Adam Fisher:


084 – Silicon Valley: from “a Bicycle for the Mind” to “Opiate for the Masses” with Adam Fisher

Adam Fisher:


084 – Silicon Valley: from “a Bicycle for the Mind” to “Opiate for the Masses” with Adam Fisher

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In this episode, we are joined by writer and speaker, Adam Fisher, to discuss his latest book, Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom). Adam has previously worked as a freelance journalist for a variety of prestigious publications and as Features Editor of New York Magazine and Wired Magazine.

  • The Silicon Valley of today, and why Adam believes the industry is now a game between the old and the young
  • The origins of gaming, and the declining role played by women over the course of its evolution
  • The counterculture of Silicon Valley, and why today’s social media obsessed society has corrupted the science of computing

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • Nerd culture: how today’s popular culture has been taken over by the less popular
  • Morality: how a social media obsessed world is failing humanity
  • Doing: why the future of computing innovation relies on doing and not talking

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Summary

In this episode, we are joined by writer and speaker, Adam Fisher, to discuss his latest book, Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom). Adam has previously worked as a freelance journalist for a variety of prestigious publications and as Features Editor of New York Magazine and Wired Magazine.

Adam Fisher

Adam Fisher grew up in Silicon Valley playing Atari, programming computers, and reading science fiction. He still lives in the Bay Area but now spends his time thinking about the future, tracing it’s origins, and writing about it – for Wired, MIT Technology Review, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom) is his first book.

What Was Covered

  • The Silicon Valley of today, and why Adam believes the industry is now a game between the old and the young
  • The origins of gaming, and the declining role played by women over the course of its evolution
  • The counterculture of Silicon Valley, and why today’s social media obsessed society has corrupted the science of computing

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • Nerd culture: how today’s popular culture has been taken over by the less popular
  • Morality: how a social media obsessed world is failing humanity
  • Doing: why the future of computing innovation relies on doing and not talking

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

So, Adam, your book, Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley, it’s got a very unique format. It’s essentially an oral history and I’m curious, why did you choose that format?

Well, Mark, as you know journalism is in crisis or at least the mainstream media. The kind of media system which I grew up in was essentially a guild system. I worked for magazines but you had to…you know, you started by serving coffee to your betters and if you were lucky and good you got taken into the guild and eventually shoved out the other side as a writer and that’s what happened to me, but that’s collapsed and I think what the internet has taught us is that we’ve got universal literacy and everybody has an opinion. It’s not just a couple of special journalists that write for a couple of special magazines or newspapers, and so I think this is a truth, not a bad thing. I think this is a good thing for people to realize that this idea of thought leader or what you’re supposed to think or say at a party being outsourced to your favorite magazine is lazy and stupid, but where does that leave someone like me? Where does that leave the journalist when the veil is off? The emperor has no clothes. Our opinions are not actually special, they’re just opinions, and I think the answer at least some of the time is this oral history form. It’s kind of the anti-internet. Journalism has been overtaken by something that we call in the business ‘the hot take’. Something happens, maybe a bomb blows up, maybe there’s an unexpected election result, and some excellent writer with a high general intelligence, a high IQ says something provocative for about 500 words and gets it up on the website right away. That’s the hot take. And really the idea is to be provocative and different and get a lot of clicks and support that ad model that now runs the money machine that we call the internet, but that’s led to a lot of dysfunction both in journalism and arguably in society and there really is another way if you just do the exact opposite. Okay? You take your own opinion out of the picture, you don’t spend two hours or four hours on writing something, you spend four years, and you don’t even put yourself in it. You go back to primary sources which is kind of a lost idea now that we live and breathe in this sea of secondary sources i.e. you go to the people who do have a privileged opinion, the privilege of being actually a witness to history and you say, ‘Hey, I know all about the start of Apple or whatever. I read all the books, but you tell me, you were there, you saw it. What the heck happened, Sir, Ma’am, whomever?’ And you hear it again and you start from scratch and you see what you find, and the most remarkable thing about doing a book in this way – and just let me be clear there is very little Adam Fisher in Adam Fisher’s Valley of Genius. It is a book, 500 pages made of quotes just like a documentary is spliced together from talking heads talking about whatever, World War II or whatever. I spliced together all the people who are most important in building the valley and their secretaries and their interns who saw it all, who watched the players on the stage create this remarkable thing, this Fourth Industrial Revolution and you ask them what they think about what happened. You ask them to tell you the story, and stories and memories diverge and they’re different but that’s okay. You just stack up the differing perspectives and create one master narrative, one metanarrative you know? It’s the old idea, right? You go to a village of blind people and you bring the elephant into the village and say, ‘What is it?’ To some, it’s a tree trunk, a snake or whatever, but it’s only when you put all those perspectives together where you get the full picture, you get the elephant, so.

