of that group (or even all groups, if the critic in question is prone to overstatement). I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of months about the conceptual structure which is common to many of the most prominent critics of digital media for its postulated consequences for young people. It strikes me that it rests on a denial of reflexivity variance and repudiating these critics will involve recovering the range of ways in which people respond to social media.

Yesterday morning I bought a copy of Hilary Clinton’s new book What Happened and was surprised to find myself gripped by it. I’d expected a turgid and unlikeable text which I’d skim through in order to supplement my understanding of the last Presidential election with the authorised account of the losing candidate. To my surprise, I’m enjoying the book and finding Clinton far more likeable than I expected. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say I’m fascinated by it, for reasons which have nothing to do with the election.

It’s a disarmingly honest book which is doing multiple things, including protecting her reputation after last year’s debacle. However, I find it hard not to believe her claim that writing the book was cathartic. It charts the end of two defining features of her life over decades: buffering and triaging. The former is Jon Stewart’s term for what you “could see happening in the milliseconds between when Clinton was asked a question and when she answered; the moments when she played out the angles, envisioned the ways her words could be twisted, and came up with a response devoid of danger but suffused with caution”. As she points out on loc 1630-1651, criticism of her for this is manifestly gendered:

People say I’m guarded, and they have a point. I think before I speak. I don’t just blurt out whatever comes to mind. It’s a combination of my natural inclination, plus my training as a lawyer, plus decades in the public eye where every word I say is scrutinized. But why is this a bad thing? Don’t we want our Senators and Secretaries of State—and especially our Presidents—to speak thoughtfully, to respect the impact of our words? President Obama is just as controlled as I am, maybe even more so. He speaks with a great deal of care; takes his time, weighs his words. This is generally and correctly taken as evidence of his intellectual heft and rigor. He’s a serious person talking about serious things. So am I. And yet, for me, it’s often experienced as a negative.

What for her is seen as disingenuity or inauthenticity is in Obama coded as, at worst, aloofness. To spend one’s life “keeping a tight hold on what I say and how I react to things” sounds exhausting and the “relief” she writes of having always found with “friends with whom I can be vulnerable and unedited” might now become a more general feature of a life which is in the process of slowing down and opening up. She writes on loc 398 of the sudden experience of freedom which the electoral defeat had granted her:

So when a friend said she was sending a box full of her favorite books . . . and another said he was coming up for the weekend even if it was just to take a walk together . . . and another said she was taking me to see a play whether I wanted to go or not . . . I didn’t protest or argue. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to consult a complicated schedule. I could just say “Yes!” without a second thought.

I read this as the end of triaging. This was most intense during a campaign in which an endless sequence of events was coupled with back-to-back radio interviews while travelling. But it was a feature of her life more broadly, in which the constant support of an extensive staff extended her capacity to fill her life with commitments, appointments and obligations. I found it fascinating to read these, admittedly still carefully polished, descriptions of her experience of the time (and of time) after the election. It’s only much later in the book that you start to realise that even then she wasn’t alone, being surrounded by all manner of staff even during what she experiences as an unprecedented withdrawal from the world.

If we read her book in this way, against the backdrop of her transformed life, it shines as a biographically framed account of a political creed. This book represents a form of life, in a manner we rarely see with senior politicians. It presents the worldview of a ‘moderniser’, one of the architects of a ‘centre-left’ now slipping into history, grounded in her own orientation to the world and understanding of her own life. This centrism was always ideological, albeit a strange ideology of moderation and empiricism (revealed as an ideology by its chronic failure to adapt to a world that has demonstrably changed on an empirical level). This book illustrates how centrism, as with all ideologies, organises everyday experience in a way that connects considered positions with situated affectivity. As can be seen in Clinton’s account of centrism as the emotional labour of politics. From loc 1831-1849:

