Things are getting pretty strange out there. Roughly a year ago I wrote a post entitled “This Industry Is Completely Ridiculous.” Since then, as you probably already know, our world has gotten even more surreal. If anything the ridiculousness is accelerating. It’s like the tech industry is subject to a Moore’s Law of weird.
Consider: within the last month, Burning Man announced it was accepting Bitcoin donations, while Xapo declared it was (in some unspecified way) securing its Bitcoin wallets on satellites. Add those together, and what do you get? That’s right: we now live in a world where you can donate virtual cryptocurrency to an ephemeral city, from space.
…and it was a busy year for it.
Which in turn led to my suggestion for a new Crunchies award category:
But that list was way premature. Did you know there’s an app out there that lets you simulate giving Anna from Frozen a C-section? I am not making this up. Did you know there’s an app with an ‘Incest Prevention Alarm,’ to help keep you from sleeping with a cousin? Again, not making this up. Did you know there are two emoji-only social networks? No wonder SF has a new game show: “App Or Crap?”
The Bay Area’s tech boom is now reverberating through the rest of the world, too. People out there are literally raising millions of dollars for “startups about nothing.” A few brave pioneers are even daring to believe that the New Tech is No Tech. Following the failure of the Everest app, its cofounder’s new startup produces a wearable with…nothing; absolutely nothing at all. It’s just a two-tone silicone wristband. Is it satire? Is it real? Is there any difference any more? Who knows? Yo’s Law, baby. Maybe it’ll be this century’s Pet Rock.
Of course, behind the weirdness you find all the tedious “Uber for” and “Instagram for” ripoffs. But who can blame them, when the once-eye-popping $1 billion that Zuck paid for Instagram looks like petty cash next to the $35 billion it’s worth now? Meanwhile, on the other side of the hockey stick, once-mighty BlackBerry has been reduced to the industry equivalent of a sideshow clown, begging governments to legally require companies to make apps for its so-called ecosystem. WTF.
The ridiculousness has metastasized. It is no longer confined within the bubble of the tech industry. Consider the Sony hack. A brief recap: somebody logic-bombed Sony back to the twentieth century. The FBI declared: “North Korea!” The security community responded: “Your so-called evidence is incredibly unconvincing!” And we we were all faced with the hilariously terrifying possibility that technology is now moving so fast that the US government can no longer distinguish a rogue state with nuclear weapons from a gang of trolls in it for the lulz.
You might think the USA’s array of fearsome Three-Letter Agencies, and their ongoing campaign to surveil the entire planet, ought to give them the benefit of the doubt…but the more we learn about those TLAs, the more they seem like bloated hives of overfunded incompetents trying to overcome their intellectual shortcomings with brute force and billions of dollars. Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe they’re just staffed by Dadaist performance artists. That would at least explain their nomenclature:
Again, not making this up: those are real NSA project names. Maybe this kind of florid bureaucratic surreality from their online guardians is why both the US president and the UK’s prime minister have called for math to be banned, lest their surveillance states be blinded. No, really. Encryption is just math, folks. And making math illegal will obviously stop terrorists. Right?
Meanwhile, big business is sick of being hacked. Target! Chase! Sony! Who’s next? (Correct answer: everyone.) So what are they going to do about it? That’s right; they’re going to start to hack back. Everyone repeat after me: “What could possibly go wrong?”
Surreality seems to have become part and parcel of a tech writer’s life. Last year I went to a dinner hosted by venture titans Draper Fisher Jurvetson that culminated in the launch of a 3D-printed rocket. Yesterday I flew in (and flew) the Bitcoin Jet:
(Yes, that’s yours truly. It was ridiculously fun. More on them in a future post.)
We still don’t know who the Sony hackers were. We still don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is. Hell, we still don’t even know who Startup L. Jackson is (though we do know s/he is awesome.) But we do know that software is eating the world. It seems to me that 2014 was the year that the fervid, fecund madness of the tech industry finally escaped the petri dish of the Bay Area. In other words, software is about done with its appetizer…
…and now it’s time for the main course.
The obvious cultural corollary is that the tech industry will not become more like the rest of the world. Instead the rest of the world will become more like the tech industry–in all its awkward, chaotic, unpredictable, surreal, unequal, infuriating, zany glory.
This is not necessarily a pure unalloyed good. But I submit that all the dystopic doomsayers out there are overlooking one extremely important factor, the one single thing that I can guarantee you about the future…which is that it will be extremely weird. And I for one believe this is an extraordinarily good thing, because rampant weirdness is a sign that our collective sphere of possibilities has expanded.
So bring on our ongoing infection of the rest of the world; bring on the ridiculous, the surreal, and the strange. Because if there’s one thing the tech industry is good at, it’s turning apparently ridiculous notions into overpowering reality–and if there’s one thing the rest of the world needs, it’s that kind of expanded sense of what may be possible.