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  • Mark 8:06 pm on November 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital elites   

    The paradox of the liberal contrarian 

    From Emily Chang’s Brotopia pg 52:

    The beliefs of the PayPal founders—that individual merit is the most valuable metric of human potential and that creativity is deadened by groupthink—have deeply influenced the postcrash tech industry and are consistent with the ideas promoted by Thiel’s cohort at Stanford. There are many counterarguments to this thinking, but I’ll focus on one of its glaring flaws: Peter Thiel, who champions unbridled individuality, is in fact describing a groupthink of his own. From his Stanford days onward, Thiel has largely surrounded himself with Ivy League, antiestablishment contrarians whose opinions are similar to his own. The Review editors might not have been the most popular group at Stanford, but they were a group nonetheless. They took their particular brand of groupthink to PayPal and their subsequent companies, propagating it through Silicon Valley—with consequences far beyond the PayPal walls.

  • Mark 4:50 pm on October 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , digital elites, ,   

    Medium as a forum for warring digital elites 

    I thought this was a really interesting observation by Jill Abramson on pg 145 of her Merchants of Truth. What other forums are there?

    The Times ran a definitive investigation of the punishing work culture at Amazon, 23 with grizzly anecdotes about employees crying at their desks and burning out because of the unrelenting pressure to fill orders and grow. Bezos attacked the story as anecdotal and unfair on the open website Medium. Baquet responded, defending the piece. Open digital platforms such as Medium now replaced the private conversations and postpublication confrontations that used to take place in editors’ offices. The court of public opinion was all that mattered, not private, ongoing relationships between companies and the journalists covering them.

  • Mark 8:50 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , digital elites, Jonah Peretti   

    The scholarly career of BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti 


  • Mark 6:37 pm on September 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital elites, ,   

    A few notes the digital aristocracy 

    Many of the leading figures in contemporary Silicon Valley are those who survived the fall out from the earlier crash. Thiel made his fortune by co-founding the online payments platform Paypal, acting as CEO until its sale to eBay. He subsequently founded Clarium Capital (a hedge fund), Founders Fund (a venture capital firm) and Palantir Technologies (a data analytics platform). The latter has proved a particular source of controversy, leveraging the anti-fraud algorithms developed for Paypal transactions into an intelligence platform used by security agencies across the United States government. Their primary services, Gotham and Metropolis, provide data linkage and predictive analytics for corporate and governmental clients across an enormous array of datasets. The interests of Palantir have been central to Thiel’s emerging political ambitions, as his forceful backing of Donald Trump at a time when the rest of the tech world was steering clear has given him outsized influence with the unexpected Trump administration that has reportedly translated into significant influence over operations and appointments, particularly within the sphere of intelligence and security (Ciralsky 2017). Thiel has gained notoriety for his ultra-libertarian beliefs, infamously proclaiming in an essay for the Cato institute that he no longer believed that “freedom and democracy are compatible”. His essay explicitly frames his commitments to investing in cyberspace, outer-space and seasteading in these terms. Each represents a new frontier, opportunities to create “new spaces of freedom” beyond the confines of a state (Thiel 2009). It remains to be seen whether he will recant this commitment, given his seeming success at winning influence within the existing confines of the existing state within the Trump administration.

    The same period has seen growing expectations of a future Presidential bid by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raising questions about whether this is simply an extension of Facebook’s lobbying efforts or reflects a genuinely-held ideology which is beginning to coalesce into ambitions of social transformation (Marcetic 2017). Earlier reports from within the company suggest a sincerely held, though nebulous, vision of Facebook as facilitating “a world in which we all become cells in a single organism, where we can communicate automatically and can all work together seamlessly” (Losse 2012: 201). In some ways, this vision is a familiar one of global corporations outgrowing nation-states, demonstrating more effective ways of achieving social outcomes that nation-states will ultimately adapt themselves to. This is a faith which McGoey (2015: loc 289) has argued is embodied in contemporary ‘philanthrocapitalism’, a surge “rooted in growing wealth concentration”: nearly half of the 85,000 private foundations in the United States were created in the last fifteen years, as income inequality rose precipitously. Zuckerberg joined this movement in a significant way with the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose lofty promise to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy” is belied by a limited liability corporate status that evades the transparency and political neutrality requirements which would be imposed upon a charitable trust.

