From Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley and everything in between and near and far, including Silicon Prairie, Silicon Roundabout, Silicon Desert, Silicon Wadi, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Hills, et al, the world has seen some amazing tech – and some moments in tech that were somewhat less than shining. Or at least, equally memorable, but not in a good way.
It was a year that the tech industry proved that it does have its fair share of visionaries, as well as hipsters and outsters, heroes and zeroes, goodniks and bad players. While the industry is heavily peopled with brash young men and bad boys, it was a year that gave the latter a whole new meaning.
‘Best of’ Top Ten lists are always interesting, but why compete? We decided that it would be much more interesting to move the game, so without further ado, here is our list of the most memorable players and played in tech in the past year, in no particular order:
- The Ask Permission, Not Forgiveness Award for Inappropriate Sexual Behavior. The standouts include 500 Startups Dave McClure, Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. Uber investor Shervin Pishevar. Of course, there’s also a long list of Dishonorable Mentions, but that would be a column unto itself.
- The Su Casa Es Mi Casa/Invasion of Privacy Award: Amazon’s Alexa. Remember: if it’s listening for the ‘wake’ word, it’s always listening. Get woke Dishonorable Mention: Google Home, which can handle two requests at once, so must be listening very attentively.
- The Bridge Too Far Award: Twitter, which has been engaging in extreme censorship of late and on December 25, Julian Assange’s official Twitter account not appearing. Does that fall under the new Twitter hate speech rubric? The account was later restored, but ah, Twitter, the gift that just keeps on giving. Again, not in a good way.
- The Done It Again (In a Good Way) Award: Investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, who bet early on crypto and blockchain and comes up a winner once again! Lest we forget, Wilson had billion dollar exits five years in a row when he was betting on mere internet companies, including Tumblr, Twitter, and Zynga (ZNGA).
- The Don’t Let the Door Hit You/Ousted Leader of the Year Award: Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, hands down. Dishonorable Mention: Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who ‘surprisingly’ ‘resigned’ recently, although his resignation did rekindle those ‘womanizing’ rumors. Of course, could have been overreach as well, what with the firing of Barry Lynn, a senior fellow at New America Foundation, a think tank partly funded by Google (Fired Google Critic Says Monopoly Power Puts ‘All Society at Risk‘). Schmidt’s family foundation played no small part in funding New America – and reportedly in Lynn’s dismissal, thus proving the researcher’s point and bringing further unwanted attention to the issue, Schmidt, and the company.
- The Smartest Kid on the Blockchain Award: Long Island Ice Tea Corp, now called Long Blockchain, which saw a stock boom of more than 500%, according to Quartz, with a mere change of name. Remember when adding a dot com to their names gave companies a boost? Tea, juice, and vape companies add ‘blockchain’ to their names to profit on bitcoin mania. Welcome to the blockchain.
- The @StartupLJackson Award* for Hubris: Juicero, the $400 Silicon Valley darling that made juicing easy. In fact, so easy that you didn’t even need the device – you were better off squeezing the Juicero juice packets with your bare hands and look, ma, no mess. Refunds were issued.Dishonorable Mention: Bodega, vending machines to disrupt a time-honored institution – the corner bodega. Also known as brodega, The bros issued an apology. *SLJ once tweeted that “The Uberfication of everything is turning San Francisco into an assisted living community for the young.” NOTE: We nearly called it the What Are They Smoking Out There Award, but, well, that we already know…
- Top Tech Hub with a Serious Quality of Life Issue: Seattle. According to Newsweek, Tech Bros Bought Sex Trafficking Victims by Using Amazon and Microsoft Work Emails. Says The Gateway Pundit, “The publication got its hands on a slew of emails sent to brothels and pimps…that document the industry’s patronage of brothels and purchasing of services from trafficked sex workers.” For the record, 67 were sent from Microsoft employees, 63 from Amazon accounts and dozens more from companies like Boeing, T-Mobile, Oracle and local Seattle tech firms. But who’s counting
- The This Is Your Brain on Tech Award: Like computer viruses themselves, tech tends to spread like a virus – and has also led to newly-categorized disorders. Obsessive selfie-taking is now a mental disorder called ‘selfitis,’ and there’s (video) ‘Gaming Disorder,’ too. Too close to call? The latter wins: It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a bona fide disease. (Do You Have Video “Gaming Disorder,” A Newly Recognized Mental Health Condition?)
- The Keyser Soze Award (As in the film, The Usual Suspects and one of our favorite lines: “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist”): To listen to founder Mark Zuckerberg, you’d think Facebook’s prime directive is to unite people globally and make us all just one big happy, connected family. Hard to choose which of the tech cartel is most deserving of this dubious award, but considering founding FB president Sean Parker’s unloading on how the company “exploits” human psychology and “purposely hooks and potentially hurts our brains” and former FB VP Chamath Palihapitiya’s guilt over having “created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works…” “[There’s] no civil discourse, no cooperation; [only] misinformation, mistruth,” he says, “And it’s not an American problem–this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.” Yes, Zuck takes the prize, all right.
- The Don’t Try this Yourself at Home Award: Crispr. Released last year, Crispr is about gene therapy, allowing “scientists to easily and inexpensively find and alter virtually any piece of DNA in any species,” as Time explains about its 2016 runner up for Person of the Year. For all we know, it may well be the cure for cancer. There’s also a DIY version, and why waste time watching Game of Thrones when you can experiment with your genome in the comfort of your own living room instead? We’re reminded of James Fixx, who, according to The New York Times, “spurred the jogging craze with his best-selling books about running and preached the gospel that active people live longer, (and) died of a heart attack while on a solitary jog in Vermont. He was 52 years old.” Biohacking is definitely cool, but sometimes adult – or a doctor’s – supervision is required.
- The Putting the Customer First – NOT/Nice Try Award: Apple. Before they release the latest iPhone, Apple releases an ‘upgrade’ that will automatically slow down older models. According to Apple, they do this on purpose, to, er, em, preserve battery life and make the older models less kludgy. Not everyone was buying that explanation, although kudos to the Apple Spin Machine for creativity. In this age of enough is enough, the lawsuits began, so Apple is now “offering anyone with an iPhone 6 or later a battery replacement.” In this case, cheers to the litigious! Remember: People who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are often the ones who do! #AppleFail
As Erin Griffith notes in The Other Tech Bubble, cataloguing how out of touch the Masters of Silicon Valley have become, given the insular ecosystem that they have constructed – in a big way – change is coming, but from the outside.
“Critics from the government, the media, and watchdog groups are calling for regulation, be it antitrust, compliance, or transparency around advertising,” she reports in Wired. The current crop of hoodied billionaires aren’t like the tech heroes of yore who wanted to help change the world for the better, but rather, arrogant bros bereft of a conscience and facing a long overdue moral reckoning. They scrape our data, they listen in on our conversations, they eavesdrop on our private lives, selling that mass of information to the highest bidder – or the lowest common denominator. As a result, they have opened our eyes to who they really are: Not the Bright Young Things whom we placed on pedestals, but Bad Seeds whom we are at long last placing under the microscope.
“We’ve been burned,” says Griffith.
And attention is being paid.
Wishing you all a great 2018 and remember: it’s not just a new year. It’s a whole new day, and doesn’t that just take the prize – in a good way – as we go onward and forward.