We tend to use the word tech as if there was only one tech, but there’s more than one.
1. These days when people say tech they usually mean the money. So the VCs are the godfathers of tech. The gatekeepers. The bloggers. When so many tech bloggers become VCs that tells you something.
2. But tech also means the product. I’m a developer. I want to know which products are interesting from a feature standpoint. I look at tech the way a movie guy looks at movies. I want new ideas. And I want my peers to study the new things I come up with. We actually used to do this at one point, sort of. Reviewing products never got that great. Nowadays what passes for tech commentary amounts to whether your icons are flat or skeumorphic. Honestly, there’s a lot more to it than that. #understatement
3. And there’s hippie tech, where tech is about freedom of expression and connecting people with others. Not as a business model but as people. Where the value of a person isn’t how much you can get an advertiser to pay to reach them, but in the intrinsic value of a person with a mind, a heart, spririt, relationships with other people, a lifespan, a philosophy, feelings, ideas. I’m a hippie tech guy too. I really believe in the power of the technology to connect people. I think we’re worth it. Maybe I’m foolish. It wouldn’t surprise me. 😉
- Most of the great mottos come from hippie tech.
- I know the rent is in arrears, the dog has not been fed in years, it’s even worse than it appears!
- And don’t even get me started on Big Lebowski. 😉
4. There’s spy tech, as we learned about last week from Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Those guys, all of them, not just the whistleblowers, are a lot like us. They are us, in different circumstances. Most of my classmates graduating with Computer Science degrees in 1978 went to work for the government or quasi-government companies. My education was paid for mostly by the military. These were people I loved to talk geek with. I even know some of them because you cross paths with them in the entrepreneurial tech scene of #1, #2 and #3. (BTW, I have been part of the system of #1, long ago, before it became so concentrated on users as eyeballs and couch potatoes.) I sold software to spy tech in the 80s. Outliners and presentation software. They loved the stuff. Really.
I wouldn’t mind investing in new tech, but almost everyone seems to think it’s about tricking people to give something up you can sell to someone who’s pretty sleazy. And we’ve seen where that leads us. Some asshole in government realizes there’s all this great spy data in the tech companies, and gets a judge to make them turn it over. So now the VCs are selling us out to the bad guys in government too. You don’t have to be much of a student of history to know where this leads.
So I’d never want to invest in a technology that views its users as chumps. I want to make stuff that celebrates the intellect and humanity of my users. Otherwise, I’d rather do something peaceful with small impact, like reading books and writing poetry.
I was talking with a friend the other day, he owns a tech startup, and is fairly wealthy from an earlier success. I said, regarding the mess that’s been exposed around the NSA, “If we don’t do something, who will?” What I meant is relative to most people we have a lot of freedom, and we also know our way around tech. He asked what would we do. On the way out of the restaurant I said we should create only products that were irrevocably open. He doubted it was possible. “Oh it’s possible,” I said.
My new product Fargo is most definitely irrevocably open. I don’t have to give the users access to their data. It’s sitting in a folder on their hard drive, in a documented XML-based file format. There is proven interop. So I can’t take it back, once the files are out there, the users can leave any time they want. We don’t even have copies of the files (although Dropbox does).
No this isn’t a solution to all the problems, but it’s a start. If a VC wanted to take us somewhere worth going they would insist that all their investments do this. But of course they won’t because the only way they make money is by exercising that control. If the users of Tumblr had a say whether Yahoo would be hosting their blogs, well, they wouldn’t have gotten so much money for it. It’s the lock-in that creates the value. For the product designer in me (#2) this is kind of a no-op, but for the hippie it’s No Sale Buddy. I could never take their money, and they would never offer it, as long as I had to deal with users this way. Because it would depend on my users being dumb, and as I said earlier, my users are anything but. They’re the smartest people on the planet and I want to keep it that way. And I think anyone who makes software for dumb people in the end gets what they deserve. 🙂