But then you’re being, I guess, a bit disingenuous in the sense, Adam, that, obviously, you curated the perspectives and I think in the beginning of the book you talk about how you piece together…it almost reminded me of taking a document that has been shredded and putting it all back together again to create a picture and I think you did it beautifully, and I’m just curious how easy was that process because some of the folks whose voices you included are no longer with us, some of them are still very, very influential in Silicon Valley, how easy was that process beyond the sheer hard work? How easy was it to preserve that level of objectivity if you like to make sure that you weren’t taking things out of context?

 

Well, it’s always a question but I’m incredibly pleased that some of my biggest fans are the people in the book now that they’ve read it. I can’t tell you, almost also every chapter I have someone who I interviewed just e-mail me out of the blue saying, ‘You know, I’ve been interviewed by a lot of people and they always fuck it up.’

Yeah, but you got it?

‘But you got it,’ and you know, I was actually quite fearful because I optimized for the reader. I was like, ‘The last thing this book can be is boring so I’m just taking all the boring stuff out,’ and I thought, ‘Oh. What are the primary sources going to think about this? Are they going to say this is some kind of Hollywoodization and distortion?’ And actually, I got none of that. What I’ve actually found is like, ‘Oh no, it was even wilder. We didn’t tell you some stuff.’

But as I was reading it, it was almost like sort of walking into a game of poker and just observing the banter, the conversations. It’s a very powerful medium the oral history. It’s a very powerful way of communicating and I felt like I was privileged to observe or to be a witness in some fascinating conversations that stretched back over 50 years, right? I mean, I think that’s-

Yeah, fifty years almost exactly, and there’s lots of bad oral histories out there and it’s just kind of a random grab bag of anecdotes at the end of the day, maybe some amusing, some not, but I doubled down. There’s people saying half sentences and cutting each other off and the whole point was to make it like the best bar conversation you’ve ever overheard where everybody’s had a few and lips are loose because as you know, you get some kid makes a billion dollars and never had a job in his life and the charlatans come out and they’re going to give you all these frameworks and schemas and buzzwords about this, and I just wanted to show people how people who actually made the money talk and they’re not talking about minimal viable product and agile and whatever the thing of the day is. I mean, they do it little. They know what it means, but that’s not the story, that’s not the culture and ultimately, my thesis is, because, you’re right, I am the man behind the curtain still, is that it’s the culture that made it, not some kind of handbook.

So, as I’ve mentioned I’m an anthropologist and so culture is a huge interest of mine and I’m really interested in understanding this subject a bit more. So, let me put you on the spot. How would you describe the culture of Silicon Valley, and let me make it really difficult, to a kid, to a 10-year-old, and how would you characterize the culture?

To a 10-year-old is tough, Mark, really.

Let’s make it a twenty-year-old.

I would say it’s a counterculture based on thinking for yourself and doing and not talking.

You said a counterculture, right?

A counterculture, yeah. I don’t think 10-year-olds know what a counterculture is, but I do think it’s a counterculture and that’s important. Well, it’s no longer a counterculture now. You know, you have P. Diddy wants to be a VC. When the old dominant popular culture, hip-hop, the one I grew up with, starts abandoning their kind of culture for this culture, you know that this new nerd culture is the popular culture, okay?

You’ve gone mainstream essentially.

 It is mainstream, we just haven’t admitted it yet, and it’s global because we invented the internet plus we have instant communication. But what is this new global culture? It’s about making and not talking which I think is incredibly positive. It recognizes that the big lever is not mass popular political movements, the big lever is small cadres that we call businesses. And the biggest lever of all is technology, that there is progress and there is a future that’s better than the past or at least different and that technology is the driver. So, the culture is way more scientific, maybe scientistic but it’s not a magical culture like say the hippie culture was, it’s not a woo-woo culture, it’s more mathy, and honestly I was depressed about the state of Silicon Valley over the past week but now that I’m describing it it’s sounding pretty good as far as the future direction, so we can talk about that too.

