There is no beginning or end. So all stories that are told with a beginning are distortions of what has happened. —Bernie Roth
When I was considering new names for this magazine, one of my hesitations with Endless was it’s association with materialist consumption as much as human capacity and there’s a tension there that I want to explore.
The digital economy is breaking things because most people running digital companies aren’t aware of the operating system that’s beneath what they’re doing. There’s a good old fashion venture capital driven operating system. It goes back to central currency and corporatism and chartered monopolies and really the way our economy works, which has worked for a good 400 or 500 years and promoted everything from the British East India Trading Company right through to Walmart and General Electric. But when you take that and juice it up with digital steroids, weird things start to happen.
I seem to be running into douglas rushkoff’s works everywhere this week. Populist as his views are, I can’t imagine he’s a very popular in Silicon Valley. Here he argues that technology is built atop an operating system that is extractive, anti-competitive and so inherently flawed. You won’t find me arguing against a contemporary academic who places British Colonialism alongside Capitalism. Well, at least the digital tether is kinder than indentured servitude.
One might have predicted the financial crisis would produce cynicism about the behavior of corporations and the power of the wealthy, and in some ways it did — there was Occupy, and the tea party, and Wall Street regulation, for starters. (And, yes, a socialist is actually running for president.)
But much more interesting was the way the opposite happened, too — the rise of a new faith in the transformative power of capitalism, especially among start-ups and in Greater Silicon Valley, where, in the aftermath of an economic disaster, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs often seemed the most optimistic people in the country.
Rushkoff seems to have a soft spot for companies like Etsy which he believes upend the inequities of centralized valuation in favor of peer to peer distribution. Amy Larocca does a deep dive in the quizzical structure and style of Etsy from their inception to the reincarnation as a Beneficial Corporation reminding us just how far we are from post-capitalism.
Basic income brahmins, noun, ˈbā-sik in-kəm bra-mən:
You might be a brahmin if you struck it rich in an IPO. You want others to taste freedom, while conceding your freedom is a bit freer, and hope that other emerging investors follow you into the cause.
You’re a startup founder who, at a tech conference VIP dinner, openly doubts the point of said startup, since software will eat software, and even coders will be out of a job.
You’re a venture capitalist who wants people to embrace automation instead of fear it. It’s not a problem that hardly any American politician will touch the topic, since incumbents usually revile the best startup ideas.
You’re on an Ivy League fellowship, penning a book about basic income, sitting onstage at a tech conference, reminiscing about your early days as a welfare eligibility worker, saying you got so sick of being a young privileged kid telling poor people how to live their lives.
Lauren Smiley’s piece on Silicon Valley’s Basic Income Bromance, ties in well with Rushkoff’s critiques on the -100x lack of real jobs that technology creates (see Kodak v Instagram) versus 100x investment returns. In asking if Basic Income will become a moral imperative, it might be useful to check in on whether Fair Income is as yet a moral imperative in Silicon Valley. I think Rushkoff would say that neither Fair Income or Basic Income compile with our capitalist OS but Basic Income is still worth imagining even in a land of vanity libertarianism.
He reached down to his right wrist with his left hand and pressed the little button. He felt the familiar sensation, like a skipped heartbeat or a double breath, that lasted no time at all. And then it was two seconds later, and he was still standing next to a beautiful rocket in a ring of people, who were all staring at him. Everybody clapped. Laurence noticed they were all wearing things on their wrists too, like this was a trend. Or a badge.
After that, they treated him like one of them. He had conquered a small piece of time, and they were conquering a small piece of space. They understood, as he did, that this was a down payment. One day, they would own a much bigger share of the cosmos, or their descendants would. You celebrated the small victories, and you dreamed of the big ones to come.
I’m reading Charlie Jane Anders much anticipated All the Birds in the Sky about the friendship between a witch and a engineering genius, set in San Francisco’s hipster enclaves. As the world falls apart around them, the two realize just how important their gifts are for the future, dystonic or not. I’m half way through but thoroughly enjoying the matter-of-fact mysticisms and technologisms. You can sample the first four chapters on Tor.
…That’s this week’s collection, which also imply the aesthetic direction of Endless, when we eventually relaunch on Medium. I’d love to hear what you think about combining speculative fiction with creative nonfiction with philosophy or if you have any essays or thoughts you just want to share.