    The most famous proponent of philanthrocapitalism is undoubtedly Bill Gates, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working with an endowment of $44.3 billion as of 31 December 2014. While the ambitions of Gates have been less explicitly political than those of Thiel and even Zuckerberg, they have proved politically influential through the sheer scale of their philanthropic activity. One of their key focal areas has been ‘education reform’, with the foundation being the largest amongst the philanthropic donors who spend almost $4 billion on education in the United States each year (McGoey 2015: loc 1974)

    • BeingQuest 2:00 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink

      Gates investing in “education reform” seems like the reinvention of the Wheel with the Square Block…hardly a piece of Progress for all its success to date. All these icons of industry appear as outsiders from the perspective of Education, some many centuries already practiced, with today showing a disadvantage in too many particulars to its learners, not the least of which failure is this generations feeble Historical Consciousness.

      It’s fair to say that learners today are boxed-in to an experience really not their own, but that of powerful others who have their way with them on every important level of social organization. Gates and his like would offer a bridge over this chasm, but cannot well nor convincingly argue exactly WHAT intelligence may mean for mankind in the 21’st Century in anything other than functional to the society he and his propound behind closed doors.

      You can’t trust a rich man’s generosity, as it is no generosity at all, being rich. They can be little better than Middle Men of the system that spawned them, with all the ideological baggage that must entail. Wolves in Sheep’s clothing, withal.

    • BeingQuest 2:31 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink

      Why these ‘philanthropists” haven’t invented a way to make Learning universally available on the fundamental plane of data in the historical record remains a quandary directly aimed at their “back door” motivations from the start. It would be the easiest thing for such as Gates to begin the compilation of Learning over the ages on every conceivable Topic to Learning in the Cannon of the West (to start), that it begs the question of their (his) motivation to date.

      Were I a Student of any given Topic, from Intellectual History and Philosophy of Science to modern Anthropology and Cultural Studies (soft sciences)…and I am…I would want to pursue the first examples of concern expressed by this Canon, and those that added to or subtract from such concern, from the earliest Universities and Guilds of Learning to the present. Too much information? Hardly. It’s the First aim of Education to put into the hands of every learner the tools of Inspection on the Historical Record, then let them find their own Library, create their own Library, to suit their unique investigations. Independent Learning, worthy of any emancipated brute.

      The technology is available for such a Project, even better now with Block Chain Technology and certifications of any argument, on any topic, viewed by any/all participants to the Cause (of Learning).

      What the Worlds of men needs is a New Community of Learning, which such a Bank of Intellectual History could provide, if at least as a basis for what must come next, from what was before and informs the present. Men may not be sophisticated enough for such a Project, but could invent and AI protocol to perform the task, free of bias. Utopia.

    • BeingQuest 2:34 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink


    • BeingQuest 4:58 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I’ll be expounding my “Cultural Criticism” as Poetics here, going forward…most of my available time, it appears…going forward (what the hell, right? A Swan Song): https://www.patreon.com/durandusvonmeissen

  • Mark 9:30 am on June 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ben Williamson, digital elites, digital schools, , ,   

    Silicon startup schools 

    My notes on Williamson, B. (2018). Silicon startup schools: technocracy, algorithmic imaginaries and venture philanthropy in corporate education reform. Critical studies in education, 59(2), 218-236.

    The technology sector has turned its gaze towards education in recent years, manifesting in a whole range of initiatives as well as the increasing prominence of education in how digital elites imagine disruptive change. In this paper Ben Williamson analyses four new schools as embodiments of this trend, prototypical examples of how digital elites imagine a future in which scalable technical platforms meet pressing social needs. They move beyond bringing technology into schools and instead place “schools into private hands as testbeds for a model of schooling that is rooted in the embedded technological knowledges, assump- tions, and practices of corporate technology culture” (219). As he goes on to describe them later on 219:

    These new schools are being designed as scalable technical platforms, underpinned by software engineering expertise; they are funded by commercial and venture capital and philanthropic sources; staffed and managed by entrepreneurs, executives and engineers from some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups and web companies; and proposed to reinvent, reimagine and rebuild education in the mould of Silicon Valley itself.