Yeah, because there’s so much history which I’d love to cover but I think there were a couple of things that you talk at the beginning about, the different perspectives, and one of the perspectives that struck me is the perspective between Wall Street and the venture capitalists. Wall Street being far more interested in transactions and then the VCs which arguably was what sort of fired up the whole Silicon Valley machine, being far more recognizing it’s a numbers game and failure is to be embraced. That was one of the kinds of interesting perspectives or difference of perspectives, but then there’s another one, I guess, which maybe we can go into it right now, the idea of it’s not just about money, it’s about something more than money, and my question there, I’ll get right to the heart of it, because there were parts of the book that depressed me a little bit, Adam, because some of the folks who you talk about, the Steve Jobs, Sergey, the Google guys, they clearly set off on a journey with hugely idealistic jobs. It’s all about education and schools, and I think Sergey Brin talked about in their paper that advertising is morally…yeah, ‘Advertising was wrong and bad and it would inherently corrupt the search engine if you sold advertising’

Yep.

And they all sold out, right?

It’s a sad story, isn’t it?

And is that the story? Is that really what happened? Is that the story of being a successful entrepreneur?

Yeah, it’s really what happened, but as an anthropologist, I think you’ll correct me if I’m wrong here, but it is what happens when a scientific culture becomes a commercial/popular culture. It’s always paradise in the lab, okay? You know, there’s a beautiful series of books, let’s see Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars about the colonization of Mars which is kind of important, and this is fiction, of course, by Kim Stanley Robinson, but he talks about the first Martians, the esprit de corps and the craziness of these scientists that go to Mars and then, of course, later these miners that are coming to exploit Mars’s natural resources for the good of humanity, of course, and that was the point of opening Mars but they bring with them a more mercenary culture. And it’s a really wonderful series and I think shows something that is kind of universal where something that’s really an academic culture like computers where even as late as the 70s turns into something for everybody, the highest quintile and the lowest quintile of the human population and experience, and there’s no censorship on the internet so we see it all, we see it all. It’s all out there on display. There’s no mass media kind of cutting off the really stupid and arguing for the really smart people, so I don’t know. It is sad though that we’ve gone from a bicycle for the mind to arguably a new opiate for the masses.

Yeah. Back in the 70s and 80s, you make the point that the PC industry was attracting artists and poets and musicians and technology was a new medium of expression which is very different from where we are today. Is-

Wait!

Wait?

I also make the point that in the late 70s, early 80s that the best of the best thought it was all going to hell in a hand-basket. That’s when the greatest genius in the book, Alan Kay, thought it all went wrong. ’84, okay? So, we’re just catching up to his insight right now over forty years later. Remember, I don’t know how old you are but I’m middle aged-

I am as well.

It is just our nature to say, you know-

The good old days-

‘The Golden Age was when we were young, friend, and the deluge is coming when we are old.’ Now, you’ve got to, if you really want to be smart about it, you’ve got to recognize that this is the cognitive bias of older men who are no longer doing who are just sitting at their desk thinking, okay? And we’ve got to subtract the cognitive bias that makes our life interesting, you know, ‘It’s all going to go to shit just about the time I die,’ and we’ve got to subtract that out and see and really ask ourselves how much of this is just a wonderful drama to frame our own lives with and how much of this is reality.

So, are you saying then that there are people coming into Silicon Valley today with dreams-

Oh my God! It’s amazing! The underground in Silicon Valley are the most inspiring people I know, and I’ve hung out with artists and writers my entire life. It’s incredible. I just want them to win.

But where I was going on with this, Adam, do they see themselves as the pirates now versus being in the Navy?

Absolutely!

They do?

Oh my God, are you kidding? Kill the father. It’s really Freudian.

So, who are they? Are they the incumbents, the guys that ‘fumble the future’ to use the lovely expression from Xerox? Are they the Facebooks, and are they the Amazons, and are they Twitters?

Yeah, they’re the enemy. That’s the thing. It used to be IBM was the enemy of the young Steve Jobs and then it was Microsoft who was the enemy of an older Steve Jobs and all the rest of Silicon Valley. Then there was maybe the mainstream media, I don’t know, you could sell the story. It was always the other, people away from Silicon Valley messing up the world, but we have this secret. We understand that the lever is not ideology, the lever is technology, and they change the world, and now the people who threaten the world…you know, everybody hates remote elites and guess where they’re headquartered? In Silicon Valley. So, it’s become a game of the young against the old.

