Saturday, November 28, 2020

"A Modest Proposal for Building the Future"

 A bit more on venture culture. I'm reminded of a quote:

"Fundamentally VCs are risk adverse – they want no risk in the deal,
 if we could handle risk we'd be entrepreneurs."
– Victor Westerlind, General Partner at Cleantech VC firm Rockport Capital

From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

I SHOULD HATE The Innovation Delusion. I’ve made a career as a futurist in Silicon Valley, helping big companies think about the business implications and commercial opportunities of emerging technologies. My father-in-law spent his career in the computer industry, my wife helps run her school’s “maker lab,” and my son graduated from, a high school that puts “design thinking” at the center of its curriculum. I have friends and relatives at Google, Apple, IDEO, Facebook, Intel, and Stanford. As Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell put it in their book, we are the class of people fluent in “innovation-speak,” “a language built for telling breathless stories of amazing creativity, incredible opportunity, and existential risk.” It’s “a sales pitch about a future that doesn’t yet exist,” they write. And, they add for good measure, it “is fundamentally dishonest.”

To which I say: Yeah guys, you’re right.

Innovation-speak is not the same thing as innovation or creativity. Indeed, Vinsel and Russell, professors at Virginia Tech and SUNY Polytechnic respectively, have lots of respect for creativity, work, and ingenuity. But they argue that just as technology has the power to shape our lives, language has the power to shape our thoughts, and the Valley has used both with ruthless effect. Innovation-speak allows us to acquire the power of Imperial Rome while insisting on its fundamental innocence. It lets us declare with absolute certainty that disruption is inevitable, unavoidable, and for the long-run benefit of humankind (and, incidentally, our short-term gain). It makes us winningly bashful about all the attention we get, and the influence a few of us have over billions of others. And it helps us sustain a childlike wonder at the trillions of dollars that keep pouring onto our balance sheets, which almost (but not quite) distract us from our mission of Bringing The World Together, or whatever.

Yet all is not well. People keep complaining that we’re invading their privacy, leaking their data, giving their jobs to robots, addicting their children to screens, and letting their elections and democracies be subverted. (We also still haven’t delivered those jet packs and flying cars.) It’s starting to look like innovation-speak … doesn’t really work as a description of the future, and it’s losing its power as a distraction from the present.

Beware geeks bearing gifts, Vinsel and Russell warn. The pursuit of novelty for its own sake doesn’t just fuel income inequality or threaten the environment (though it does contribute to those): it takes resources and attention from what really matters, which is maintenance and repair. These more modest activities are undervalued in just about every way. Despite their invisibility, they are indispensable, and absolutely essential in a crisis. There’s nobility in “keeping daily life going, caring for the people and things that matter most to us, and ensuring that we preserve and sustain the inheritance of our collective pasts,” they write. “It’s the overlooked, undercompensated work that keeps our roads safe, our companies productive, and our lives happy and secure.”....


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