    He identifies a number of pertinent features through his exploration of the websites and branding associated with each fo the four schools:

    • P-TECH, AltSchool, Kahn Lab School and XQ Super School combine venture capital with philanthropic giving in a novel combination. Business backed foundations fund advocacy (the ‘demand’ side) and directly funding charter schools (the ‘supply’ side) with digital elites figuring prominently amongst them. The charter schools framework “enable private organizations to penetrate the publicly funded education sector, govern institutions directly, and to advocate more competitive, deregulated models for public education” (220).
    • Digital technology is a central part of this movement to ‘reform’ schools e.g. learning analytics, personalised learning etc. Williamson argues that these startup schools need to be understanding as the next stage of this movement, marrying its corporate agenda to a new technoutopian impulse: “Rather than tinkering in the margins of state schooling to increase efficiencies and effectiveness by implanting new technologies in classrooms, Silicon Valley is seeking to ‘radically disrupt’ the established model of the school through both its technical practices and its venture philanthropic modes of governance” (221)
    • There is a distinctive socio-technical imaginary (“collectively held, institutionally stabilized and publicly performed visions of desirable futures that are animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order and made attainable through the design of technological projects” – 221/222) underpinning these developments. This algorithmic imaginary embodies an ideal of calculability, rendering a datafied world legible and susceptible to real time intervention through machine learning. This imaginary is becoming the lived reality of education.
    • Code is central to the operation of these new schools and this offers a conceptual and methodological challenge for established ways of understanding educational organisations and systems. Furthermore, as he observes on pg 231, ”

      The Silicon Valley discourse of innovation, entrepreneurship, startup culture, makerspaces, crowdsourced solutions, platforms and philanthrocapital is becoming a new language of schooling”. Schools are become different sorts of objects with important consequences for educational research. The language used by advocates shuts down debate and analysis of the complexity of what they are doing: “The language of an eduOS – a technical operating system for education – ignores the messy complexity of social context, and implies that technical solutions can be applied as software patches or upgrades to outdated and buggy systems.” (232). 

    These are the distinctive characteristics of the schools he analyses:

    • The P-TECH approach was initiated by IBM in collaboration with the New York City government, before encouraging others tech firms to launch their own with their own skills needs as the focus, legitimated in terms of providing a pipeline of skilled labour from diverse communities. These are used for real time analytics of the educational ecosystem as an  intensified expression of their smart city agenda, offering a living laboratory in which IBM can test out new products and initiatives.
    • Maker schools teach through a hacker ethos of experimentation rather than formalise learning, increasingly popular with digital elites for educating their own children outside of a school system they see as fundamentally broken. The difficulty with scaling these initiatives has led to the creation of hybrid schools such as AltSchool, “described as a new ‘central operating system for education’, a scalable technical infrastructure that can be transported to new sites.” (225). The AltSchool “encourages greater exploration, inquiry and problem-solving through the active con- struction of knowledge and understanding, whilst monitoring and regulating the experience through learning analytics and adaptive learning software” (226). The Lab School founded by Khan Academy embodies a similar progressivist impulse: “teaches math, literacy and computer programming – in line with its tech sector roots – but also emphasizes ‘real world’ projects, personalized learning, student-centred learning, and a strong commitment to building children’s ‘character’ and ‘wellness’ through, for example, ‘mindfulness’ meditation training(227). But it also positions itself as “an experimental R&D lab for testing different educational approaches and technologies, and aspires to contribute to the production of new theories of learning itself” (227) including welcoming outside organisations for research. Both of these schools project a front door of character education & self-realisation, coupled with a backdoor of learning analytics & applied behavioural science. The contingent compatibility between these two things is a very important point in this analysis by Williamson. 
    • A similar relation can be seen in the XQ Super School Project with its heavy focus on how ‘brain science’ can be a means for empowering students to take control of their learning. This crowd sourcing initiative seeks to solicit radical new ideas for school design, within the narrow ideological constraints found elsewhere in this paper. As he puts it, “The promise here appears to be of activating human capital through brain-targeted pedagogies” (230). 
  • Mark 8:27 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital elites,   