But what’s different is-

And I’m just hoping there’s enough young rebels that they can destroy the Big Three.

But the Big Three, for our audience, are whom?

Well, the Big Three in Silicon Valley is Apple, Google, and Facebook, but remember by using that I’m also referring to the Big Three in Detroit.

Yeah, okay. Got it.

This was before General Motors and Chrysler that locked up the American automotive industry for, I don’t know eighty years or something until Tesla came along.

So, there are kind of common elements of the myth that we hear about and we read about, right? Firstly, you’ve got this dropping out of school, then you’ve got the kind of garage with the frat house environment, you’ve got the outsiders perhaps coming in either physically, they come in from the outside, I think the Google folks were Russian, eBay founder was Algerian, Bezos’ father was Cuban, so you’ve got the outside perspective, and then you’ve got the kind of the creation of something that often involves either theft or maybe as I said the incumbent kind of fumbling the future. Is that the narrative?

Yeah. You pretty much nailed it. The one thing I would say is an almost essential ingredient is the buddy story. The inside guy, the outside guy had sometimes said on Wall Street but it’s really the technical guy and the marketing sales guy, the twin, the dyad in the beginning.

So, beyond that is there anything else that maybe doesn’t make good reading, but which is nonetheless at the heart of these creation myths that you’ve seen from the inside? Because you’ve been in the Valley for what, for most of your life, right?

I grew up in the Valley. I mean, I went through this kind of guild ‘learn how to be a writer’ system in New York, but I returned to be an editor at Wired in, oh gosh, ’98, so I’ve been around. There’s a lot of dumb luck in these narratives where it’s like we think all is gone, where everything seems like failure, the moment where success or at least survival is pulled out of the jaws of corporate death, I don’t know, that’s a mixed metaphor, but that moment, that turn, that hit rock bottom and turn and run, now we call it a pivot because we need to turn it into a buzzword and a business book that’ll sell but it’s really a plot point in a story.

And, I guess, the other myth which I think Steven Johnson who was a contributor to your book, he’s written about this, there are not flashes of these eureka moments, it’s a cobbling together or it’s incremental change on top of each other, right?

Well, or the resurrection of an old idea. All the ideas have been tried before in a different context and I think as outsiders we’re always surprised and we’re always like, ‘Oh, that’s a new idea,’ but if you look closely it’s never a new idea. You know, one of the great Silicon Valley failure modes is ‘right idea, too early’ so most of these things are just the correct implementation whether correct time or just a tweak in the idea of something that was dismissed as stupid five, ten, even twenty years before.

Yeah, and there’s also some assumptions that are so baked into how business is done that just get turned on their head, and going back to the video games that were a little bit before my time, they were only one person video games but the idea of creating a two-player video game was quite transformational, or the kind of idea of Xerox using a competitor’s machine for research which was almost taboo, but there are a couple of examples there which, I guess, are just people turning the conventional wisdom on its head if you like?

Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of conventional wisdom which is why I’m so down on the business book of the week kind of thing. People like to find patterns and they’ll find patterns and noise and then they’ll say, ‘That’s a rule’ or ‘heuristic,’ then someone who’s ignorant, i.e. young comes along, doesn’t know the rule and so just applies thinking to the problem, just reasons from first principles-

Shock horror.

And then, oh, all of a sudden, it’s, ‘Wow, it’s really successful,’ because someone thought about it without a lot of preconceptions and that’s why there’s this bias to the young, and also there’s a bias they’re young that’s ageist which is a different problem but there you go.

But also, as I said earlier on, these folks are outsiders, right? They come in and they’re just not wedded to the status quo in any way, either geographically or industry outsiders?

Yeah, or they’re moral outsiders and they do something that was considered verboten. ‘Let’s sell stuff on the internet!’ Oh no, you couldn’t, no that was completely wrong in the 90s and there’s a million examples of that.

So, one thing that struck me reading the book is that there are very few women interviewed or at the heart of these creation myths. Why is that, Adam?

Well, I think the real question there is not where are the women in your book, I think the real question is where are the women in Silicon Valley?

It’s a reflection of that, yeah.

