(My job has kept me pretty busy, so here are some more random thoughts on the “technology is useless” theme that have been kicking around in my head.)
So I found a post by a VC who wants to change menus in restaurants (see this article and the original post). His name is Dave McClure; I have never heard of him. I could not find what VC firm he is with. He says that it is a huge opportunity. Okay.
But then he says that menus have “problems”. He goes on and on about “problems”. I guess this is a “first world problem”.
Doesn’t agriculture have a lot of problems? What about the distribution of water? What about crop yields? I would call those problems.
I know that ultimately VCs are out to make money and not save the world. Fine. But don’t say you are solving “problems” when you ignore things that are real problems.
My main beef is that the VCs/entreprenuers/startup crowd all like to think that they are smarter than everybody else. That they are “makers” and “doers”. And they think that we are all to take them so seriously. And not point out that they are spinning their wheels while natural resources are getting more expensive. Some of them wind up creating jobs. But some of those jobs are doing really dumb things. Like social media.
I honestly think that we might reach a point where we cannot assume that when we flip the switch that the lights will come on. In many countries, that is already the case. I do not see a whole lot of companies at these incubators solving these problems. I don’t expect two guys with nothing more that a table, two chairs and a couple of laptops to find a new way to drill for oil or desalinate water. I just don’t understand why so many people think just because they are in a startup they worth paying attention to.
There are a lot of smart people in these companies. But there are different types of intelligence. I sometimes wonder whether they really think about what the technology is doing. A lot of it is just marketing. The funny thing is that a lot of people go into technology and software because they don’t want to be some damn salesman.
I (kinda-sorta) know a guy who runs a firm that does analytics on social media to help companies with marketing. We were acquaintences in college about 15 years ago. I was at a hack night at his company, and he introduced himself to me. We did not recognize each other at the time, but later I realized we had met long long ago. I admit, I do not know what he did during the intervening years. Maybe he did something scientific and what I would consider useful.
He has a CS degree from one of the best engineering schools in the world. This guy probably could help design a desalination plant or a nuclear reactor. Instead he is figuring out how to get people to buy more junk. Granted, they deal with a lot of data. Very high throughput. But is that really the best contribution he could make to society? I have not been in Texas long, but I have heard that in the summer there are serious water issues. This state does catch fire. I think there might be brownouts in the summer time. Is the usual social/local/mobile app business really the best use of all that brainpower?
VCs will say they are out to make money. Energy and climate change are not their responsibility. If that is your response, then fine. I say you have better make a LOT of money. Because if the real problems are not addressed, you will need a lot more than you think.