Watching Them Cram For Finals

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Can pulling an all-nighter help digital tech leaders pass the tests of today’s thorniest public policy issues?

Consider Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who’s struggling to define free speech, or Mark Zuckerberg struggling to separate fact from fiction at Facebook. Uber’s new CEO is trying to figure out who is or isn’t an employee, and how to treat them, and Elon Musk is sleeping under office tables at night because he’s working so hard to invent a factory assembly line.

These aren’t new issues, and informed, well-intentioned people have worked to yield answers that enabled the not-so-inconsequential invention of modern society, however imperfectly.

But today’s titans of tech act like they’re asking them for the first time.

As for visibility into their efforts, we’re told to simply trust them or, worse, the work is so complicated that we’re not smart enough to understand it. God forbid a legislator asks a reasonable question in the wrong way…”I’m sorry senator, but the cloud isn’t a place (snicker), so I can’t give you an answer.”

The fact that Elon Musk sleeps under his desk because he’s working so hard to singlehandedly invent his factory’s assembly line should prompt questions of why, but that would mean you just don’t understand his vision.

Everything is different now, and only highly successful startup geniuses can figure out what to do.

Other than this infuriating hubris, what hobbles them most are the empty slogans they cited in their VC fundraising pitches, and now claim as operational truths.

Connecting people? Ebola does that, too. Free speech? We’ve spent centuries trying to overcome the imposition of power (or simply volume) that now rules it online, and ditto for knowing the difference between fact and fiction.  

The thing is, things aren’t different today than they were for past generations. We’ve always contended with challenges to how we can work and live together. So not only is there ample past knowledge of what solutions might work or not, but there are many people alive today who have real credibility and significant insights into how we could apply them to the latest thorny challenges.

Startup billionaires have no exclusive claim to solving these issues, and their deference to their  self-created blather leads them…and us…to place too much faith in their uniqueness. New tech isn’t the problem, and it isn’t the solution, so their meteoric ascension to riches and fame doesn’t qualify them to solve things alone.

We should be talking more about it instead of watching these brilliant people cram for finals.

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