In 20 or 30 years, what will we look back on and say “That was the issue of our time?”
I ask hyper-intelligent people this question from time to time, and the answers are frequently similar: environment, equality, employment, and wage disparity are common.
I believe employment and wage disparity are the critical issues of our time.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly and glaringly than in San Francisco. Rents in the city have skyrocketed and social unrest between the haves and have-nots has reached a boiling point. (Most recently, we saw protesters throwing a rock through the window of one of Google’s luxurious private buses.)
It’s hard for people not to hate technologists when faced with the absolute loathsomeness of three now-infamous industry executives: Peter Shih, Greg Gopman, and Bryan Goldberg.
In three separate blog posts over the past year, these spoiled techbrats have shown the absolute worst qualities of the elite: a lack of empathy and class, combined with horrible entitlement — and the absolute inability to write.
Peter Shih, a startup founder, wrote that San Francisco is a city with a “pathetic excuse for a public transportation system,” where “I pay 80% of my salary to live down the street from crackheads and meth addicts” and which is home to “some of the craziest homeless people I have ever seen in my life.” (His solution: “just hand them a handle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes, it’ll save everyone some trouble.”)
His bile was followed by Gopman’s post which claimed:
The difference [between SF and elsewhere] is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay…
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different…
Not to be outdone, millionaire Goldberg — the most successful of all these executives, having sold the widely-regarded-as-spam site Bleacher Report — wrote a “satirical piece” here on Pando that showed a complete lack of awareness, intelligence, or ability to compose satire. Salon dubbed it “rock bottom” in “tech’s culture war.”
Where to begin?
First, all three of these executives should be thankful they were born in a time when the ability to write code and understand technology was so absurdly rewarded as compared to the other crucial work of the world. Important things like teaching children to be productive citizens, running into burning buildings, protecting citizens from crime, doing CPR on people in cardiac arrest, and going to war and risking having your legs blown off by an IED.
In another age, say one where the ability to use a sword was the most in demand skill, these specimens wouldn’t have had the resolve to make it out of adolescence alive.
Second, if you are lucky enough to be absurdly rewarded as compared to the rest of society, a solid default position is to shut up and enjoy your epic rewards — not to taunt and abuse those less fortunate than yourself.
Third, if you have been delightfully rewarded for building websites — websites!! — as opposed to digging ditches 10 hours a day, six days a week, perhaps you should look at those less fortunate than yourself with compassion and — gasp! — do something to help them?
Fourth, if your ability to write tops out at the Christmas card level, perhaps it would be wise for you to hone your skills before tackling the most sensitive and pressing issues of our time?
As my Tae Kwon Do teacher told me in me in my developing years, when I was prone to speak first and think second, “an empty can makes the most noise.”
These noisy individuals do not represent the technology industry within which I’ve built my career. No, the technologists of true success and merit develop and execute strategies to make society more just, fair and joyful for all.
Bill Gates gave up three or four delightful decades of working on building one of the great technology empires of all time to do things like eradicate malaria, provide clean drinking water and reinvent the condom so people would use them more often.
Mark Cuban dedicates his time to investing in startups that will never return even a small fraction of his wealth, while silently helping wounded soldiers and the poor (the details of which are largely unreported).
Elon Musk risked his entire fortune — and pushed himself personally to the brink — to get us off carbon, and he’s still driving himself at an inhuman pace to “back-up Earth” on another planet. (I’ve encouraged him to pace himself many times, but it’s just not how he is wired.)
Jeff Skoll has produced media — at great loss and risk at times — in order to expand people’s consciousness about important issues. His projects include “Fast Food Nation,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Food Inc,” “Darfur Now,” and his new TV network Pivot, which aims to package up serious issues for millennials.
The list of technologists doing great things for humanity is endless, but the media obsesses over a few pathetic, visionless grandstanders — and I don’t blame them. This level of stupidity and vileness is editorial manna from above. How could journalists not focus in on it?
A society can best be judged by how the most privileged regard and treat the most vulnerable and weak.
I have a challenge for these three individuals: invest in HandUp, a wonderful startup trying to actually help the homeless and distraught individuals in San francisco (and eventually beyond, I’m sure). If you each invest $10,000 in Handup I will match each of you. (Note: I’m already an investor, having invested on the spot during my talk with Rose.)
[Sidenote: Handup is a B (as in “benefit”) corporation similar to stuff like Tom’s Shoes or Ben & Jerry’s, which aims to build a sustainable business by making a platform to help organizations focused on the homeless and poor. It’s “kickstarter for the homeless,” and I say that with pride, not as a joke. Also note: any profit I make from this investment I will also donate to groups which help homeless people.]
It takes only a cursory amount of reading — start with the US Conference of Mayors study on the city’s ~6,000 homeless — to understand that a large percentage of the homeless are suffering from depression, mental illness, substance abuse, and/or the elimination of their jobs.
And keep in mind that the “disruption” that is so lauded in our industry is largely one that removes inefficiencies, frequently defined as a “humans” working in “jobs.”
I’d argue that society’s issues around job loss are largely attributable to the massive change brought on by the technology we are building, and the wealth we are creating for a small subset of society.
This fact is indisputable, and I believe it puts the responsibility for the weakest in our society on us — the technologists and investors — who not by happenstance are benefiting from this change.
On a strictly pragmatic basis, if you’re rich and privileged in our violently changing society, ask yourself if the last couple of bitcoins or homes you own are worth having a brick thrown through the window of bus you’re riding on.
It is completely possible that in the next 10 years, the streets of San Francisco and Manhattan will be filled with riots and protests by disenfranchised individuals — oh wait, that was the last three years.
What is the point of this ever expanding “long boom” if we leave so many behind? What a shallow victory we will have wrought if so many suffer so greatly while we benefit so exorbitantly.
PS – If I get a moment I’ll follow up on this piece by expanding the final two points — or perhaps someone with the ability to write like @paulcarr, @lons, @jasonpontin, @karaswisher, @hblodget, etc. could take on these two concepts:
a) What responsibility does the Tech Industry specifically have to the people it has made redundant?
b) Wouldn’t it be a better world for everyone if we used just a small portion of the massive profits being made to ensure that everyone had a place to live and eat, so our cities weren’t overrun with poverty, hunger and desperation, making American cities like Los Angeles essentially Third World nations?
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando.]