Dramatic spiritual conversions aside, emotional labor isn’t particularly thrilling as far as the political media or some of the electorate is concerned. I’ve been dinged for being too interested in the details of policy (boring!), too practical (not inspiring!), too willing to compromise (sellout!), too focused on smaller, achievable steps rather than sweeping changes that have little to no chance of ever coming true (establishment candidate!). But just as a household falls apart without emotional labor, so does politics grind to a halt if no one is actually listening to one another or reading the briefings or making plans that have a chance of working. I guess that might be considered boring. I don’t find it boring, but you might. But here’s the thing: someone has to do it. In my experience, a lot of the time, it’s women. A lot of the time, it’s dismissed as not that important. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

This might all be mistaken. The book might be a careful part of a rebranding exercise, seeking to rectify the Clinton brand in order that the dynasty might continue when Chelsea runs for office. But if we accept that politicians are people, we confront micro-social questions about their lives and biographies which I’ve always found fascinating (not least of all because the nature of politics leaves politicians disinclined to help us answer them). I’m finding this book oddly fascinating and I now feel much more affection for Hilary Clinton than I did a few days ago.

Edited to add: I wrote this when half way through the book. The second half of the book is much less likeable and leaves me much less sympathetic to Clinton. It’s still a surprisingly interesting read though. 

Another extract from Audrey Watters, this time from The Curse of the Monsters of Educational Technology, who analysis of the rhetoric of disruption has fast become one of my favourite examples of digital cultural critique. From loc 184:

“The Silicon Valley Narrative,” as I call it, is the story that the technology industry tells about the world—not only the world-as-is but the world-as-Silicon-Valley-wants-it-to-be. This narrative has several commonly used tropes. It often features a hero: the technology entrepreneur. Smart. Independent. Bold. Risk-taking. White. Male. “The Silicon Valley narrative” invokes themes like “innovation” and “disruption.” It privileges the new; everything else that can be deemed “old” is viewed as obsolete. Things are perpetually in need of an upgrade. It contends that its workings are meritocratic: anyone who hustles can make it. “The Silicon Valley Narrative” has no memory, no history, although it can invent or invoke one to suit its purposes. (“ The factory model of education” is one such invented history that I’ve written about before.) “The Silicon Valley narrative” fosters a distrust of institutions—the government, the university. It is neoliberal. It hates paying taxes. “The Silicon Valley narrative” draws from the work of Ayn Rand; it privileges the individual at all costs; it calls this “personalization.”

One recurring theme in Brad Stone’s excellent The Upstarts is how technological assumptions encoded into legislation become focal points for conflicts with ‘disruptive’ companies. For instance, as loc 2348 illustrates, the novel dispatch system used by Uber complicated the distinction between taxis and livery cars:

Stressing that Uber cars were not hailed or even electronically hailed like taxis, the pair emphasized that Uber cars fit the legal definition of livery cars and were prearranged; it just so happened that the prearrangement occurred five minutes ahead of time instead of sixty.

But these distinctions also become ideologically loaded, with the antiquated assumptions effectively inviting us to sweep them away as part of our great disruptive project. This is something even Uber’s lawyers were moved by. From loc 2996:

She didn’t, pointing out that taxi regulations had been crafted decades before smartphones and internet ratings systems were invented. “I was personally always of the philosophy that the great companies, the PayPals of the world, don’t get scared by regulation,” she told me. “I never wanted to be the kind of lawyer that just said no.”

When the Uber co-founders recount the story of their project, they stress the importance of the consumer to it. This might seem like familiar rhetoric but I want to suggest it reflects a deep (and problematic) commitment. In The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, we see how the early idea for Uber came to Garrett Camp when he was a young multi-millionaire living in San Francisco. After StumbleUpon was acquired by eBay, he found himself young, free and wealthy. From loc 617-632:

Camp continued to work at eBay after the sale, and he was now young, wealthy, and single, with a taste for getting out of the house more often. This is when he ran headlong into San Francisco’s feeble taxi industry. For decades, San Francisco had deliberately kept the number of taxi medallions capped at around fifteen hundred. Medallions in the city were relatively inexpensive and couldn’t be resold, and owners could keep the permit as long as they liked if they logged a minimum number of hours on the road every year. So new permits usually became available only when drivers died, and anyone who applied for one had to wait years to receive it. Stories abounded about a driver waiting for three decades to get a medallion, only to die soon after. The system guaranteed a healthy availability of passengers for the taxi companies even during slow times and ensured that full-time drivers could earn a living wage. But demand for cars greatly exceeded supply and so taxi service in San Francisco, famously, sucked. Trying to hail a cab in the outer neighborhoods near the ocean, or even downtown on a weekend night, was an exercise in futility. Getting a cab to take you to the airport was a stomach-churning gamble that could easily result in a missed flight.

