Don't Be Awful: An update from one of the winners, two years on

By Richard Bottoms , written on September 12, 2017

From The Disruption Desk

Paul Carr asked me to give an update on how things are going nearly three years after I participated in Pando’s Don’t Be Awful 24 hour event.

At the time Pando was not yet behind a paywall and some of the most fiery discussions about Silicon Valley awfulness could be found in their Twitter feed.

When I showed up for my speaking slot during the event I think I surprised a few people, with my still new three piece suit and bald pate; I don’t think I looked like the angry agitator my words made made me out to be. My attitude then as now is you’re damn straight I’m angry, but there’s no one I hate.

Except Nazis.

These days I’m living in Indianapolis, Indiana far away from a working public transportation system, high paying tech jobs (for contractors at least) and away from the startup frenzy that still permeates every aspect of the culture I’d immersed myself in since November, 1996.

Since 2015 the Awful has gotten awful-er, the usual suspects still finding it nigh impossible to hire people of color for full time positions in tech for instance. Someone might believe it has nothing to do with the near universal Libertarian minded leadership at some of the largest tech firms. A schizophrenic mix of donations to the Republican Party from firms that in turn cease to exist if their highly LGBTQ workforce & consumers went back into the closet like that party seems to desire. But that someone wouldn’t be me.

I’m torn between the beautiful technology that Oculus has created with the Rift, and disgusted by their founder Palmer Luckey’s support of the Alt-Right, and by extension Donald Trump. Google has an egalitarian alternative in Cardboard, but they also seem to find it desirable that their think tank money take precedence over academic freedom to criticize the firm.

Women are still stalked, harassed, under paid, and made to feel unwelcome in every strata of the technology firmament. What little funding their startups can glean from angel investors is still tied to their willingness to date the dweebs with the checkbook.

The richest, most powerful men in the world act like horny jocks, vengeful nerds or scary powerful Bond villains who are no more serious with their contrition & apologies than a TV preacher caught with their drawers down in a seedy motel.

Black folks, like me look on as well always have, shake our heads and say, Wypipo.

Sure, there are some women & POC benefiting from an failure to include us in the party that is so glaring, so obvious and so embarrassing that even Blofeld would blush.

I certainly benefitted from winning a bit of cash from the folks at Pando back in 2015 (and thanks for that BTW). I’m only slightly embarrassed now to say I promptly spent it on an Oculus Rift DK2 & GearVR headset because VR was going to be a thing. Even if the people developing the technology were jerks that’s where the future of media is headed IMO. Just like the bet I made on a little known technology called the iPhone in 2007, it didn’t matter if Steve Jobs was not a very nice guy in his personal life that tech was my ticket to a decent living.

The mechanism to fund startups that have no plans to ever be a multi-billion dollar unicorn to this day still doesn’t exist. Starting a firm that will only ever generate a couple million in revenue a year and employ ten or twenty people is still considered failure and not worthy of a dime of investment.

(Try friends and family? My friends are bailiffs at the courthouse, they deliver the mail and some of them even check you out at Wal-Mart. So no high fliers in tech thank you.)

I’m still plugging away.

I still try not to be awful even though my president is a racist con artist, and freaking Nazis are marching in the streets killing people. Though a scary number of white people no longer feel the need to even pretend they think I’m a human being. Equally terrifying some the people made rich by the very technologies I’m aching to use, see a future on Mars as a better option than fixing this planet.

So, what’s the update? My DK2 became a paperweight after Oculus abandoned support for the Mac and my GearVR is in need up updating, just so I can make use of the Samsung S8 I’ll be paying AT&T for, for the next couple of years.

But I haven’t given up hope, the digital wonders I see possible in VR & AR are still only useful to a small segment of the population. But that’s only because the killer app has not yet emerged. The hardware in virtually everyone’s packet is still one or two generations away from the speed & graphic power that will unleash a game or application not yet written.

Like the generation before me, I’ll keep pushing this country to live up to the ideals my father fought for in WWII. He was a captain, an officer who knew that stopping the Nazis was the only way to make his country change. I’m still fighting for that change so my nieces and nephews can be any thing they want to be and to rise as high as their ambition and talent can take them.

Oh, and I hate Silicon Valley Nazis.