4 Reasons Tech Titans Went From Gods To Garbage
Ah, to return to the simpler times when we first fell in love with our Big Tech Boys. That time in the early 2010s when Elon Musk made headlines as "the real-life Iron Man," Jeff Bezos as "the next Steve Jobs" and Mark Zuckerberg as "the only true unicorn." They were worshipped for their genius, their innovative, convenience-enabling ideas, and aloof nerd-cool. So what happened that made them so widely despised in such a short time? What made us lose faith in the peerless disruptors who promised that a better tomorrow was only a few more apps away? Well ...
We Got To Know Them As People
The innovative thing about our tech moguls' dickflappery isn't that they've become hated, it's that they're hated in their own time. Tycoons have always been in general massive turds of people. Henry Ford was a fascist and an anti-Semite, Thomas Edison was a lying thief and an anti-Semite and Andrew Carnegie drowned an entire town trying to cut down the commute to his country club.
But that wasn't how they were regarded in their own day, when the Myth far outshone the Man. It's usually only after a good half-century, two dozen unlicensed biographies and a reopened mineshaft filled with the bones of orphan workers that the general populace becomes aware just how gross Great Men really were. And for a good while our tech tycoons were heading down that same path. The 2010s were still rife with mainstream movies about the complicated genius of men like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs -- the last magnate who died before we stopped pretending the farts from his unwashed posterior smelled like roses. But billionaire tech playboys lead a very public life. They regularly connect with their customer base/fans through social media, interviews and, recently, Congressional hearings. They wanted us to get to know them.
And now we do. We know that Dara Khosrowshahi openly admits to not caring about Uber's horrific rape problem (it's extremely bad) by basically saying 'we live in a society' when asked. Or that Jack Dorsey is slowly and openly transforming into the David Koresh of social media minus the charm, principles, or natural leadership qualities. Or that business genius Jeff Bezos is too dumb to understand that he's the villain in his favorite TV show. Or that Elon Musk -- actually, we don't have the time to discuss the Supreme God-Emperor of space bros right now. He gets his own little chapter later. But there's always time to talk about how unappealing Mark Zuckerberg is, who every time he tries to appear relatable in front of a camera looks like an intergalactic sentient mantis wondering why that grub is asking him to explain how Facebook profited from Russian election meddling.
The Social Network may not have meant to be flattering in 2010, but a decade later we've all realized that the Zuck riffing like a West Wing character and being played by everyone's first-year college boyfriend Jesse Eisenberg still made him a million percent more personable than the county fair wax model awakened with the soul of a graphing calculator that we know him as. Can you even imagine anyone today thinking it'd be a box office hit to release a serious rags-to-riches movie about a tech mogul like Mark Zuckerberg? You couldn't find a decent actor to play him -- and not just because Disney destroys all of their faulty animatronic Woodrow Wilsons.
They Transformed From Scrappy Underdogs Into Greedy Oligarchs
Then again, who cares if tech icons are all a bunch of power-tripping dweebs who couldn't hold a normal conversation if their AI-powered body pillow's life depended on it? The reason men like Musk and Bezos are worshipped by people who use Twitter like it's LinkedIn is because they're successful disruptors. They're the underdogs, the innovators, the vanquishers of the old Gordon Gekko approach to self-centered capitalism. Thanks to them we have returned to the power of the marketplace of ideas, where you can change the world with nothing more than a dream, a garage office and a substantial loan from your dad.
This is why thousands of STEM Steves and one to two STEM Stacies head down to Silicon Valley every year like it's the Gold Rush but, instead of gold, they mine your data for shopping preferences. These hopefuls are lured in with mantras like "Move fast and break things." Or: "If things are not failing, you're not innovating." Or: "Work hard. Have fun. Change history," thinking they too can become the next Zuckerberg, Musk, or Bezos respectively. But while those men became icons armed with nothing but a few lines of code and a good pitch, they're also the reason why those days are long gone.