    Technology and the billionaire class 

    As Anand Giridharadas points out on pg 86 of his Winners Take All, the eight billionaires who can account for half the world’s wealth all owe their income to technology, albeit to varying degrees:

    Six of those eight made their money in the supposedly equalizing field of technology: Gates, Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Carlos Slim of Telmex and other Mexican businesses, and Michael Bloomberg, the purveyor of computer terminals. Another, Amancio Ortega, who built the retailer Zara, was famous for applying advanced technology to manufacturing and for automating his factories. The final member of the gang of eight, Warren Buffett, was a major shareholder in Apple and IBM.

    • landzek 1:32 pm on April 24, 2019 Permalink

      It’s because they are also in league with Satan. 👹

  • Mark 3:04 pm on April 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital elites, ,   

    The Great Disruptive Project 

    On the same topic as yesterday’s post on the moral theories of platform engineers, Anand Giridharadas recounts a speech by Uber and Airbnb investor Shervin Pishevar on pg 66 of his Winners Take All: 

    “My biggest thing is existing structures and monopolies—one example is the taxi cartels—that is a very real thing,” he said. “I’ve been in meetings where I’ve been threatened by those types of characters from that world. I’ve seen them beating drivers in Italy. You see the riots in France, and flipping over cars and throwing stones. I took my daughter to Disney. We were in the middle of that. We had to drive our Uber away from basically the war zone that was happening. “So from a moral perspective, anything that’s fighting against morally corrupt, ingrained systems that are based on decades and decades of graft within cities, within city councils, with mayors, etcetera—all those things, they are real, actual things that are threatened by new technologies and innovations like Uber and other companies in that space. So from that perspective, bring it on. That is something we should be fighting.

  • Mark 8:15 am on February 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , digital elites, , mark zuckerberg   

    The awkward silences of digital elites 

    The fascination with the propensity of tech founders to go silent reminds me of how the earliest philosophers were framed as unworldly due to their capacity to go into thought trances. From Roger McNamee’s Zucked, loc 269-284.

    This little speech took about two minutes to deliver. What followed was the longest silence I have ever endured in a one-on-one meeting. It probably lasted four or five minutes, but it seemed like forever. Zuck was lost in thought, pantomiming a range of Thinker poses. I have never seen anything like it before or since. It was painful. I felt my fingers involuntarily digging into the upholstered arms of my chair, knuckles white, tension rising to a boiling point. At the three-minute mark, I was ready to scream. Zuck paid me no mind. I imagined thought bubbles over his head, with reams of text rolling past. How long would he go on like this? He was obviously trying to decide if he could trust me. How long would it take? How long could I sit there?

    I’ve read similar observations about Musk and Tiel. Even if there might be differences drawn between the reasons for silence, these stories seem to share an interest in that silence as a sign of how the founders are different from others.

    • landzek 3:46 pm on February 24, 2019 Permalink

      Jesus leaned down and drew in the sand the image of the fish.

      Though it’s off topic, you might enjoy Nick Cave’s thoughts:

  • Mark 8:33 pm on November 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digital elites, , , ,   

    The class politics of innovation and the new digital elite 

    In his remarkably prescient Listen Liberal, Thomas Frank describes the rapid capture of the Democratic Party by the professional class which took place during those decades when economic transition left them ascendent within the country as a whole. This was originally a predominance of financiers within the party but, with a transition marked by the defection of finance to Romney in the 2012 election, it’s more recently been a matter of Silicon Valley.