It’s a reflection of that and if you want to just get to the nitty-gritty, I think its 15%, I think I did a calculation, it’s approaching 15% percent which is about right. Also, the most noted women, a number of them turned me down. They just were like they’re tired, they’re besieged by people, lazy reporters who go back to the same ten, twenty people but to compensate for that I found a whole slate of women who I believe have never been interviewed before or certainly not interviewed at length, and what’s wonderful about sexism in Silicon Valley for a reporter is that once you do the actual legwork to find these women they tell you the most extraordinary stories and really made the book. So, that’s the story of women in the book but I think the interesting story is the story of where are the women in Silicon Valley and I have some thoughts on that if you’d like to explore.

Well, I am curious because you know the subtext of the whole culture of Silicon Valley is one of different perspectives, outsiders coming in and the male versus female, the insider versus outsider, the foreigner versus the incumbent, or the banker versus the VC, or the coder versus the hacker, whatever it is, those are all different ways of looking at the world and I just wondered what’s your view on the female side?

Well, the interesting thing about the story of women in computer technology is, and this is way before the book, the book starts in ‘68 which is not the beginning of computer science history or Silicon Valley at all. l mean, Silicon Valley was well established by ’68. We didn’t quite call it Silicon Valley then but all the fab plants, the foundries pounding out silicon chips were there, okay? We can talk about the early history of radio etcetera etcetera, the precursors, but the early history of computer science is dominated by women.

Yes, yes.

Arguably the first program was written by a woman and it really actually is not for the skeptics out there a ‘just so story’. It is actually pretty well established, and even if you’re saying, ‘Okay, Ada Lovelace didn’t write a program or algorithm,’ which she probably didn’t, an algorithm is not a program, the first compiler was written by a woman. Programming as thing was figured out by women because men were doing the manly stuff building machines, the hardware, and it was all left to women to figure out how to make it work. So, women invented what we now call computer science and if you look at graduate school populations in these early graduate programs that sprung up for this new thing called computer science it was remarkably close to 50/50 in the 70s as well, and again it was because of sexist reasons. You know, men didn’t type, and you had to interact with a computer via typing i.e. women’s work. So, when you did it all change? Well, the best explanation of this comes from a woman in the field and she thinks that it all changed with video games. Video games post-Apple II or post-Atari, really Apple II, became kind of the gateway drug into programming. I say Apple II because unlike an Atari cartridge system or arcade system, the Apple II, after you played the game you could literally look at the source code to see how it worked and change it, and that’s certainly how I got into programming when I was a kid and virtually everybody has a story about games first. So, that sounds right, right? Except when you realize that the first video game of any note was Pong and Pong is not gendered in any reasonable sense, it’s ping-pong. It’s actually two players so you need a friend and it was actually installed in bars, singles bars, and was really kind of a way for a guy to interact with a gal, okay? It’s a way to say, ‘Hey, you want to play Pong with me?’ It’s a pickup line, okay? It’s for men and women together, and how the whole gaming industry that started as a non-gendered kind of 50/50 thing turned into this caricature of teen masculinity is a story that has never been told. I’ve never seen a convincing kind of explanation of why video games? I know that computer science got all male because all of these young men started a little earlier because they were taking apart programs to see how games worked but I don’t understand how video games turned into a kind of male-dominated society. Maybe it’s because computer science got out of the category of video games and into a male-dominated society. You know, we just don’t understand how sexist our culture is yet.

Yeah, and on a similar thing, I think there was an article which you wrote recently comparing the biography of Bill Gates with Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft versus Facebook and you ended by asking the question how much of the direction of the internet is influenced by the perspectives of a couple of well-off young white boys. You’ve looked at this, you’ve lived it. What’s your answer to that rhetorical question that you asked?

I’ll tell you the answer, you’re going to have to edit this in though. Hold on, I’m flipping through the book now because I’m looking for a quote which responds to that, Ezra Callahan, so just bear with me. Where is it? It’s Facebook. Here we go. Okay. Mark Pincus, where are you? It’s where he says, ‘I don’t think we’re that important. I think the internet want’s what it wants, and what the internet wants is…’ Oh okay, I got it. Okay. So, here’s where we’re going to cut back in.