He was, as Brad Stone puts it, “habitually restless, frustrated by inefficiencies, and armed with a willingness to challenge authority”. He contrived an initial solution of calling all yellow taxi companies when he needed a cab, in order to take the first one that arrived. He quickly found himself blacklisted (loc 647). He further explored how to game the existing system, learning about the mechanisms which frustrated him in the process. He developed an extensive working knowledge of how the collective interests of taxi drivers frustrated his interests as a wealthy young consumer. This generic propensity of the taxi industry to frustrate was coupled with the capacity of individual taxi drivers to fail to show such young consumers the respect they felt they deserved. From loc 771-786:

On a separate night in Paris, the group went for drinks on the Champs-Élysées and then to an elegant late-night dinner that included wine and foie gras. At 2: 00 a.m., somewhat intoxicated after a night of revelry, they hailed a cab on the street. Apparently they were speaking too boisterously, because halfway through the ride home, the driver started yelling at them. McCloskey was sitting in the middle of the backseat, and, at five feet ten inches tall, she’d had to prop her high heels on the cushion between the two front seats. The driver cursed at them in French and threatened to kick them out of the car if they didn’t quiet down and if McCloskey didn’t move her feet. She spoke French and translated; Kalanick reacted furiously and suggested they get out of the car. The experience seemed to harden their resolve. “It definitely lit a fire,” McCloskey says. “When you are put in a situation where you feel like there’s an injustice, that pisses Travis off more than anything. He couldn’t get over it. People shouldn’t have to sit in urine-filled cabs after a wonderful night and be yelled at.” That cantankerous Paris taxicab driver may have left an indelible mark on transportation history.

The instinct here is framed in terms of ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ when it is articulated. But the basic moral sentiment is how dare they put their interests over ours? It’s a consumerist entitlement rooted in the extremely specific experience of affluent young consumers. Once embedded, every attempt to preserve the status quo can be experienced as an extension of this basic affront to self-importance. What appears to regulators as an incomprehensible disregard for legality (“You can’t just open a restaurant and say you are going to ignore the health department” as they were told in an early clash, reported on loc 1693) is experienced by ‘the upstarts’ as a commendable failure to be bullied, a refusal to take shit from anyone, whether it’s haughty French taxi drivers or municipal bureaucrats serving their interests. Their professed concern for regulation can be explained away as an allegiance to taxi drivers who don’t know their place. From loc 2348:

Still embittered by his experience with Christiane Hayashi and the SFMTA, Kalanick instructed Kochman to ignore New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and its rules, reasoning that its regulations, under the guise of consumer safety, were really there to protect entrenched taxi interests.

What I’m describing as a moral project operates on two levels: an intellectual critique of entrenched interests and their failure to adequately serve consumers, as well as an underlying affectivity generated when entrenched privilege meets perceived wrong-doing. The former derives its shoving power from the latter. This is why I suspect the Uber co-founders might not simply be driving towards automation out of economic interest, but rather actually be able to take some perverse delight in rendering taxi drivers redundant as a category. As the Uber CEO excitedly put it when presented with a self-driving car for the first time: “The minute your car becomes real, I can take the dude out of the front seat” (loc 3657).

And this moral project is one it’s demonstrably possible to enlist others into. From loc 2467:

After Tusk joined as a consultant, Uber executives started meeting regularly with Ashwini Chhabra and his boss, David Yassky, chairman of the TLC. Officials in Bloomberg’s business-friendly administration, it turned out, were inclined to look favorably on a technology startup trying to change New York’s crusty taxi industry, which had resisted modernizing its vehicles and installing electronic credit card readers. 4 But Uber first needed to play by the rules. To truly appeal to New York drivers, Uber was going to have to register as a base.

