A Rant Against Hype
I woke up this morning to discover the following New York Times article:
The conference room in the Mountain View, Calif., headquarters of LinkedIn was packed with the stars of Silicon Valley. Top executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter gathered around a table; the billionaire Sean Parker looked on from a back row. The guest of honor: Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark.
The stated purpose of the gathering was to give Mr. Booker, already a Twitter fanatic, a seminar on social-networking technologies. But hanging in the air was an electrifying sense of being in the presence of an ascendant politician they believed understood the potential of the new digital world they were shaping.
“He’s part of this tide,” said Gina Bianchini, an entrepreneur who was at the meeting, in May 2009. “It feels like he’s one of us.”
Two and a half years later, some of those same Silicon Valley leaders joined forces again on Mr. Booker’s behalf. But this time, their efforts resulted in giving Mr. Booker, until then an admired outsider, the equivalent of full-fledged membership in their elite circle: an Internet start-up of his own.
Mr. Booker personally has obtained money for the start-up, called Waywire, from influential investors, including Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. A year after its debut, Waywire has already endured a round of layoffs and had just 2,207 visitors in June, according to Compete, a Web-tracking service. The company says it is still under development.
To understand the rest of this post, take a moment to read the NYTimes piece in full before continuing.
So what's notable to me about this article?
Longtime Peak Prosperity readers know I worked in Silicon Valley for over a decade prior to partnering up with Chris. I chose to leave that world because I saw it as increasingly irrelevant to the macro trends laid out in the Crash Course that are defining our future. Moreover, I saw the tech industry as increasingly driven by a cozy coterie of self-congratulatory 'celeb-preneurs' talented in creating hype instead of value.
So I took myself out of that game to commit myself to something true, authentic, and (I realize my bias here) much more useful for the world.
The NYTimes article brings back memories, though, of both the way the game is still being played and the people running it.
Let me be clear here that I'm not out to trash or vilify anyone mentioned in the article. They simply choose to play a game that I don't. It's not for me to judge. I'm aware that many of the folks I left behind in Silicon Valley don't understand why I prefer the trajectory I've chosen – and my decision is not for them to judge, either.
OK, with that out of the way. I personally know many of the folks mentioned in the article. The two other founders of Waywire, Sarah Ross and Nathan Richardson? At different times, I worked for each of them, as a direct report. (For one awkward stretch, I actually reported directly to both at the same time).
Gina Bianchini, the entrepreneur quoted at the beginning of the story? She dated my business school roommate. Lots of time spent hanging out with Gina during my MBA days.
I even have a clandestine connection to one of the big-name investors behind the company. Can't reveal who or how (except that it's so clandestine, even they don't know about it).
So, I have a pretty good insight into the players involved in the story here. And given that, I've been following Waywire's product offering and progress since soon after its launch.
While it's been hard at times to understand what exactly Waywire is supposed to be (the article mentions they've had to evolve the model several times), I understand the issue it's trying to address. Video curation is a hairy problem that needs solving. I wish the team there all the best in their efforts to succeed.
But here's where I'll admit to getting frustrated.
The NYTimes article is just one of many in the mass media I've read about Waywire. And it reveals how the game is played in Silicon Valley today. It details the huge advantages that the Technorati have brought together on this company's behalf. A celebrity politician to shine a limelight on its launch and mission. Millions in funding from Tech and Entertainment kingpins. Personal best-practice seminars by dream-teams of IT superstars. Lots of fanfare coverage in mass media.
In the Tech world today, it's becoming less and less about the merits of a company's founding concept. Or the excellence of its product offering. Or the hard-won path it takes, iterating its model based on user feedback. Instead, it's about who you know and how much flash you can generate. And whom you can sell it to before it needs to demonstrate whether the model can actually ever be profitable.
Not every company is successful. Even when backed by the big guys. Waywire has clearly struggled to both define its product offering and find an audience. I don't take any schaudenfreude from that, and I empathize with its team, which is surely working hard to fix things.
But, to indulge in my sour grapes for a moment, the fact that a company like that – with only 2,000 monthly visitors – still gets its story told in major media outlets like the New York Times, really frustrates me.
I say this as the person responsible for working day-by-day to build awareness of the PeakProsperity.com site and its mission (and I admit I have a ridiculously biased viewpoint on this matter). We have to painstakingly earn every word of copy written about our company. Journalists and media outlets need to be identified, courted (it takes a LOT of door knocking to finally get a busy reporter's attention), educated, and inspired about what we do. And it needs to be done in a way that thwarts their natural bias to file us under "survivalist," "doomsayer," or "tin-foil hat" crowd.