Well, I did end the article with a quote from Ezra Callahan and I do think that’s a valid question for the more academic out there to try to tweeze apart. I doubt we’ll ever find an answer but, in my book, Valley of Genius, there is in effect an answer to Ezra’s question and it comes from a guy named Mark Pincus who’s a billionaire but not that well known. He was the first billionaire that was created on top of Facebook. So, where Bill Gates became a billionaire by building software for the PC that in effect Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created, Pincus became a billionaire creating software, actually games, Farmville on Facebook which Zuckerberg created, and he’s very smart and here’s what he says: ‘Maybe I’m too close to it all but I think that when you pull the camera back none of us really matter that much. I think the internet is following a path to where the internet wants to go. We’re all trying to figure out what consumers want and if what people want is this massive echo chamber and this vain world of likes, someone is going to give it to them, and they’re going to be the one who wins and the ones who don’t, won’t.’ So, that’s a different answer. That’s the story of us older guys who were building social networks. Mark Pincus had a social network that was failing called Tribe, similar to all the other early ones, Friendster etcetera, and he tried to make something for a lack of a better word good, and then along comes this more hungry or younger, hungrier, maybe less scrupulous person named Mark Zuckerberg and said, ‘Oh no. People just want kind of shit.’ They want something that appeals to their narcissism and appeals to their sense of superiority and appeals to the side in all of us that delights in a flame war. He built it and it outcompeted everything else in the market and he’s not blaming Mark, he’s blaming us. You know, that’s very convenient for him to say but I also think it’s something that needs to be heard. You know, how much of this social dysfunction and ugliness that we see on the internet today is really a mirror to us, the larger us, the plural us, our society, our world?

And then bringing back to how we started the conversation before we came online, you’re concerned about Amazon being one of the most scary organizations because it has the opportunity or runs the risk of becoming the sole supplier of everything, but you quoting Pincus, I guess, that would be, ‘Well, so what? If that’s what people want, if everyone wants to go to one place to get everything then why not? What’s wrong with that?

Well, first of all, Pincus wouldn’t say that but I take your point. I mean, that’s an economic… Unfortunately, I studied post-modern literary theory but if I did it again, I’d study economics because it’s the only humanities that seems to be predictive in any way, and I don’t know, what’s wrong with one seller and everybody else is a buyer? Well, look I’m just constitutionally allergic to remote all-powerful elites that even in theory can control people’s lives and sure, this social media world up in arms about Facebook now but he doesn’t control the entire…he may or may not control the conversation. Well, underpinning everything is the economy. Bezos is pretty close to controlling the entire economy and that’s the thing that the conversation is built on. That’s the thing that allows people to write books instead of break dirt on a subsistence farm for a living. The economy really is everything. That’s the operating system we run on, and so we’re changing the operating system from what was always supposed to be and unfortunately, so rarely was, a community of smallholders all competing for their niche and serving one another, that’s the framework of the Constitution, the Jeffersonian idea, and then change it to an economic king that controls everything and we’re all just his vassals and the moment he wants us to put anyone out of business or his algorithm wants to put anyone out of business, you’re done for. Well, I think that’s dangerous. And just to be frank, I have people who I’ve interviewed in the book who worked extremely closely with Bezos and you know everybody likes him but even if he’s an enlightened despot it doesn’t mean that I’m pro-despot.

So, you mentioned earlier on that there was quite a lot of bad news coming out of Silicon Valley. I think you’re a parent, Adam, how confident or optimistic are you about the future that mainstream media or popular culture essentially having been taken over by nerd culture?

Pretty much everything is better now than it was. I have a pretty clear memory of what it was to be a writer. Now, anybody can be a writer in their twenties. I remember what it was like when I was in my twenties. Everybody is richer. Now, people in their twenties are telling me about all these great restaurants. I can barely get money together to buy a cheap beer at a lousy bar. We are richer, we have more options, the world is safer. In the last twenty-five years, more people have been pulled out of poverty than in the last couple of 2000 years-

Ever.

