03.28.13

Chronicles of Annoying Geeks

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 4:09 pm by George Smith

A must read from the London Review of Books:

The Google Bus means so many things. It means that the minions of the non-petroleum company most bent on world domination can live in San Francisco but work in Silicon Valley without going through a hair-raising commute by car – I overheard someone note recently that the buses shortened her daily commute to 3.5 hours from 4.5. It means that unlike gigantic employers in other times and places, the corporations of Silicon Valley aren’t much interested in improving public transport, and in fact the many corporations providing private transport are undermining the financial basis for the commuter train. It means that San Francisco, capital of the west from the Gold Rush to some point in the 20th century when Los Angeles overshadowed it, is now a bedroom community for the tech capital of the world at the other end of the peninsula.

There are advantages to being an edge, as California long was, but Silicon Valley has made us the centre. Five of the six most-visited websites in the world are here, in ranked order: Facebook, Google, YouTube (which Google owns), Yahoo! and Wikipedia …

Note, not a word on any of the digital wonders actually transforming life in the area, except by accumulation of wealth. Our tech overlords are not developing the next indoor plumbing or even the polio vaccine.

After 20 years on the net it is a culture I have come to viscerally dislike.

The article makes a good read after news of Yahoo paying 17 million to a teenager for the Summly app. His is a business that employs ten people, for a product that makes news available on smartphones.

Yahoo’s news arm is already terrible, as are those of many web portals.

Compacting crap so it shows nicely as an abstract in even less space on a smartphone screen does not advance anyone although 17 million may have been what the US “market” would pay for it.

Smartphones are not transformative and you can test this by going to where the underclass lives. In Pasadena, where they live, where I live, the effective storefront businesses are Target, cheap eateries and smartphone suppliers. The poor all have smartphones on budget plans. They cannot afford desktop computing or the additional broadband access and their only point of contact with the net on a big screen is institutionally, school or work. Their lives are not transformed by having Android-equipped mobile devices with unlimited music and data. Poverty is not ameliorated by any powers granted through mass possession of mobile phones that take pictures or the ability to socially network.

So what exactly is so great about the culture that pays 17-mil to the dweeb who made Summly? Or any other of the hundreds of valley firms covered daily by TechCrunch?

They make apps — ephemeral stuff — that fit the growing divide, conveniences for the very wealthy, minor diversions for those who have nothing, people who have given up land line telephony.


Proven by the dismal science, inequality in the US is not driven by a skills gap.

The alleged innate genius of Stanford dweebs and the tech valley’s trillion dollar value is not now changing our world for the better. They do not address the big problems of the time any more than a shale oil mining boom in the Dakotas does.

It’s easy to go on and on with big examples, not all in the Silicon Valley, but of the culture.

Malaria has not yielded to Bill Gates or Silicon Valley venture capitalists bankrolling synthetic biology firms.

Also Consider Elon Musk, who made his fortune with PayPal, now ubiquitous.

What if you have nothing or the US economy pays so poorly that your line of labor is either nonexistent or not viable without foodstamps and the earned income tax credit? Then of what use is PayPal? There is still a Western Union send-cash station at both supermarkets near me.

Now Musk is haled for new businesses, making an electric car of indeterminate quality for the very top slice of US auto-drivers. And SpaceX, a business that of course will rely on taxpayer-funded contracts for NASA resupply.

Is near space being exploited to the benefit for a majority of Americans? Well, it was.

The infrastructure for global telecommunications and navigation were paid for by the US taxpayer but Elon Musk and SpaceX add nothing to this, they just exploit it for the very top, relatively minor vestigial interests. The US military which has a very big and clandestine space program, also funded by the taxpayer, doesn’t give a fig about SpaceX. It doesn’t need it.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon may have used his vast wealth from digital Wal-martization and sweat-shopping to recover pieces of the Saturn V boosters but all that was paid for by the US middle class and made by Wernher von Braun and his colleagues decades ago.

What does Jeff Bezos bring to it? It’s obvious part of the idea is as a publicity stunt, a tech billionaire’s personal spectacle and vanity thing.

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