Pity those who find themselves on the wrong side of the great disruptive project:

When asked about driverless cars, he said that he was excited for the technology because it could bring prices down, but he didn’t express concern about unemployment for drivers. “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car, you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” Kalanick said. As for the tens of thousands of drivers who relied on his company to support their families, he shrugged. “This is the way of the world,” he said, “and the world isn’t always great. We all have to find ways to change.”

I just came across this term in The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, loc 1828:

Enjoying a modicum of momentum, Kalanick leased a new office in San Francisco but had a month before he could move in. Instead of waiting, he took the whole company to Thailand, where they worked eighteen-hour days out of cafés and a house overlooking the craggy Railay Beach coastline rewriting the Red Swoosh code. It was a productive retreat and the first of what Kalanick called workations, a tradition that continued at Red Swoosh and, later, Uber.

There are loads of videos on YouTube about this:

(the last one is particularly cringe-worthy)

Upstarts, by Brad Stone, loc 337-353 describes Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky’s preoccupation with Silicon Valley as a dissatisfied recent graduate of design school: 

At the time he was obsessively following the story of the fantastically successful founders of the video-sharing site YouTube; he was spending hours on the site as well as watching Steve Jobs’s keynote presentations and the television film Pirates of Silicon Valley. This was a universe where new things really did change reality. “I got kind of obsessed,” he says. “I was living vicariously, escaping to a world where someone could build something and actually change something. I was not doing that. I was sitting in a dark office making stuff for closets and landfills.”

Interestingly, Chesky also describes being inspired by a biography of Walt Disney. This highlights how there have always been mechanisms through which people find inspiration in the lives of others. However does the mediation of Silicon Valley lend it a particular power, in so far as there are more cultural products in circulation which depict lives lived there?

From One Market Under God, by Thomas Frank, loc 1787:

It is worth examining the way business talk about itself, the fantasies it spins, the role it writes for itself in our lives. It is important to pay attention when CEOs tell the world they would rather surf than pray, show up at work in Speedos rather than suits, hang out in Goa rather than Newport, listen to Stone Temple Pilots rather than Sibelius. It is not important, however, in the way they imagine it is, and for many Americans it is understandably difficult to care very much whether the guy who owns their company is a defender of family values or a rave kid. But culture isn’t set off from life in a realm all its own, and the culture of business in particular has massive consequences for the way the rest of us live.

I’ve been fascinated in recent months by the relationship between hip hop and tech. In some cases quite explicitly, senior figures in technology find cultural inspiration for the approach they take to management in contemporary hip hop. I’m interested in the notion of ‘business for punks’ for the same reason. 

In essence, I thought this was a product of focusing on ‘disruption’: seeking cultural resources to help motivate oneself to be disruptive. But this fascinating extract from No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 100-118 suggests it might also be a shared concern with ‘getting shit done’:

It took place, reportedly, in New York, where Gates had been hanging out at the back of a bar with Bono and other friends when P. Diddy approached their table. He stood before Gates and nodded. ‘You are a motherfucker’. Gates’s eyes darted at the man. It’s doubtful the world’s most generous philanthropist hears comments like this too often –at least not to his face. Diddy continued his train of argument: ‘You are a motherfucker. What you are doing on immunization in Botswana? Motherfucker’. Gates leaned back in his chair. He realized that Diddy was offering him a high compliment. The encounter is reported by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in their book Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World. The book has become something of a bible for a new breed of philanthropist vowing to reshape the world by running philanthropic foundations more like for-profit businesses. In this world, Gates is hailed as the ‘MacDaddy’ of the new philanthropy. Bishop and Green offer a quote from Bono on the appeal of Gates’s charitable work: ‘Jay-Z, all of the hip-hop guys, kind of adore him. Because he is not seen as a romantic figure –well, maybe romantic in the sense that Neil Armstrong is romantic, a scientist but not a poet. He gets shit done’. 8

I’ve been fascinated in recent months by the relationship between hip hop and tech. In some cases quite explicitly, senior figures in technology find cultural inspiration for the approach they take to management in contemporary hip hop. I’m interested in the notion of ‘business for punks’ for the same reason. 

