Big Tech’s rocking credos on the rocks – a love story

Some billionaires are bullies. But can they be bullied? Sure, in autocracies. But in the United States? Well … disrupting the so-called disrupters. As the song goes, “traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned” [1].

Normally, sucking up to power isn’t news in the corporate world, but Silicon Valley was supposed to be different. – Kara Swisher

Kara Swisher‘s been on a whirlwind book tour for a week promoting her new book, “Burn Book: A Tech Love Story.” And her tale’s a tall one, an important one, on Big Tech. Something which I followed as well over the decades in magazines, tech columns by Walt Mossberg, online articles, AllThingsD, Recode, books about Silicon Valley, etc. And experientially with all the gadgets.

The setup for her opinion essay (an excerpt from her book) in the Washinton Post arrived in my email on February 18: “The Week in Ideas: The day Silicon Valley rode Trump’s escalator to nowhere” by Michael Larabee. He opened with a question, the big question:

Is Big Tech about inventing the future? Changing the world? ‘Disrupting’ entrenched systems that benefit the few to improve life for the many? Or is it about making money?

… Swisher shares a deeply illuminating quote from French philosopher Paul Virilio that she said she thinks about a lot: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” I’m thinking about that a lot now, too.

• Washington Post > Opinion > “How Trump pushed Silicon Valley off the rails” by Kara Swisher (February 15, 2024) – Tech’s pop culture visions: Star Wars and Star Trek.

… casual hypocrisy became increasingly common over the decades that I covered Silicon Valley’s elite. Over that time, I watched founders transform from young, idealistic strivers in a scrappy upstart industry into leaders of some of America’s largest and most influential businesses. And while there were exceptions, the richer and more powerful people grew, the more compromised they became — wrapping themselves in expensive cashmere batting until the genuine person fell deep inside a cocoon of comfort and privilege where no unpleasantness intruded.

The [2016] Trump tech summit was a major turning point for me and how I viewed the industry I’d been covering since the early 1990s. The lack of humanity was overwhelming.

I love tech, I breathe tech. And I believe in tech. But for tech to fulfill its promise, founders and executives who ran their creations needed to put more safety tools in place. They needed to anticipate consequences more. Or at all. They needed to acknowledge that online rage might extend into the real world in increasingly scary ways.


[1] “Just a Song Before I Go” by Crosby, Stills & Nash (1977).


  1. Balloon shades

    Book tours … This article talks about the “tension” – between former enchantment and current disenchantment – in Swisher’s retrospective on and recent interaction with tech-world executives. That word, canoodling. Odd conversation partners, eh.

    • Slate > “What’s Going On with Kara Swisher’s Book Tour?” by Nitish Pahwa (March 6, 2024) – The veteran tech journalist is promoting her memoir with tech bros like Sam Altman.

    It’s clear Swisher is sad about how the mainstream media has been gutted throughout her career, and is worried about what further havoc the A.I. race will wreak (and already has). Yet she gives her stamp of approval to Sam Altman, who’s trying to argue in a court of law that he should get to hoover up whatever copyright material he’d like in order to train his chatbots and image generators?

    Frankly, when Swisher runs around with these tech types while promoting a book that’s supposed to be taking them to task – while also touting how she was right all along about how their gizmos would decimate the press she remains a part of – it almost feels as if she’s rubbing it in.

  2. Galley power

    Here’s an alternate perspective on chronicling arcs of the tech elite (those on the stage) vs. sagas of the tech workforce (the people not on the stage). Tales of some “thuggish” executives vs. narratives of toxic workplaces. For example, all the collateral damage of exploitive gig business models.

    [Swisher] appears to know they [CEOs] tricked her. … [but] doesn’t criticize the system at all after this, really. … working as a pundit, her treatment of the industry’s working class ranges from forgetfulness to downright disrespect.

    • SFGATE > Opinion > “Famed journalist Kara Swisher’s book reflects Bay Area tech’s huge anti-worker problem” by Stephen Council (March 12, 2024) – The journalist’s book tour has continued her longtime alignment with tech executives.

    The good-vibes tour is a disappointment. America’s most famous tech journalist has been backslapping with executives and media personalities across the country, but she’s steered clear of tech’s actual workforce, even in the tech capital of the nation. She’s excluding workers right as they face a particularly lopsided power dynamic with tech’s executive class. Unprecedented layoffs have swept through the industry, dampening morale. Contracted work and gig employment are on the rise. Goliaths like Amazon and Google are sparring with America’s top labor regulator. Artificial intelligence looms.

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