Episode One Hundred And Forty Six: Not All…; Now Wear This; Uber

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Back in Portland, hiding in my corner in the basement writing this, the first time that I haven’t been looking at what’s been happening in Ferguson. Lots of meetings and phone calls, readjusting to being back in the family home, and nosing around websites having a think about strategy and communication using bits of my brain that I haven’t used in… well, a couple of weeks at least.

1.0 Not All…

I had a conversation in public the other day with Tom Coates where he took me to task for (in his view) lazily lumping together “the Valley” as “all the dudebros doing startups of questionable utility or value, flipping them and generally cargo-culting their way to privileged success” and there were a number of comments of his that gave me pause for thought. For one, there’s the worry that there’s an undifferentiated view of “tech” and that in some respects at least, “the Valley” (or whatever the media deems to be worthy of portrayal as “the Valley”) *is* tech culture, thanks to the geographic uniqueness of the USA and the West Coast’s dominance.(Yes, I know New York and Boston and whatever, but really: no. In the USA, “tech” is the West Coast, money is New York, Film and TV is Hollywood and Chicago is, er, Wind, I guess. Or commodities trading. Whatever. I had a point.)

This is the bit where I get frustrated at the ambiguitiy in language: because when I say “the Valley”, I’m using my own internal shorthand to mean the clique of dudebros who may-or-may-not technically exist but are stereotypically the frat-spouting, “dude, you crushed it”, HR-espousing, misogynistic sort-of platonic ideal of sheer fuckwittery that thinks it’s a good idea to capital-D disrupt the world with, oh, I don’t know, a new laundry service or something that will fucking give you quarters. I mean *those* people.

The dirty secret, of course, is that there’s a bit of *those* people in all of us, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t stick my own hand up and say that there was a bit of that inside me, too. As Coates pointed out to me, we’re all part of the tech ecosystem (well, by “we”, you know who I mean), and what I’m really saying when I say “Jeez, look at those guys in the Valley who don’t understand people lol amirite?” is *man, fuck *those* guys.

The point is: all of tech isn’t just the Valley, and it certainly isn’t just *those guys*. If it were, we might as well go home now and just give up, but tech is about as much high school as any other human endeavour because, well, humans. There’s good people and bad people and in the middle an absolute crap-tonne of people just trying to do a good thing and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing and well, it’s not like they decided one day when they woke up: you know, I’d like to violate as many peoples’ privacy as possible and shit all over their notions as to what it means to share information with each other.

I mean, not *all* of them are like that.

Those guys? Those are the jock guys, the frat dudes (and yes, I know you probably a) know a great frat dude, or b) are a great frat dude, or c) founded a frat or whatever). And there’s every single other clique, too. For every single dumb Valley cargo-culter hanger-on who’s busy trying to eke yet another cent out for ARPU, there’s at least one (and hopefully more) trying to make a goddamn difference.

So if I ever sounded like *fuck all those guys* and was pointing to the entirety of the geographic region that is “the Valley” and by extension everyone in it, no, I didn’t mean *everyone*, I’m holding up a glass and sorry that I didn’t champion the people who’re trying to do good things and the good fight, or the people who, in typical movie henchman fashion, are just trying to put a nice, Whole Foods meal on the table for their family.

There’s Code for America, there’s the organisation who *donate* to Code for America, for every Zynga there’s the designers and coders working at outfits like Frog who’re just trying to make a better, more useable piece of tech for the families stuck in line at Disney, for everyone trying to figure out a new way to insert a #hashtag #brand into one of your timelines, there’s people like Shanley Kane and Quinn Norton who’re just sick of this shit, not taking it any more and actually doing something about it, or there are the people at archive.org who’re just *waiting* for Yahoo! to fuck up out of ineptitude again and commit what’s essentially a crime against humanity by wiping out a shit-tonne of cultural artifacts.

So, my point? My point is that the Valley isn’t just like Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley because he’s skewering a thing, and when you make a thing that you skewer, you take all the best bits, all the bits worth skewering, and you put them in one nice package. It’s why when people look at the Shudder of Recognition[1] archives about made-up women on The Toast, they’re able to say a) I don’t know anyone like that, b) I know people who are just like that, but not all the time, c) have you heard about that one time I knew that one really smart woman who also acted like that, isn’t that weird? I mean, just get a load of the conversation on Metafilter about it[2].

No, Judge’s Valley is poking fun and it hurts because there are bits that people recognise, but that’s obviously not the entire valley and not everyone is like that and not everything is like that because JESUS CHRIST PEOPLE wouldn’t that be completely horrendous?