In essence, I thought this was a product of focusing on ‘disruption’: seeking cultural resources to help motivate oneself to be disruptive. But this fascinating extract from No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 100-118 suggests it might also be a shared concern with ‘getting shit done’:

It took place, reportedly, in New York, where Gates had been hanging out at the back of a bar with Bono and other friends when P. Diddy approached their table. He stood before Gates and nodded. ‘You are a motherfucker’. Gates’s eyes darted at the man. It’s doubtful the world’s most generous philanthropist hears comments like this too often –at least not to his face. Diddy continued his train of argument: ‘You are a motherfucker. What you are doing on immunization in Botswana? Motherfucker’. Gates leaned back in his chair. He realized that Diddy was offering him a high compliment. The encounter is reported by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in their book Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World. The book has become something of a bible for a new breed of philanthropist vowing to reshape the world by running philanthropic foundations more like for-profit businesses. In this world, Gates is hailed as the ‘MacDaddy’ of the new philanthropy. Bishop and Green offer a quote from Bono on the appeal of Gates’s charitable work: ‘Jay-Z, all of the hip-hop guys, kind of adore him. Because he is not seen as a romantic figure –well, maybe romantic in the sense that Neil Armstrong is romantic, a scientist but not a poet. He gets shit done’. 8

From Losing the Signal, Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s history of Research In Motion, pg 179:

Bruised by the Storm experience and confused by the apparent rift between Balsillie and Lazaridis, executives feuded more frequently over turf and for the attention of their CEOs. Some turned to Don Morrison, the company’s kindly Father Time, who had long been the de facto friend-in-need for executives. Morrison in turn referred them to Donn Smith, the unorthodox personal life coach who had helped Balsillie pull himself back from the edge during the NTP crisis. Morrison had become a disciple after Balsillie sent his wife and him to see Smith when their marriage almost unraveled in the fall of 2009. After three days in British Columbia with Smith, Morrison says the marriage was saved. He was convinced he had found the antidote for RIM’s troubled management in Smith. The company wouldn’t be able to fix its problems unless its executives could reclaim their confidence and “internal perfection” through Smith’s I Am Energy program, Morrison thought. Over the next two years, Morrison would refer three dozen RIM executives to see his and Balsillie’s personal saviour, with costs covered by RIM’s leadership training budget.

From the Commencement address Steve Jobs gave on June 12, 2005:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Life is short. We’ll be dead soon. This is why it’s important to fill life with as much of value and interest as possible. The good life is the full life.

A really enticing analysis by Evgeny Morozov of the “eventual depoliticization of extremely political and contentious issues by wrapping them up in the empty, futuristic language of technology and innovation”. Silicon Valley increasingly dominates the discursive representation of our global future, with the amelioration of social problems limited to a technologically-driven intensification of consumption:

Like many in Silicon Valley, Ross believes in what has become known as the Varian Rule—named after Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian—which states that the kinds of luxuries enjoyed by billionaires today will eventually be provided, albeit in a somewhat modified, heavily technologized form, to the poor and middle classes. You won’t get a chauffeur, but you will get a self-driving car; you won’t get a secretary, but you’ll get Siri or Google Now. The only benchmark of success is access to goods and services, while the actual terms on which this access is provided—for Google Now to work, for example, you need to let Google monitor you pervasively—are never discussed. Here is a capitalism-friendly version of social mobility, whereby consumption, rather than the dissolution of existing power relationships, becomes the sole goal of emancipatory struggles.

A slogan more frequently encountered on pro-police demos has been repeatedly daubed inside the Facebook headquarters, creating embarrassment for a corporation whose staff are overwhelmingly white and male:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reprimanded employees following several incidents in which the slogan “black lives matter” was crossed out and replaced with “all lives matter” on the walls of the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t – it’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve,” Zuckerberg wrote in an internal Facebook post obtained by Gizmodo.

Will such attitudes inevitably thrive under the conditions of meritocratic elitism which characterise much of the technology world?