Beloved weird philosopher alias twitter dril once upon a time he wrote, “’I’m not my property! I’m not my property!!’, I keep insisting as I slowly shrink and turn into a cob of corn” [sic]
That tweet, from 2011, spawned the phrase “corn cobbing,” which on the internet means to claim victory in the face of obvious and humiliating defeat.
Now, it seems almost narratively weighty that the social network that enabled dril to become an absurd folk hero in the extremely online set is withering away under the leadership of Elon Musk, the richest man alive (for now), a man who He was once hailed as a genius, but he certainly doesn’t act like one at the moment.
Musk has lost more than half of his workforce to ill-conceived layoffs and inhumane demands. Advertisers are fleeing. Selling verified checkmarks to any idiot for $8 and willing to give your credit card information to a website that has lost a significant portion of its security team has led to chaos and occasionally hilarity. (In a twist that must be heartbreaking for the desperate Musk, he’s not the one responsible for the laughs, the anonymous hero pretending to be Eli Lilly is.)
A November 21st New York Times the piece claims this is just Elon doing Elon, who runs Twitter the same way he ran Tesla and SpaceX in the early days. While journalists express a healthy skepticism that this approach will work at a different company like Twitter, they also leave it to the realm of possibility that this is all part of a playbook that has worked before and may work again.
Meanwhile, while Musk isn’t telling the media much, he certainly is tweeting it, breaking shit and stating I meant to— turning her Ls around and sticking them together, telling us they’ve always been Ws. (Elon, those are clearly Ls. We can see the tartan tape.)
Let me offer a simpler explanation: Maybe Elon Musk isn’t the boy genius he was meant to be, and never was. And perhaps neither are his Silicon Valley peers.
Over 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 been predicting, there will be more.
Of course, expansion and contraction are inevitable regardless of industry. But there’s something more going on with what we’re seeing through technology right now. It feels bigger than the gentle nod of the Invisible Hand. It feels like a bunch of guys who were heralded as geniuses, then made a bunch of bad choices, and now reality is finally catching up with them.
As a result, the people who worked for them, who believed in them, are getting hurt.
“The tech industry is a china shop full of bulls… in the sense that many of its leaders don’t have a clue what they’re doing.“
As recently as a month ago, the prevailing narrative was bullish on Sam Bankman-Fried, the Bahamas-based crypto billionaire. At 30, he was the face and brains behind the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. He had celebrity endorsements, Super Bowl commercials and the cover of Forbes magazine. But between November 8 and 11 of this year, SBF’s net worth went from an estimated $10.6 billion to $0 when it was revealed that the company had done a bunch of things that companies handling other people’s money shouldn’t have done, and the value of its underlying cryptocurrency had completely plummeted. Bankman-Fried had mishandled client funds in a manner similar to what American banks were doing before the stock market crash of 1929. Not very genius behavior!
Amazon will also shed 10,000 jobs, after its “world digital” unit lost $3 billion in the first quarter of this year. This, according to Business Insider, is because its Alexa virtual assistant, which everyone thought was the future of computing 10 years ago, wasn’t actually the future of computing. Alexa and its affiliate products have been “losing pits” for years, facing controversies that have eroded consumer trust in them, from surreptitiously recording conversations when they should have been shut down to failing to get its users to shop consistently. Oops. Maybe Jeff Bezos should have stayed in space.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s supposedly brilliant mind has been making some expensive crap of late. The recently rebranded Meta (no one calls it Meta unless it’s journalists writing about it or traders shorting its stock) has invested god-like sums of money into developing the so-called Metaverse, an immersive virtual reality world that requires a headset. $400 to participate and provided a consistently buggy and strangely 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 privy to any internal discussions or business.)
But just as Elon was hyping Twitter and someone impersonating Sam Bankman-Fried was creating a credible fake listing for the $40 million Bahamian penthouse, Zuck announced that 11,000 of his employees were about to lose their jobs. That’s 13 percent of its workforce out of work, headed towards the holiday season and possibly a recession.
It looks a bit like an own goal.
Maybe if he’d spent fewer resources camping out in the Uncanny Valley, Facebook wouldn’t have been a last stand for the uncle no one wants to talk to at Thanksgiving and more of a town square ready to step in and fill the role that Twitter was before it started circling to the toilet bowl. Hindsight is 20-20, unless you’re tethered to a VR headset and can’t see anything that’s actually happening around you.
How many of these technological failures do we have to overcome before we stop lending the genius CEO myth such ardent gullibility? How many Elizabeth Holmes? How many WeWorks? How many prestige streaming miniseries based on the collapse of a company started by a charismatic charlatan do we need to see nominated for a cursory number of Emmys for supporting actor before we learn our lesson?
Silicon Valley’s strange fatherly adoration of its leaders has always been boring to those of us whose brains aren’t pickled. But now we’re seeing the tech industry, with its pathological reluctance to acknowledge the limitations of its leaders, explode in spectacular fashion, in a way that can hurt even those who wouldn’t know Elon if he accidentally ran them over with his ‘led’ Tesla. autonomous”.
The tech industry is a china shop full of bulls, both in the sense that without delusional optimism in each firm’s upside potential, the whole place would collapse in on itself, and in the sense that many of its leaders lack the most faint idea what they are doing. you’re doing.
We are looking at what happens when a culture is built around a belief in the self-mythology of its leaders.
Silicon Valley is not a superhero incubator. Its leaders are not gods. Most of them aren’t even geniuses. The longer we remember this, the better we can prevent history from repeating itself again. It is again. It is again.