Too Close for Words

Lately there have been a spate of big-time novels by big-time authors attempting to “capture the spirit of the age” as reflected in the world of high-tech. Two of the more prominent examples are Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” and Eggers’ “The Circle”.

Then there are the famous anti-tech crusaders raising their concerns.

And the movies, like The Social Network and The Internship.

High Tech is of course ripe for satire. There is no shortage of incredibly ridiculous stuff you can say about companies like Facebook and Google and Apple and Twitter and even more about all the start-ups that wish-they-could like the famous Little Engine, from the outlandish recruiting offers to the cornucopias of free food to the Teslas in the parking lot to the beer bashes and brogrammers and the edifice complexes.

Even so, these outsiders often just don’t get it.

To me it’s a bit like shooting ducks in a barrel. Maybe it’s not like that for people who have no clue about what goes on in these places, but after nearly twenty years of working for such companies in Silicon Valley it’s a big yawn fest.

It’s the glamor industry of the day. Once upon a time it was airlines, and before that the auto industry. These were taken for the big metaphors of their era, with their executives and their union bosses and their secretaries and stewardesses filling the slots now held by CEOs and coders and marketing shills.

It’s all so much more sinister today, with Big Data and the NSA and “privacy concerns” so much in the headlines that we can now conflate Industry with Fascism that much more easily. You can put together The Jungle and 1984 like never before and sound the alarm with prescience and become a prophet in the literary circles quite easily. It’s tradition!

But as Lily Tomlin wisely said, “it’s easy to be cynical, but it’s hard to keep up”. To all those out there attempting to capture the spirit of the age, watch out! It’s an elusive bird. Shit changes pretty quick these days. Too quick. MySpace came and went in a flash so fast that even jokes about it meet with a blank stare. My What?

Big Data as stored by the NSA in its massive warehouses is today’s version of the collaborator next door, that’s right, your neighbor who can turn you in any day for any one of a number of behaviors they may disapprove of. Who should you fear more? The anonymous bureaucrats who move at the behest of deep slow currents, or the person you just said hello to yesterday?

By all means, be afraid, be very afraid, and especially be afraid of things you don’t know firsthand and do not understand, like the spoiled brats who work in high tech and their greedy grasping bosses who after all are no different whatsoever than the men who build the auto and airline industries in the old days, They want to sell you stuff. That’s basically what it all comes down to. Privacy is the thing that keeps them from knowing how best to sell stuff to you, to you as an individual with your likes and dislikes, the places you go and the things you specifically want. That’s the big data they want.

It all makes for a good story I guess, a story that sells, and when you come down to it, these writers and movie makers all want the same thing as the big companies they’re alarming you about – they want to sell you their stuff.

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