    As a striking example of this, on loc 2742 he describes the innovation mania sweeping a city like Boston,

    Back in Boston, meanwhile, there is meaning and exciting purpose wherever you look. When I visited, in the spring of 2015, I found a city in the grip of a collective mania, an enthusiasm for innovation that I can only compare to a religious revival, to the kind of crowd-passion that would periodically sweep through New England back in the days when the purpose of Harvard was to produce clergymen, not startups. The frenzy manifests itself in countless ways. The last mayor of Boston was mourned on his passing as a man who “believed in innovation”; who “brought innovation to Boston.” The state’s Innovation Institute issues annual reports on the “Massachusetts Innovation Economy”; as innovation economies go, they brag, this one is “the largest in the U.S. when measured as a percent of employment.” And of course there are publications that cover this thrumming beehive of novelty: “BostInno,” a startup website dedicated to boosting startups, and “Beta Boston,” which is a project of the more established but still super-enthusiastic Boston Globe.

    Meanwhile those outside these ‘innovation hubs’ struggle across the state. The self-confident creative class march ever onwards, supported by municipal and state governments for whom subsiding innovation is axiomatic, while inequality soars in a state ranked amongst the most unequal in the United States on common measures. It’s in this schism that we can see what Harris Gruman describes as a “liberalism of the rich” (loc 2928).

    If we see this ‘innovation liberalism’ in terms of its class politics, the growing revolving door between Silicon Valley and government becomes much more than a matter of curiosity. As he describes on loc 2918-2934:

    By that time, the place once filled by finance in the Democratic imagination had begun giving way to Silicon Valley, a different “creative-class” industry with billions to give in campaign contributions. Changes in the administration’s personnel paralleled the money story: at the beginning of the Obama years, the government’s revolving doors had all connected to Wall Street; within a few years, the people spinning them were either coming from or heading toward the West Coast. In 2014, David Plouffe, the architect of Obama’s inspiring first presidential campaign, began to work his political magic for Uber. Jay Carney, the president’s former press secretary, hired on at Amazon the following year. Larry Summers, for his part, became an adviser for an outfit called OpenGov. Back in Washington, meanwhile, the president established a special federal unit that used Silicon Valley techniques and personnel to revolutionize the government’s web presence; starstruck tech journalists call it “Obama’s stealth startup.”

    The whole tenth chapter of Listen Liberal explores this issue and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the failings of the contemporary Democratic party without an adequate account of the rise of digital elites within them, as the latest turn in a much long-standing process of capture by professionals. On loc 3184 he describes how talk of ‘innovation’ serves to prop up this accelerating inequality:

    Technological innovation is not the reason all this is happening, just as the atomic bomb was not the cause of World War II: it is the latest weapon in an age-old war. Technological innovation is not what is hammering down working peoples’ share of what the country earns; technological innovation is the excuse for this development. Inno is a fable that persuades us to accept economic arrangements we would otherwise regard as unpleasant or intolerable—that convinces us that the very particular configuration of economic power we inhabit is in fact a neutral matter of science, of nature, of the way God wants things to be. Every time we describe the economy as an “ecosystem” we accept this point of view. Every time we write off the situation of workers as a matter of unalterable “reality” we resign ourselves to it.

  • Mark 9:56 am on July 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digital elites, , , ,   

    Biographical Approaches to Studying Digital Capitalism 

    In the early pages of Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, he offers a cogent analysis of how initial public offerings lock tech companies into a growth imperative which ultimately proves destructive of the value they create. As he puts it on loc 169, “Having taken in this much new capital, however, Twitter now needs to produce. It must grow.” Problems emerge because what constitutes enough growth is something now defined by the investors who must justify the amount of money that’s been put into the company.

    It’s easy to see this in systemic terms but what intrigues me is the biographical element. The problem arises because, as Rushkoff puts it, shareholders “expect to win back one hundred times their initial $20 billion bet” and to do this “Twitter must grow into a corporation bigger than the economy of many entire nations” (loc 184). Who are these investors and how do they come to be in a situation where they’re both able and inclined to make such an investment, with these sets of expectations? What about the founders themselves, how did they come to occupy these positions and what commonalities and differences can we find in their motivations?

    My suggestion is that what Rushkoff calls “the growth imperative” can be usefully analysed in terms of the biographical entanglement between two distinct groups: aspiring founders and aspiring investors. The social dynamics can’t be reduced to individual biographies but these lived lives are, in an important way, the most basic social unit through which the dynamics become operative and are therefore key to understanding it. This of course entails that we understand the context within which these aspirations develop and each group sets out on this path, but the capacity of such groups to transform that context is something that is activated through the lives of individuals.

