Silicon Valley Has A “Problem” Problem Problem
Critics of frivolous ventures and stagnation are dooming the rest of us to have unrealistically high expectations about the future…
In 2016 Riva-Melissa Tez wrote an insightful article: Silicon Valley has a “Problem” Problem, in which she pointedly criticizes Silicon Valley’s cultural flaw of mischaracterizing perks and privileges as problems. Talented entrepreneurs partner with eager venture capitalists to solve the world’s “problems”, which could only ever be considered problems in a comfortable, wealthy, first world bubble. Real problems exist and remain unsolved.
Ms. Tez is not alone in thinking that Silicon Valley is out of touch and mischaracterizing trivial pursuits as consequential. Every time a hot new tech company burns through $17 million to build a $1,000 algorithmically-enhanced tea infusor delivering average-tasting tea, the narrative that Silicon Valley has lost its way keeps growing.
This is a problem.
- The growing animosity towards Silicon Valley elitism is a problem.
- Introspection, self-awareness and a search for meaning within the technology and entrepreneurship ecosystems is a problem.
- The perspective that Silicon Valley has a “problem” problem is a problem.
Critics of frivolous ventures and technological stagnation are dooming the rest of us to have unrealistically high expectations about the future, while potentially robbing us of future frivolous gadgets. This is a big problem.
The reality is that humanity has reached the apex of technology, and the only inventions that are left to create are cool new devices and apps that make luxurious autonomous living slightly more luxurious and autonomous. Solving the problem of how to radically diminish our expectations about humanity’s future is possibly our generation’s greatest challenge.
Silicon Valley, and the greater tech venture capitalist culture that it epitomizes, represents an assembly of engineers and visionaries unprecedented in human history. Never before have the brightest minds been given such advanced technological tools and funded with seemingly limitless cash. If this assembly of great minds and resources consumes $120 million to bring to market a $400 juicer machine that squeezes juice packs slower than humans, then so be it. That is the best that humanity can do, and we need to downgrade our hopes and dreams for the future accordingly.
Others haven’t yet come around to this view. Ross Douthat says we are stuck in an age of decadence, Peter Thiel laments humanity’s 40+ year technological stagnation outside computers and Marc Andreesen decries the current lack of vision, drive and innovation as he announces it’s time to build. But, to someone born in this era of subdued ambition and neat tech gadgets, there is no stagnation, just business as usual.
It seems clear that the only problem is these persistent voices that express a hope or a desire to return to an age of real technological progress to solve real problems. Low productivity, low innovation and endemic problems is humanity’s default mode, and any call-to-action to substantially improve the human condition is a problem. Worse yet, this call to reinvigorate our approach to technology could get in the way of me getting a smartphone that is also, like, a vaping pen.
We are aware of the biggest problems that need solving, from healthcare to education to environment to clean water, but bureaucracy, pessimism and inertia keep getting in the way.
- So where is our collective motivation to solve the big problems NOW?
- Where is the innovation to produce future cities, sustainable living, robust and prosperous societies?
- When will we have a serious conversation about dismantling obstacles to progress?
- Why do we keep getting SushiBots when what we really need are vaccines?
Questions like these are the problem that we need to talk about.
Denigrating frivolous tech as not solving problems is a problem.
Demanding that we get our priorities straight and lay out timetables for ambitious solutions is a problem.
Hoping for a better future is a problem.
Ultimately, the solution to this enormous problem is that we need to band together to collectively downgrade our expectations for anything better and get more excited for a future full of slightly more comfortable perks and privileges.
In any case, I’m really excited for the SushiBot 12 Pro, which rumours say will have a 1200 MP camera, solving the biggest problem with the SushiBot 11 S.
Matt is a writer / animator / creator of Digital Absurdist. Subscribe and follow on YouTube.