tech industry woes part 4: the tech industry, which isn't real, will consume the whole world if we let it

this is my penultimate thought from the on being anil dash interview.

anil is a big advocate for retiring the term “tech industry.” at one point during the interview, he made a pretty compelling argument about how “technology” is really just new stuff, but only for a short time.

for example, when industrialized agriculture was new, those farmers were likely considered technologists. extrapolating from there, i can think back to when fire as a tool in trains was considered “high tech.” as was using water as a driver of machinery. hell, at some point even wind power itself was considered high tech, before it went out of style due to fire, fossil fuel, and water (though now wind is back in high tech).

on another related note, calling something a part of the technology industry only makes sense when referring to things created after you were born. if you grew up with something, you just consider it a part of life.

this thought had a big impact on anil and it’s having a similar effect on me. his thought (in full langauge below) about the ethics of figuring out what impact the temporarily new thing you’re working on is going to have on the world before it just is considered part of how things work is a great framing. if i think about the world i want my kids to inhabit, what do i want to build that they will grow up with? how does that change what i spend my time and energy on? i wonder if silicon valley would act differently if they thought this way?

but i digress… my interest in anil’s point here is that he believes “the tech industry” is no longer a useful term. is definitely was useful, but that usefulness ended when silicon valley stopped being about silicon.

what we need to do is call these companies what they are (livery services - uber and lyft, food prep services - blue apron, farm companies - freight farms) so that they can be regulated in ways that make sense. tech companies, for various racist, sexist, and patriarchal reasons, are able to avoid all sorts of things that other companies can’t. so let’s put them back in their boxes before they consume the entire world in search of profits and kill us all.

relevant quote from the transcript

MR. DASH: I describe myself as being in the technology industry, but technology always means “things invented after you were born,” basically. And so there was a time when the technology industry was the wheel. And there was the time when the technology industry was fire. And its every iteration along the way has been — the first people to do agriculture were the technologists of their time.

So I’m just saying that context of “this is only temporarily new” has been really, really helpful for me. And I think — and I guess it’s especially true, again, since becoming a parent, but just in general — like, marveling at the briefness of the time we have. And I think, how lucky to be at this genesis moment for something actually new. How rare to be at a time when things changed, even with all of the negatives that come, and all of the hard problems that come.

MS. TIPPETT: And all of the risk that always is there when change comes.

MR. DASH: Yeah. And of course, I know how fortunate I am to be on the right side of those changes. I think — my parents are from one of the poorest and most remote parts of India. My dad’s village today — a family of four around that area lives on between 600 and 800 dollars a year. And I think the quality of life improvement from my father growing up as a British subject with no vaccines and no clean running water to my son living in Manhattan is perhaps the greatest single generation leap in quality of life in the history of humanity.

And so that weighs on me a lot. To be bookended by these two incredible people, like, my parents on one end and my son on the other, it feels like a grave responsibility. To get to be the conduit between the greatness of what my parents have done and the greatness of what my son will do, I think is the thing I think about every day. So it’s — well, I have these tools, and they’re novel now, and they will be boring very soon. And so, en route to them being boring, how can I be sure that they are just?

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