Painful Truth: Tech not always good for actual technology

What happens when every innovation needs an app, and an IPO?

Silicon Valley comes in for a lot of mockery and schadenfreude these days, and deservedly so.

You can’t launch products that are manifestly useless (Juicero!) or that reinvent the wheel (Bodega’s vending machines, Lyft Van’s buses, or the “co-living” apps that are “having roommates”) without getting called out.

But I don’t hate technology. I’m about as far from a Luddite as you can get. I’m all for better technology, which has given us space flight, reliable vaccines, and clean water that comes out of the tap whenever I turn it on.

It’s just that I feel at odds with the culture of that intersection of technology, innovation, and commerce that we now typically abbreviate down to simply “tech.”

Technology can be any improvement, in any material good. You figure out how to make a better refrigerator, one that’ll run on 10 per cent less electricity? That’s technology.

Tech is getting angel investors to fund your new startup, dubbed Frdjj, so you can ship your product to three billion homes, while generating additional revenue by data-mining your customers’ shopping habits and sending them sponsored reminders to buy a particular brand of soy milk through the mandatory-to-use-your-refrigerator Frdjj app.

For people with money, I worry that tech is sexy, and technology is boring.

That’s a disturbing thought.

There’s definitely some bubbles to come yet in modern tech investing, whether they’re happening now or yet to come.

But what’s invisible, bubble or not, are the worthy projects that are being bypassed and failing to get investing because they aren’t, well, tech-y enough.

If you draw all the smart young folks coming out of universities into one field, it will, to a certain extent, slow down the development of other fields.

So we get another social media app instead of a more efficient way of designing sewer systems, or a cool Uber-for-microbrewing startup instead of a cleaner form of fuel.

Someday, the tide will turn again. But until then, we’ll never really know how much technology we’re losing out on to tech.

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