Late to the party yet again, I finally watched the first two episodes of the new Mike Judge–helmed comedy series, Silicon Valley. If you haven’t yet traded for someone’s HBO Go credentials, you can watch the first episode, temporarily, of course, on YouTube.
The series traffics in some of the most well-worn stereotypes of software engineers and Internet entrepreneurs that are familiar to even the most casual observers of the tech-business world. The series centers on three budding software engineers living in an incubator started by a veteran of the Valley. Played by T.J. Miller, Erlich cashed in on his start-up years ago. Housing these engineers is his way of giving back, but not without taking a ten-percent stake in any product they develop while in residence.
The first two episodes of the series portray some of the more ludicrous aspects of Silicon Valley. As I watched it, I kept thinking of Evgeny Morozov’s latest book, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. Morozov argues that the titans of tech are guilty of two hubristic sins. Solutionism is the relentless need to solve problems, including those than might not even need solving, and to strive for perfection. The second, Internet Centrism, is the fervent belief that the Internet and digital technologies are the tools to solve every problem. As I am yet to finish the book, it appears that these two function as rhetorical justifications for creating new digital industries that enrich those developing these solutions. In short, it’s about getting paid.
What came first: technology or bullshit?
— Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) April 2, 2014
We see the vapid speeches given at a TED Talk where audiences listen in awe of rhetorically flashy speeches on changing the world without much substance. We see an anti-intellectual venture capitalist who, like Peter Thiel, advocates that young people take $100,000 of his money to drop out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas. We learn that an algorithm, properly deployed, can do something as mundane as search through a compressed data stream or something as important as curing cancer, the ultimate human miracle. We also see how spiritual advisors coddle super-rich CEOs are hell-bent on disrupting everything and are out to change the world, provided they make a ton of money doing so. Real money, too, not Bitcoin.
Read the book and watch the series for two contemporary and poignant critiques of an industry that is inflated in just about every sense of the word.
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- Evegeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, New York: Public Affairs, 2013, 129. ↩