I’m not sure if I’ve done a 180, but what I do want to point out is this: there is a bunch of shit going on. It’s not tech culture as a whole, but it is a bunch of people who I would hope know better. And there are, indeed, people who *do* know better. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to stop calling the idiots out.

[1] The Shudder of Recognition Archives – The Toast
[2] Hey Ladies! and the Shudder of Recognition – Metafilter

2.0 Now Wear This

Off the back of the news that Apple’s share price has hit an all-time high (presumably Steve Jobs would never have let this happen on his watch) there’s the usual drama about pump-and-dump and analysts inflating Apple stock by issuing guidance that is quite frankly on crack. But anyway.

One of the things to look for are estimates about how many wrist-worn-iWatch-type-things Apple might conceivably sell this year, if they actually end up releasing such a product this year. There’s one particularly bullish estimate from Morgan Stanley from earlier this year where they predict nearly 60 million units at $299 a pop over the first twelve months[1]. Back in 2007, when Apple sold a *phone* which lots of people use, they sold a scant five million-odd units at $absurd a pop. Back in mid-2013, Tim Cooke reckoned that Apple had sold around 6 million units of the $99 Rev 3 Apple TV in the preceding twelve months. The iPod itself, the product that many see as being Apple’s saviour and marking its emergence as a not-just-computer-company, *peaked* at around 55 million units sold in 2008.  In the roughly nine months since Sony’s launch of the PlayStation 4, it’s only achieved around 10 million units.

And I don’t even know *why* I’ll wear an iWatch yet, other than “it’s the new hotness from Apple”.

Every single other product that Apple introduced (in fact, scratch that, that *anyone* introduced and that’s been successful) has had a clear value proposition, even if it’s only been in retrospect. Having a thousand songs in your pocket was a big deal. A usable smart phone was a big deal. An iPad was the computer for the rest of us and signs are that even it might be flagging.

Shifting nearly 60 million units at $299 a pop *on product introduction* feels like it would qualify as the most successful consumer electronics product launch in the entire history of mankind, and I think even Apple would think that’s a stretch. These things take time.

[1] Apple’s iWatch Will Be A $17.5 Billion Business After 12 Months, Says Morgan Stanley – Business Insider
[2] Apple TV sales surpass 13 million, ‘about half’ sold this year – The Verge
[3] iPod Sales – Wikipedia

3.0 Uber

Uber was in the news today for hiring David Plouffe as SVP for Policy and Strategy. Plouffe was Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, so as far as getting someone who knows how to run a political campaign goes, it’s a pretty good pick. If that’s your goal, which it evidently is. Anyway. I’m not here to talk about Plouffe, I’m here to talk about the blog post that Uber used to announce the hiring[1].

Here’s the bit I want to talk about:

“Uber’s simple mission: Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone. In pursuit of that mission over the past four years, Uber has transformed the fabric of 170 cities around the world – creating the safest way to get around cities, generating over 20,000 jobs a month, lowering DUI incidents, accidents and fatalities and improving local economies.”

to which, at 10:30pm, I’m not actually sure I want to talk about, other than just raise these points and then back away from them slowly, with my hands raised. They are:

– the safest way to get around cities? Really? As opposed to what methods?
– 20,000 “jobs” – when, I suppose “jobs” means “zero-hours contract”
– lowering DUI incidents is a good thing, but again, the purported 10% reduction in DUIs that roughly correlates to Uber being available in a city is… what, a peer-reviewed scientific conclusion?

This is where I bring things full circle to the first section of today’s episode: Uber is better, in a lot of ways, than some things. I would like, in a world where my dreams and wishes come true, Uber to co-exist in a city alongside good public transport options. I would like Uber to be honest about exactly what the employment and job prospects are for their drivers, rather than what appears to be whitewashing, and I’d also like for Uber to perhaps not engage in their alleged sabotage campaign against rivals. But those are all wishes, and I know I’m not going to get them, so I kind of have to deal with the universe that I happen to be instantiated in, and it’s this one. That means that this Uber is undoubtedly a better passenger experience, and yeah, it’s a bit more expensive, and whenever I’m in SF or NYC I invariably use Uber, so I freely admit to that. But then I talk to the drivers, and for some it’s great and for some it’s so-so. And I worry, because a lot of the jobs are meat-puppet jobs because the general skill level of the drivers is *people who are legally able to operate a car*. They don’t know the city. They aren’t necessarily invested in doing a good job. It’s just, I don’t know, another burger flipping job at that point.

So no, none of this sits that well. I dislike it when it feels like people are lying to me. And I feel like Uber are lying to me.

[1] A Leader for the Uber Campaign – Uber

I’m annoyed. You should cheer me up by sending notes.