PeakProsperity.com has more than 100x the audience that Waywire does. We have a clear mission, strategy, and product offering. We have an amazingly rich and vibrant global community. We receive near-daily accounts from readers about the positive difference the Peak Prosperity experience is making in their lives. The business has run in the black for years.
Yet it's the 'manufactured darlings' pimped by Silicon Valley that the mass media still chooses to write about. Appearance over substance. Celebrity over real life.
Imagine for a moment the wide pools of new audiences we could expose to the PP message and mission if we received the same volume of mention in The New York Times, New York Post, Bloomberg, Politico, DrudgeReport and other large-circulation outlets as Waywire does. And the articles wouldn't have to wave the vague promise of some "yet-to-be-figured-out" solution; PeakProsperity.com's value proposition is well-defined, in place, and immediately accessible. We could explode from serving hundreds of thousands to millions.
So, yes, there's some bitterness and media envy behind this rant. But I realize it's not productive, and so I'm moving on, as Chris and I do every day, to earn our progress the old-fashioned way. I did, though, think you'd enjoy the insider's perspective.
In wrapping up, I chose to locate this post in the Frugal Living Group, because I thought that choice best describes the approach Chris and I are taking with Peak Prosperity. We're not mortgaging the site's future by spending beyond its means, we're not betting its success on some celebrity's brand, we're not diluting our standards by pandering to industry "advisors" promising a short-cut to glory.
We simply do the next thing.
Note: If you're reading this and are not yet a member of Peak Prosperity's Frugal Living Group, please consider joining it now. It's where our frugality-minded community creatively finds ways to get our needs met while using available resources as sparingly as possible. Simply go here and click the "Join Today" button.
As someone who volunteers for the Vancouver chapter of the Transition Network, a global organization, it's incredibly difficult to engage the public about the core issues. I've become an evangelist for the Crash Course and it's stated goals – to face the reality of our future and completely shift our focus to one of resilience and community. Thank you, thank you for all the work that you and Chris Martenson (whom I met last year) are doing to move humanity forward and beyond our current ecocidal paradigm.
LinkedIn P/E is 898.81
Facebook P/E is 174.39
Google P/E is 25.83
Apple P/E is 11.49
Joy Global P/E 7.26 (Joy makes real mining products and employees real craftsmen)
When will LinkedIn pay dividend? Facebook? Probably never. I would rather buy Apple and wait 12 years for the return then 900 years for LinkedIn. The funny thing is P/E's across sectors are all over the map for no reason other than HFT. It is a laughable market. Ponzi Planet.
Open source is making everything free. Real resources are limited and going up in price. Which will win out? Hmm, seems we all need to put food on the table first before looking for that oh so important video we can't live without. The article gave me that sickening feeling (and made me sick) that I had during the dot.com bubble.
Standfast Adam, you made the right choice. We all need to rant, especially when it hits close to home.
Now Max Keiser is a ranter and in second place comes Kunstler. (Hmm. . what is it with the letter K? Coincidence? I think not.)
Just you wait until we marry Quantum computing with Evolutionary algorythms and the internet. The only thing that will stop it is a solar flare . And even that can be circumvented by using light logics.
(or a EMP device or that crazy with the ax)
Great article, you may call it a rant, but I would simply call it a POV (point of view) article. Thanks for sharing your insights.
I agree with many of your sentiments, but see a more dangerous side of this. These people are generally on the statist central planning side of the equation. They are entited to their opinion. However, like our current leftist Elitest-in-Chief, they have a fundamental notion that they are better than everyone else. You know, "the rich are not like you and me" mentality.
My experience teaches me that the rich are exactly like you and me.
They have their good moments, moments of charity and selflessness. However, more often they have their moments of greed, competitiveness and need to stamp out their "competition".
This is exactly the mentality you describe, and it also quite correctly describes the left i.e. Democratic Party in the country right now. We should acknowledge that the right can have moments that they can suppress ideas and competition, but I find the left is more instinctively and pervasively anti-American in that they believe so strongly in central planning and control by the intelligent elites.
It's not clear what percent the Silicon nouveau-riche you write about break down re power-hungry leftists or useful idiots. I just know when they work with statists like Booker and Obama, they are taking the country to a very dangerous place.
