Beloved pseudonymous Weird Twitter philosopher drill some wrote“I am not property! I am not property!!” I insist as I slowly shrink and transform into a corncob” [sic]
That tweet, from 2011, spawned the phrase “corn on the cob,” which in internet parlance means to claim victory in the face of clear, humiliating defeat.
Now it seems almost narratively heavy-handed that the social network that enabled dril to become an absurdist folk hero among the extreme online set is shriveling up under the leadership of Elon Musk, the world’s richest man (for now) – a man who once was hailed as a genius, but certainly isn’t acting like a genius right now.
Musk has lost more than half of his workforce to ill-considered layoffs and inhumane demands. Advertisers are fleeing. Selling verified checks to any $8 dork and willingness to give their credit card information to a website that has lost a significant portion of its security team has led to chaos and sometimes hilarity. (In a twist that must be heartbreaking for the desperately funny Musk, he’s not the one responsible for the laughs, the anonymous hero pretending to be Eli Lilly.)
On November 21 New York Times piece claims this is just Elon doing Elon, running Twitter the same way Tesla and SpaceX did in the early days. While the reporters express a healthy skepticism that this approach will work at a company so different from Twitter, they also leave it up to the possibility that this is all part of a playbook that has worked before and may work again.
Meanwhile, while Musk doesn’t say much to the media, he certainly tweets through it, breaking shit out and claiming I intended to do that— flipping his L’s and sticking them together, telling us they’ve always been W’s. (Elon, those are clearly L’s. We can see the tape.)
Let me give a simpler explanation: maybe Elon Musk is not the young genius he was meant to be, and never was. And maybe his colleagues in Silicon Valley aren’t either.
In the past month, tens of thousands of tech workers have lost their jobs — from Meta to Twitter to Amazon and beyond — and in the coming weeks, leaders across the industry have announced more to follow.
Of course, expansion and contraction are inevitable, regardless of the industry. But there’s more to what we’re seeing in technology right now. It feels bigger than the gentle waving of the invisible hand. It looks like a bunch of guys who were heralded as geniuses, then made some bad decisions and now reality finally catches up with them.
As a result, the people who worked for them, who believed in them, are hurt.
“The tech industry is a china shop full of bulls…in the sense that many of its leaders have no idea what they’re doing.”
Just a month ago, the prevailing narrative was upbeat about Sam Bankman-Fried, the Bahamas-based crypto billionaire. At the age of 30, he was the face and brain behind crypto exchange FTX. He had celebrity endorsements, Super Bowl commercials, and the cover of UKTN magazine. But between November 8 and November 11 of this year, SBF’s net worth went from an estimated $10.6 billion to $0 when it was revealed that the company was doing a lot of things that companies that handle other people’s money shouldn’t be doing, and the value of the underlying cryptocurrency had completely collapsed. Bankman-Fried had misused customer money in a manner similar to what American banks did in the run-up to the stock market crash of 1929. Not very genius behavior!
Amazon will also cut 10,000 jobs after its global digital unit reportedly lost $3 billion in the first quarter of this year. According to Business Insider, this is because the Alexa virtual assistant that everyone thought was the future of computing 10 years ago was actually not the future of computing. Alexa and its affiliates have been “money-losing pits” for years, facing controversies that erode consumer confidence in them, from surreptitiously recording conversations when they’re supposed to be turned off to not prompting users to constantly shop. oops. Maybe Jeff Bezos should have stayed in space.
The allegedly brilliant mind of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been putting up some expensive stinkers lately. The recently rebranded Meta (nobody calls it Meta unless it’s reporters writing about it or traders shorting its stock) poured godly amounts of money into developing the so-called Metaverse, an immersive virtual reality world that requires a $400 headset to join and has made for a consistently buggy and bizarrely legless user experience.
(Disclosure: I was paid to create content on a Meta platform on a contract basis between June 2021 and October 2022. I was not an employee of the company nor was I aware of any internal discussions or matters.)
But right around the time Elon was Eloning Twitter, and someone posing as Sam Bankman-Fried created a believable fake listing for the gaffe kid’s $40 million Bahamian penthouse, Zuck announced that 11,000 of his employees were about to were about to lose their jobs. That’s 13 percent of its workforce out of work, heading into the holiday season and perhaps a recession.
It reads a bit like an own goal.
If he had spent fewer resources setting up camp in the Uncanny Valley, maybe Facebook would be less of a last stand for the uncle no one wants to talk to on Thanksgiving, and more of a town square ready to step in and play the part. fulfilling that Twitter did before it started circling the toilet bowl. In hindsight it’s 20-20 unless you’re strapped into a virtual reality headset and can’t see anything that’s actually going on around you.
How many of these technical failures do we have to go through before we stop lending such fervent credulity to the genius CEO myth? How many Elizabeth Holmes? How many WeWorks? How many prestigious streaming miniseries based on the collapse of a company founded by a charismatic charlatan do we need to see nominated for a perfunctory number of supporting actor Emmys before we learn our lesson?
Silicon Valley’s weird father-worship of its leaders has always been tiresome for those of us whose brains aren’t in the brine. But now we’re seeing the tech industry — with its pathological reluctance to acknowledge the limits of its leaders — explode in spectacular fashion, in a way that could hurt even those who wouldn’t know Elon if he accidentally ran them over with his ” self-driving” Tesla.
The tech industry is a china shop full of bulls — both in the sense that without delusions of optimism about each company’s upside potential, the whole thing would collapse on its own, and in the sense that many of its leaders have no idea what they’re up to. doing it.
We look at what happens when a culture is built around the belief in the automythology of its leaders.
Silicon Valley is not a superhero incubator. Its leaders are not gods. Many of them aren’t even geniuses. The longer we remember this, the better we can prevent history from repeating itself. And again. And again.