  • Mark 12:35 pm on June 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital elites, , , , ,   

    The Janus-faced ideology of philanthropic elites 

    A fascinating observation in No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 785. I wonder if the digital elites who interest me see their wealth in similar terms?

    It was a Janus-faced ideology; one side of Carnegie was extraordinarily generous, expending time and vast financial sums on goals such as military disarmament and racial equality. On the other side, he adopted ever more draconian policies towards his workers the more convinced he became that his wealth would ultimately benefit the larger community.

  • Mark 2:58 pm on June 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital elites,   

    Billionaires are people, too 

    There’s another wonderful scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU1vlbsxGGQ

    • Dave Ashelman 3:14 pm on June 7, 2016 Permalink

      There is something that is covered up as much as is revealed in this. Few address the actual stereotype of Jews as “financiers.” We all still feel the horror of the Holocaust, but few talk about the stereotypes that still persist in who the victims were.

      My Jewish grandparents escaped Naziism from Austria, by getting fake passports from Switzerland. My Great Grandparents died in the camps. My Great Grandfather was a landscaper, and my great grandmother worked a small farm they lived on. My grandfather was a dock worker, unloading corn from ships. My grandmother sewed labels onto clothing in a sweatshop.

      They were not alone in their SES. Most Jews who died in the camps, or who escaped were NOT financiers, bankers, diamond collectors or jewelers. Most were proletariat or farmers. Yet there is little scholarly (or other) literature on this. So while we are always shocked when people make a false equivalency with Jewish victims, few ever question the stereotype itself.

    • Mark 3:17 pm on June 7, 2016 Permalink

      Does this vary between contexts perhaps? I would have assumed most people see the stereotype as racist in itself?

  • Mark 3:01 pm on May 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital elites, , , , ,   

    A partial defence of Gawker’s prurience: the necessity of scrutinising #DigitalElites 

    This is an important though contentious article by Morozov, reflecting on the recent revelation that Peter Thiel was secretly funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. While the much maligned company has regularly descended into prurience, they’ve provided a vital service by critically scrutinising the personal lives of digital elites & we need to resist the mobilisation of anger over their excesses into an attack on any organisation that dares invade the privacy of the increasingly well entrenched elites that run technology. In fact, this is Gawker’s own defence of their practice, as much as they’re seen as being deeply vacuous.

    Gawker’s relationship with Silicon Valley, though, is more complicated for the sole reason that, when it comes to the behaviour of its own executives, the personal is also the political. Gawker has been producing coverage of the tech industry that is as lurid as it is important, subjecting the likes of Thiel to the scrutiny that they no longer receive elsewhere.

    Consider what Gawker’s readers might have learned over the years. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, tells us that if we have something to hide, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place; he himself prefers to live in a luxury building without a doorman – so that no one can see him come and go. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants us to practise openness and radical transparency; he himself purchases neighbouring houses to get as much privacy as possible. Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky likes to boast that he is a typical Airbnb host; well, perhaps too typical – for a while, he was renting his house without obtaining the necessary legal permit.

    Silicon Valley’s elites hate such intrusion into their personal lives. Had they worked for any other industry, their concerns would be justified. But they work for an industry that tries to convince us that privacy does not matter and that transparency and deregulation are the way to go. Since they do not lead by example, why shouldn’t their hypocrisy be exposed?

    If tech elites are so concerned about privacy, they can start backing initiatives such as the right to be forgotten. Why can’t Thiel – a backer of the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of the world’s dissidents where the Human Rights Foundation awards the Václav Havel international prize for creative dissent – help us to make sure that embarrassing content, taken out of context and now enjoying worldwide circulation thanks to social networks and search engines, is easier to manage?