Today, Silicon Valley has been turned from a temple to meritocracy to a pyramid project pre-Moses. While tech innovators may have traded suits for socks and sandals and turned bleak cubicles into graffiti-covered break rooms with ping-pong tables, the end result remained the same. Several investigative reports have pointed out that, while mega-corporations like Google and Apple still tout their old soundbites of rewarding risk-taking and thinking out of the box, they cultivate a suffocating subordinate culture with the kind of orthodoxy that makes Medieval crusaders look like pretty open-minded guys. No wonder that Silicon Valley is sometimes referred to as "feudalism but with better marketing," where a disgustingly rich upper-class of first-come executives control their lowly, semi-homeless software serfs with a carpal-tunnel-riddled iron fist.
And you better believe that your Very Online overlords also had no qualms about pulling up the drawbridge behind them. In today's tech oligarchy, no matter how disruptive you think that your app connecting people with bus drivers is going to be (it's called BuzzStop, if any investors are interested), you're never going to be one of the Silicon Valley 1%. Best case scenario, you're going to be gobbled up by your childhood heroes for what they consider spare change and made into a tiny cog inside their soulless dream machine. Zuckerberg did it with Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Apple's Tim Cook did it with Beats, Shazam, and Texture. Bezos did it with Audible, Twitch, and Whole Foods. And ComiXology. And Zappos. And Ring. They've become the Nestle-Monsantos of the tech world, but instead of squeezing the rainforest for a few gallons of palm oil, they'll milk every single start-up for their original ideas.
That is, if you're lucky to get squeezed out of your own company by a bear hug. The kings and, well, more kings of the Valley might just go Medieval on your ass for posing a slight threat to their margins. One of the most iconic cases of anti-free market practices has to be the time that Jeff Bezos filled his diaper over having to compete with Diapers.com, the premier online destination for all your nappy needs. When he couldn't outright buy them, instead of competing in the marketplace of innovation he just threw his vast wealth at the problem another way -- intentionally selling his own diapers at a loss. He was willing to sink $100 million into dollar-grade doo doo cloth to get Diapers.com to cry uncle. Bezos then bought them, gutted them, and eventually shut down the company for "lack of profitability." Way to disrupt scorched earth politics there, Jeff.
Their Vision Of The Future Turned Out To Be Garbage
Again, nowhere in the Big Dick Energy Book of Great Men does it say that a tech tycoon has to be fun at parties, or even less of a greedy goblin than a slumlord starting a GoFundMe to cover the cost of evicting Covid tenants. All they ever had to do was deliver on that Jetsons cloudscraper, spaceship-in-a-briefcase, Rosie sexbot future we've been promised since the sixties. But they couldn't even manage that. So instead of plunging us into a cool high-tech sci-fi dystopia like Cyberpunk, they slapped together one that's rushed, underwhelming, and weirdly prejudiced. Like Cyberpunk 2077.
Seven hundred tech magazine covers of the same pasty nerd staring straight into the camera don't lie: promises were made about how these tech titans were going to revolutionize the way we all lived. Facebook and Instagram were going to make the world more open and connected and cut out most of the legwork for nosy moms. Twitter was going to be a truly democratic "information network" that gave a voice to the voiceless -- their executives using a lot more than 140 characters when congratulating themselves for contributing to several people's revolutions in the 2010s.
Meanwhile, digital service platforms like Amazon, Spotify, and Uber simply promised to make life easier, cheaper, and more comfortable. With just one click of a button, anything you want would instantly arrive at your feet like you just figured out how to open a black hole leading to a pocket dimension of pure consumerism. And, of course, let's not forget that we're only minutes away from catching a ride in an AI car or maglev hypertrain to a spaceship headed for Mars thanks to the singular vision of Elon Musk.
Speaking of monorail salesmen: that all turned out to be a crock -- and I'm not just talking about the outdated choo-choo trains Virgin is trying to wheedle the American public into buying. Instead of sharing good times and neighborly advice, Facebook turned out to be only interested in exploiting "a vulnerability in human psychology" so that we keep doomscrolling through Russian propaganda advertisements. Meanwhile, Twitter's truth to power ideals quickly melted in favor of folding to the cult of alt-right celebrity for clicks.
