Thursday, July 19, 2018

You thought I was exaggerating with the Muskmas line, didn't you?

This amusing thread from Gizmodo's Matt Novak beautifully illustrates some points we've been making for a long time. The language and imagery we use to describe technology in the 21st century has increasingly become that of myth and magic, even for advances that are mundane or trivial. At the same time (and I'm sure the causal relationships run both ways here), our default ways of thinking about tech and innovation have become increasingly dominated by what we've called magical heuristics, mental modes and tools only appropriate for a nonrational, supernatural worldview.

Obviously, it would be a mistake to treat the crazy emails that show up in a journalist's inbox as a representative sample, but before we dismiss these comments as the ravings of random lunatics, go back and take a look at this previously discussed Rolling Stone cover story. Are the messianic unicorn comments from Elon Musk's supporters really that much more over-the-top than this?

Musk will likely be remembered as one of the most seminal figures of this millennium. Kids on all the terraformed planets of the universe will look forward to Musk Day, when they get the day off to commemorate the birth of the Earthling who single-handedly ushered in the era of space colonization.
“Musk is a titan, a visionary, a human-size lever pushing forward massive historical inevitabilities – the kind of person who comes around only a few times in a century”

Of course, the Rolling Stone piece is itself a bit of an extreme case, but not an entirely unrepresentative one. We've collected dozens of examples over the past few years of Silicon Valley saviors and wondrous sorcery in tech drag. These stories ranged from partially to primarily bullshit, but they have had a great impact on the way we invest, make public policy decisions, and pursue research. In other words, we are paying a real price for believing in these fantasies.

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