Ever. Like, all metrics in violence are going down, whatever kind, from domestic to war, it’s all getting better and it will continue to get better, I’m very confident, but you know there are these kinds of seizures of history where we do get things like global war and the pitchforks come out rightly or wrongly. It doesn’t matter whether they’re wrong if the pitchforks are out. It means people will be…and that is bad. Violence is bad, war is bad. Categorically, revolutions so rarely are like the American one which, of course, had its problems too and that’s what I’m worried about and I was not so worried about it. I thought the social media thing, the problems with it are real but totally amplified by a dying mainstream media that still has a purchase on the national conversation and the international conversation. I thought, ‘This is going to look so small to my children,’ until I saw the news in The New York Times just last week that Andy Rubin who the Android operating system or

ecosystem is literally named after, the inventor, the hero, the makers for me are the heroes, the Wozzes for me are the heroes, not the Jobs’, so they’re important…you know, he had sex slaves or maybe still has them, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God. This is dark what this money does to people,’ or enables in people. I think money is probably good, certainly good for you or me but how someone can sit there and try to buy someone else as a slave, which the news buried because it was The Times, is just a moral failing of the highest order. It’s not like Zuck which is like, ‘I was trying to create free speech because I thought that’s what you guys wanted. Sorry!’

Different order of magnitude.

It’s a different order of moral failing, okay? By my life, maybe this is indentured servitude, not slavery defined, but by my life, it’s just a moral failing. It’s just a categorical moral failing and I think it may be the tip of the iceberg. I’ve done a little reporting about this and who knows. Ah, it just depresses me.

So, let’s get to the questions I sent across because maybe you’ve answered one already but what have you changed your mind about recently, Adam?

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve changed my mind but maybe something is rotten in the state of Denmark. You know, I thought this kind of Silicon Valley backlash was just a predictable cyclical thing like the other Silicon Valley booms and busts, and this is a reputational bust, and I just thought, ‘Oh, we’ll just ride it out. It’s good for the Valley. It flushes out all the insincere people. It gets us back to basics of actually making and creating for our own excitement and delight instead of for some kind of “get rich quick scheme”,’ but now I think like, wow, maybe it goes far deeper than that, so that’s what I’ve changed my mind about a little bit. There’s kind of this sad trajectory that we talked about from bicycles for the mind to the iPhone but maybe that trajectory has a lot farther to go down before it gets back up and that’s what I’ve changed my mind about.

Okay. Sobering. Where do you go to get fresh perspectives and to stay innovative and creative?

Well, to the young and to the underground. For example, I’m almost 50-years-old and recently started skateboarding again, dropping into the local ramp and dropping into the bowl and hurting myself but that’s where you get to talk to the kids and also, there is an engineering kind of underground or counterculture. I mean, you may not recognize it until you look at it as such but people who are really doing, not maximizing their income, they’re just maximizing their kind of engineering thing, like, ‘Oh, I think this thing that we can build will save the world. Let’s try it,’ and I think that’s amazing. And hanging out with those guys who are always young, sometimes they live in their car, it’s pretty cool.

Good, good. And then finally, what’s been your most significant failure or low, and what have you learned from it and applied that learning?

Oh, God. Well, I’ve had a lot of very high-profile jobs in what used to be known as the magazine world and let’s just say I’ve learned that I really should work for myself no matter what, no matter what the hardships are or not having a salary or reliable health insurance or reliable income. It’s just I’m a little too, well, I would say passionate, but I think other people would say crazy.

Unemployable.

I’m not employable. At the end of the day, I’m not. I’m extremely talented, that’s how I get hired, and then the other side comes out like, ‘Oh, he’s not employable.’

It sounds like you learn this lesson on a regular basis.

Okay, let’s just put it like that. And my application of that is like, ‘Oh yeah, write books. That’s better.’

Good, good, good. So, Adam, where can people get in touch with you?

Well, I’ve got an email address in the book which you will find when you read it and it’s called Valley of Genius and you can get it anywhere fine books are sold.

I’ll put it in the show notes, I’ll have it on my Kindle, so I’ll put it in.

No, just…if they want to reach me, they’ll have to buy the book. I’m pretty easy to find. Let’s put it that way.

And you’re on Twitter and LinkedIn and all that kind of stuff as well?

I’m on all the things. I’m pretty accessible. I’m not a remote elite, I’m just a guy.

Just a guy. Great. Well, as I said I did enjoy the book. I loved the format. It was like sort of eavesdropping on some fascinating conversations and it really does feel like it was a labor of love and appreciate your time today.

Yeah. Hey, thanks. I hope we can minimize the number of people I’ve offended somehow and maximize the number of people whose interest I’ve piqued here.

Absolutely. Well, really appreciate your time and thanks very much, Adam.

Thanks, Mark, and I’m glad we finally did this.

Okay. Cheerio. Bye.

Bye-bye.

 

 

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