And service platforms? Between the manipulative pricing and (S)seamless nickel and diming they offer anything but easy access to trustworthy consumerism. They did manage to make life cheap though -- specifically, the lives of their workers. Their inhumane treatment of their employees, freelancers, and artists is downright Victorian -- for example, Amazon and Alibaba workers get gleefully crunched so bad they have to piss standing at their stations, and "independent contractor" drivers get abandoned by Uber quicker than a jockey at a rollercoaster park with height restrictions.
The double-edged sword of Big Tech has taken as much from us as it has given. Instead of a future of jetpacks and AI servants, we just got apps that sell our kids' school routes to third parties or make it 0.5 seconds faster to access a vending machine. No wonder so many people are turning their backs on the cult of computer dudes. Not that that matters much at this point, because ...
Tech Moguldom Is Only Going To Get Weirder
According to genre theorist Thomas Schatz, there are four stages to modern storytelling. The first is the experimental stage, where it's still trying to figure out how it works (Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion). The second is the classical stage, where the genre has found its footing and becomes popular with mainstream audiences (Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail). Then comes the refinement stage when a more savvy audience causes a critical and skeptical look back at what's really going on under the hood (Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family). Finally, we enter the parodic stage, where there's nothing left to but take all the obvious tricks and tropes and turn them into one big joke (Tyler Perry's Boo 2! A Madea Halloween).
And, boy, after the tech trailblazers and classical gods like Jobs and Gates, now that we have squinted and seen what kind of empty flip-flops the Zuckerbergs and Dorseys and Elizabeth Holmeses are, it sure seems like the Great Man in Tech narrative is headed for that parodic stage. The first signs are already here. Poisoned by a decade's worth of social media's scaremongering and the broken promises of greedy entrepreneurs, jackass tech conspiracies are popping out of the ground quicker than imaginary children escaping Hillary Clinton's underground pizza dungeon.
Examples of this nonsense? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to use Microsoft money to cull the population with vaccines. A Wayfair algorithm fail gets interpreted as a secret child smuggling ring for perverted magnates. 5G chips have mind control capabilities and are being spread through guitar pedals? With no public trust left in the leaders of its industry, people are once again letting their technophobia get weird.
And with that, we've finally arrived at Elon Musk. Musk might just be the first of this new breed, the self-aware parody of the Big Tech billionaires. He embodies all of the desired virtues of a tech mogul but in the most subversive, troll-like way possible. His Twitter feed and dank meme game make him popular and relatable -- to the kind of space marine worshipping, Julian Assange cosplaying, "temper tantrum over dipping sauce" turdlings that festoon the internet. And at least his cybertrucks and hypertunnels and personal flamethrowers tantalize with the promise of futurism -- though not by being cutting edge as much as just being edgy.
Like a Donald Trump who can program the clock on a DVD player without having a mini-stroke, Musk uses this cartoonish trolling to mask his real, consequential trolling. He installs family members in board seats as a nepotistic power grab but it's hilarious because his brother is a vegan cowboy. He barely donates 0.05% of his net worth to actual charities in favor of flashy interventions for zeitgeisty crises (and when those fail he deflects attention by calling someone who's actually making a difference a "pedo"). He busts unions, endangers employees, mooches off taxpayers and (allegedly) steals other people's ideas just like every other megalomaniac tycoon in history. But he's the first one where it's all a big joke, because he's getting into legal entanglements over a farting unicorn.
While the age of Big Tech Hero Worship may be over, that doesn't mean we're not in for a ghoulish display of its vampiric corpse (no, not you, Peter Thiel) dancing on the ashes -- and who more deserves the crown than the guy who named his only child like he's Prince in a contract dispute? Sadly, the end of Silicon Valley fandom will likely not make things any better. What were we expecting, that all these sociopaths who are now universally hated but only after they managed to consolidate World-Emperor amounts of power would suddenly start turning things around? Best to just strap in, trade all our money for Dogecoins and figure out the next way to troll the stock market on Reddit, because with these moguls at the helm we're about to enter the "so dark it's funny" part of late-stage capitalism.
He might get banned quicker than the Nazis, but for now you can still find Cedric on Twitter.
Top Image: (clockwise from left) Steve Jurveston, Steve Jurvetson, Simon & Schuster, Anthony Quintano