The America I believe in is based on fair competition, openess to discourse on ideas, freedom to coexist even in disagreement, encouragement of those who have truly new ideas and are willing to work to realize them. These guys are garden-variety command-and-control statists.
They're going to have to get a lot worse. There is, in my opinion, an intellectual revolution going on in the US right now. Brick by brick its being built. however, we are a long way away from weeding out the enemy technocrats and über elite that control media, politics and most importantly the money.
If/when the currency dies or loses its reserve currency status, and people come to the realization they have nothing to lose, then there will be an opportunity to rid ourselves of these narcissists. Until then, the best medicine to cope is to laugh at them.
Thanks for the insight into the world you used to inhabit. I admit I am out of touch with that reality (and glad to be) but it is very interesting to see your perspective. I can only share your frustration.
Each segment of our culture seems to have it's own story of out reality. Architecture is no exception and since that is the world I have lived in I have my own daily rants about the methods and manner we choose to approach constructing our built environment.
The good news is that for the most part I have been able to stay focused on the types of projects that help create a better future (especially in terms of energy consumption) as you are doing with PP. This is always the positive offset to any daily rant we might get into!
Keep swingin and thanks again!
I saw this on Drudge, it looks like the NY Post picked up on Waywire and it's imminent demise – http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/cory_tech_wreck_BptDE44inVHU75BHIB5NAP
RE: Booker himself. I don't really have a left/right opinion of him other than he will be yet another politician who is turned to "save" humanity. There was a documentary series that Forrest Whittaker did about Newark a few years back (a real puff piece if you will). I watched a few episodes which was centered around Booker & the Authoritarian Police Chief. Both were incessantly meddling with just about everything going on in the city & tirelessly working to set up a top-down style of governence. The Police Chief was the scary type of government trained narcissist who had roots with the NYPD & was hellbent on using survellience & aggression to get people in line.
Their "success" (or so deemed by the MSM) was a direct result of their ties to money from not so distant Wall St. They were able to acccess billions for investment in Newark. Which is not a bad thing, but with interest rates so low for so long its a pretty easy to predict how that will end. But, the only way to make this work was by cleaning up the streets of Newark, mostly by cooking the police books and making it appear the streets were safe. Anyone who has driven thru Newark knows that they are no safer now than they were 10+ years ago. But, it's the propaganda that has been spread that makes it appear things are much better.
My opinion of Booker is that he is a helluva salesman. Yet another politician who has the right connections, but zero know how on what is coming down the pike or how to address fixing things. People & the media love him though and his named will be tossed around for Commander In-Chief.
Like I said before, things are going to have to get much worse before they get better.
From what I have observed, we don't really have a two party political system anymore. We are a system of the "haves" and the "have-nots", the moneyed elite versus the rest of us. Obama has certainly not done what he said he would when running for office. He more closely resembles Bush by extending the power of the executive branch. We're in a state of perpetual war, he defends the NSA spying on Americans, signed the NDAA, and has not closed down Guantanamo. Even worse, by bailing out the insolvent banks, he showed whose side he is on. We no longer live in a democracy, so the two parties can only put on a show of fighting each other. Do you really think it matters who is in power? IMO our system of government is as corrupt as any in the world and will come tumbling down as things unwind along with all the other major institutions of industrial society that no longer work. All of the "isms" that we argue over so passionately end up failing. The constant in all of them is an elite group of human beings that inevitably arises grabbing for power and money to the detriment of the whole. This has happened through the ages no matter what type of government it is. So instead of focusing on ideological differences, we need to focus on the failings of the human component. We are the problem. Even with a complete collapse of industrial civilization, what arises (if there is anyone left), will just be a repeat of what came before. Until we examine ourselves and our behaviors, we just make the same mistakes over and over again. The kind of real change we need to see begins within each one of us. Otherwise, the human species has just been another failed experiment and Nature will press the reset button on us. Either we mature and become wiser or we perish from our own inability to learn from our mistakes. And it's not looking so good right now. The stakes have gotten too high with the danger of nuclear weapons and the negative impact we have had on the biosphere and climate. I have the feeling we are running out of time one way or another. Our days of stumbling along, civilizations rising and falling, may be coming to an end because the consequences are global now. Then again, I might be completely wrong about all of this.
Whew! Well, that's my point of view!