    Incidentally, there’s an interesting suggestion here that Mark Zuckerberg’s concern to reassure publishers and cement developing relationships could lead him into conflict with Thiel, who’s a member of Facebook’s board:

    Facebook is used by more than 1 billion people every day, but as it has moved from personal content toward what the company refers to as “public content,” it has moved huge audiences to publishers — and become responsible for a significant share of many publishers’ traffic. Its influence is so vast that many such publishers (including BuzzFeed) have agreed to host their articles directly on Facebook’s servers via the Instant Articles product. That outsized influence on how people all across the world are informed is why a major firestorm ensued after curators of its Trending column were accused of bias. After that episode, Zuckerberg said the company had a trust problem with conservatives that it needed to address. His vote on Thiel will send another message about how he sees publishers.


  • Mark 9:41 am on January 31, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: digital elites, , technological privilige, ,   

    The Epistemic Consequences of Technological Privilige 

    I’ve often wondered about how the working environments within which proponents of cloud computing exist have shaped their enthusiasm for it. If your work is never interrupted by the broadband going down then it’s easier to be committed to moving all your applications into the cloud. 

    In Battle of the Titans, the author quotes the former Netscape founder referring to the insights provided by early users of the web in universities. Their super fast connections allowed them to see the experiences possible through a potentially generalisable technological privilige. From loc 3099:

    Andreessen says, In 1993 it was very obvious what the world would be like if everyone had a high-speed Internet connection and a big screen because at the University of Illinois [where he was at college] we had those things. But the only reason we had those things was because the federal government was paying for them, and they were only paying for them at four universities. Our first demo for Netscape showed how you could watch Melrose Place [the hot TV show at the time] in the browser. I actually think mobile is the biggest thing our industry has ever done. Our industry was basically born around 1950 at the end of World War Two [when William Shockley invented the transistor]. And that sixty years was basically a prologue to finally being able to put a computer in everybody’s hands. We’ve never had the ability as an industry to give a computer to five billion people [the number of people with cell phones currently], and that is precisely what is happening right now.

    Is this open to serious analysis? Can we explore the relationship between technological privilige and knowledge of possibilities? I think it’s an interesting question and one that ought to be factored in to analysis of the emerging digital elite.

  • Mark 8:04 pm on January 29, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , digital elites, , ,   

    the messianic zeal of Eric Schmidt 

    A bit later in Battle of the Titans, Fred Vogelstein transcribes a talk he saw Eric Schmidt give at a technology conference. From loc 1904-1918:

    We have a product that allows 82 you to speak to your phone in English and have it come out in the native language of the person you are talking to. To me this is the stuff of science fiction. Imagine a near future where you never forget anything. [Pocket] computers, with your permission, remember everything—where you’ve been, what you did, who you took pictures of. I used to love getting lost, wandering about without knowing where I was. You can’t get lost anymore. You know your position to the foot, and by the way, so do your friends, with your permission. When you travel, you’re never lonely. Your friends travel with you now. There is always someone to speak to or send a picture to. You’re never bored. You’re never out of ideas because all the world’s information is at your fingertips. And this is not just for the elite. Historically, these kinds of technologies have been available only to the elites and not to the common man. If there was a trickle down, it would happen over a generation. This is a vision accessible to every person on the planet. We’re going to be amazed at how smart and capable all those people are who did not have access to our standard of living, our universities, and our culture. When they come, they are going to teach us things. And they are coming. There are about a billion smartphones in the world, and in emerging markets the growth rate is much faster than it is anywhere else. I am very excited about this.

    I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to suggest this vision can and should be analysed using the conceptual resources provided by the Sociology of Religion. In fact Schmidt has apparently used that term himself:

    But what would such a study look like in practice? I don’t think I’m qualified to do it but I’d love to help someone with a background in this area who is interested in this topic. Given the power wielded by devotees of this nascent religion, with only 5 tech companies sitting on $430 billion in cash between them, it seems urgent to better understand how these new elites interpret their own place within the world and orientate themselves to it.

  • Mark 9:40 pm on January 19, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , digital elites, homogeneity, homophily, ,   

    The obsessive homogeneity of digital elites  

    From Peter Thiel’s Less Than Zero loc 1279:

    Max Levchin, my co-founder at PayPal, says that startups should make their early staff as personally similar as possible. Startups have limited resources and small teams. They must work quickly and efficiently in order to survive, and that’s easier to do when everyone shares an understanding of the world. The early PayPal team worked well together because we were all the same kind of nerd. We all loved science fiction: Cryptonomicon was required reading, and we preferred the capitalist Star Wars to the communist Star Trek . Most important, we were all obsessed with creating a digital currency that would be controlled by individuals instead of governments. For the company to work, it didn’t matter what people looked like or which country they came from, but we needed every new hire to be equally obsessed.

