The Year Tech Bro Lunacy Was Exposed
2022 Year in Review

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 7 December 2022

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I think 2022 will be remembered as the year we finally saw the billionaire tech bro narrative for what it is: an insane fantasy held by adult children with too much money and too much power too early in their lives for them to do any good.

The Big Threat of Big Tech has become the Big Joke practically overnight. We are watching the real-time implosion of the Silicon Valley mindset under the weight of its own hubris. Happy New Year.

Just hours ago, it seems, Elon Musk was considered the great threat to civic discourse. By using his money and network of like-minded investors to take over Twitter, it appeared that the closest thing we had left to a “public square” would be surrendered to the whims of this would-be Trump. Most frighteningly, perhaps, Musk threatened that he would unleash “thermonuclear name & shame” on companies that chose to suspend their advertising on the platform.

But over the course of the next few days, Musk reversed his plans and policies on a moment-to-moment basis, first saying he’d establish a moderation council before making any major decisions, then reinstating Kanye and Trump, then kicking off Kanye again, then lambasting Trump and supporting Rick Desantis once Trump made it clear he wouldn’t return to posting on the platform. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to stoke some excitement, he made an arrangement with a former journalist to selectively “leak” Twitter’s prior openness to the DNC’s requests to repress a Hunter Biden story.

The man who once popularized the electronic automobile and landed rocket ships on barges was now leaking stories about his own company to be published exclusively on his own platform as a way of generating the sort of ire and indignation that could make a messaging app relevant again — at least among those who prefer to be outraged by media nonsense than actual human suffering.

For his part, Mark Zuckerberg undermined the future of Facebook by going all-in instead on the speculative virtual reality and blockchain hybrid known as Web3. Stock of his holding company, Meta, has since gone down by 70% and the formerly invincible Facebook now feels a bit more like Myspace or Friendster. Remember when Facebook could be blamed for the outcome of a presidential election? How the mighty—and scary—have fallen.

Meanwhile, the crypto world revealed its inadequacy as an alternative global economic system. Sam Bankman Fried, founder of mega crypto platform FTX turns out to have staked too much of his investors’ crypto on loans in his sister company Alameda Research. When crypto crashed, this multi-billion-dollar empire imploded, taking down not only Fried and the gamblers who entrusted him with their bets, but faith in crypto currencies and the whole philosophy of “effective altruism” that Fried and his ilk were also peddling. Most simply, (and with the intellectual backing of “longtermist” Oxford philosopher William MacAskill) they believed that the damaging impact and externalities of their businesses mean a lot less, in the long term, than the money they can one day donate to charities with the winnings. The ends justify the means enough for tech companies to do whatever they want, as long as the founders eventually donate some of their winnings to the human-cyborg future. Once a looming threat to currencies, local businesses, and the physical environment itself, crypto is now just another way of saying NFT: a fad application but by no means the first true killer app for the blockchain.

The tech emperors have no clothes, and no claim on our future. Something like this happened before, around the end of 1999 when AOL acquired TimeWarner, revealing to anyone who cared to notice that AOL was actually just cashing in its chips after its subscriber base had peaked. The Dotcom bust was soon to follow, and the Internet was given a new chance to define itself as something other than a business opportunity. After a brief flirtation with blogging and open APIs, we drifted into the social media, data mining, and fintech nightmare from which we are finally now emerging.

Well, we are there again. In the coming year, we will have the opportunity to take back the net yet again. Let’s do something better with it this time out.