Tired of the Techies
Why we are fatigued by the founders who once fascinated us
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
That’s the script of the television commercial from TBWA Chiat/Day which launched Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign in 1997. It was groundbreaking for its time, romanticizing Silicon Valley’s blatant individualism, putting Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on the same pedestal as Thomas Edison and Mahatma Gandhi. Jobs would pave the way for dozens of “crazy/genius” American leaders to enjoy the same reverence as he did. Think of Bill Gates. Jeff Bezos. Elon Musk. Mark Zuckerberg. They represent the difference between “good” CEOs and maverick CEOs. They like to break rules, don’t always get along with everyone, share an eccentric leadership style and hate to play it safe.
Bezos left his cushy Wall Street job to sell books out of a garage and became a poster child for the riches internet commerce could bring in the 90s. Musk sent a Tesla sports car with a dummy astronaut into orbit as part of his SpaceX stunt, making it the costliest product placement ever. For tech bros everywhere, Zuckerberg is a geek-chic-Adidas-sandals-wearing beacon of success. Gates continues to capture public attention by setting eyes on the next frontier of innovation: toilets.
The world cherishes (and nourishes) these founders, regularly endorsing this type of divergent thinking in B-school classrooms and corporate training programs. Think outside the box! Bigger is better! If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count! Do what nobody else is doing!
But society is showing signs of maverick malaise. How crazy is too crazy? Depending on who you ask, our tech titans’ antics are either genius or nauseatingly obnoxious.
Musk had to step down as chairman and pay a $20 million fine for misleading investors with a tweet about taking Tesla private for $420 a share, which he later explained was a marijuana-related joke to impress his girlfriend and was “worth it.”
On the day of his Cambridge Analytica testimony to Congress, Zuckerberg ditched the irreverent hoodie for a crisp white shirt and a somber expression, reminding everyone that he isn’t a 20-year-old building websites out of his dorm room anymore.
Bezos’ Amazon brought an end to its Hunger Games-style quest for a second headquarters location by choosing Crystal City, Virginia and New York’s Long Island City, putting a strain on that urban neighborhood’s already overworked transit system, crowded schools and rising rents.
Both Alphabet and an investment group tied to Gates are working on “smart cities” in Toronto and Phoenix complete with driverless shuttles, temperature-controlled spaces and moderated foot traffic. Their dreams of a slick, readymade utopia makes Black Mirror look like a documentary series. A Financial Times columnist declared, “Whatever the city gains in smartness, it loses in richness.”
The techies wowed and wooed us for over a decade, but lately they’ve been inspiring more eye rolls than awe. The hippie hobbyists and passionate upstarts of the 70s have become the very conglomerates they set out to challenge. Some of us are tired of innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s the same reason we dread installing new software updates, and why “wellness” is a $4.2 trillion global industry. In a lightning-fast, hyper-connected, ultra-competitive world that seems to push out infinite innovative solutions, bigger isn’t always better and efficiency isn’t always useful. Now all we want is our weekends back and a little bit of mindless knitting on the subway.
If you were looking for a rewrite of Apple’s 1997 commercial, we have one:
Here’s to the sane ones. The peacemakers. The square pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things for what they really are. They’re not opposed to rules. And while some may see them as the boring ones, we see genius. Because the people who are sane enough to recognize that the world is changing at a horrifyingly unsustainable pace, are the ones who first change themselves.
Silicon Valley needs a different manifesto or — dare we say it — a software update.