    And from loc 1292-loc 1305. To what extent is he saying things in public which other tech leaders only say in private?

    In the most intense kind of organization, members hang out only with other members. They ignore their families and abandon the outside world. In exchange, they experience strong feelings of belonging, and maybe get access to esoteric “truths” denied to ordinary people. We have a word for such organizations: cults. Cultures of total dedication look crazy from the outside, partly because the most notorious cults were homicidal: Jim Jones and Charles Manson did not make good exits. But entrepreneurs should take cultures of extreme dedication seriously. Is a lukewarm attitude to one’s work a sign of mental health? Is a merely professional attitude the only sane approach? 

    The extreme opposite of a cult is a consulting firm like Accenture: not only does it lack a distinctive mission of its own, but individual consultants are regularly dropping in and out of companies to which they have no long-term connection whatsoever. Every company culture can be plotted on a linear spectrum.

    The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed. You’re not going to learn those kinds of secrets from consultants, and you don’t need to worry if your company doesn’t make sense to conventional professionals. Better to be called a cult—or even a mafia.

  • Mark 9:38 pm on January 19, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , digital elites, , , , ,   

    The genesis of the PayPal Mafia 

    Peter Thiel describing how the ‘PayPal Mafia’ came about in his Less Than Zero, loc 1238-1251:

    The first team that I built has become known in Silicon Valley as the “PayPal Mafia” because so many of my former colleagues have gone on to help each other start and invest in successful tech companies. We sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Since then, Elon Musk has founded SpaceX and co-founded Tesla Motors; Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn; Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim together founded YouTube; Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons founded Yelp; David Sacks co-founded Yammer; and I co-founded Palantir. Today all seven of those companies are worth more than $1 billion each. PayPal’s office amenities never got much press, but the team has done extraordinarily well, both together and individually: the culture was strong enough to transcend the original company.


    From the start, I wanted PayPal to be tightly knit instead of transactional. I thought stronger relationships would make us not just happier and better at work but also more successful in our careers even beyond PayPal. So we set out to hire people who would actually enjoy working together. They had to be talented, but even more than that they had to be excited about working specifically with us. That was the start of the PayPal Mafia.

  • Mark 9:01 am on November 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , digital elites, ,   

    “world of warcraft is the new golf” 

    From Untangling The Web, by Aleks Krotoski, pg 53-54:

    Joi Ito is the head of the Media Lab, a powerful thinktank based at MIT, one of the most respected academic institutions in the US. The Media Lab has been one of the most influential research laboratories for developing cutting edge technology. It’s also been in the pole position for describing human behaviour online. Before he took the helm at MIT, Ito was an eagle-eyed investor behind some of the world’s biggest start-ups, including Twitter, photo-sharing site Flickr and music recommendation site Last.fm, and he belongs to a virtual community that’s just as powerful as the Fortune 500 companies, or the Bildeberg Group. Ito and his virtual buddies are in charge of the modern world. 

    Less than a decade ago, he began playing World of Warcraft. Now, WOW may not be many people’s idea of the kind of environment where high-flying CEOs and other business and government movers and shakers get together and broker deals, but this fantasy world –populated by flying monsters, spells and elves –is an important place in the networking landscape for people like Ito and his contemporaries. 

    In his own words, “World of Warcraft is the new golf.” Ito and others –“at least 10 have the letter ‘C’ in their job titles,” reported technology site cNet in 2006 –formed a guild, or a group who spent their downtime working together (in virtual costume) to beat dungeon masters and other bad guys. They gave themselves a suitably conspiracy theory-inspired name, “WeKnow”, and spent their downtime not on the fairway, but in the virtual country Azeroth collecting gold coins, drinking virtual mead, defeating enemies and discussing the relative merits of one virtual sword over another.

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