On Silicon Valley, the Communist Manifesto and the Old Crows

The Shed’s job description is to talk about Elmore Leonard, fishing, and music the Shed likes.

But sometimes also the view of the world seen by old men in sheds.

Watching politicians try to get a grip on what the kids are up to in social media, sheds everywhere, we suspect, are wondering why governments keep pumping billions into improving the internet, making it all possible.

We are having doubts about what we are building but we continue to build it, at breakneck speed, before the consequences are even half clear.

The talk is of enabling business but the selling point to the voters is more and more crap, faster and faster.

Trouble is The Shed concedes, IT is about the only business – apart from pharmaceuticals – that is expanding and recruiting faster in the west than in the rest of the world.

On that basis, Barack Obama encouraged the gambling of a lot of US money on the Silicon Valley area of California.

But even he, even there, has only proved the Law Of Crap, which says that 90 percent of all human endeavour turns out a bit shite. The Shed would put it higher, so we enjoyed an extract from a cynical new book called Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey Into The Savage Heart of Silicon Valley, by Corey Pein, a journalist with a background in computer programming who went back into the jobs market by moving to San Francisco and getting cards printed with an email address saying futurebillionaire@aol.com/

Ridiculous bragging is one of the characteristics of the terrifying new tribe he found himself joining. So, for example, he says, “if you had a deeply unfashionable job like, say, writer, it behooved you to say ‘I deliver eyeballs like a fucking ninja’ …”

It means, by the way, getting people to look at your website.

The author comments: “In my former life, I would have sooner gouged out my own eyeballs than describe myself in such a way, but in post-recession, post-boom, post-work, post-shame San Francisco, we all did what we had to to survive.”

He describes a scene filled with deluded and infuriating kids, arrogant in their walled workplaces, with internal bars and cafes, but mainly clueless about the world.

He wrote: “To save money, I took to cooking my own meals most of the time. This was when I discovered that it was much easier to launch a tech startup if you could afford to always have food delivered and never had to deal with mundane chores such as doing laundry, washing dishes or buying groceries. As one Twitter wag observed, San Francisco’s tech culture is focused on solving one problem: what is my mother no longer doing for me?

“I never felt older nor crankier than when watching these ‘digital natives’ stumble through the daily rituals of adulthood. One of the kids, an overachieving Ivy Leaguer whose Google internship demanded an advanced understanding of high-level mathematics, was completely baffled when it came to using a simple rice cooker. I explained the process: put in rice, add water, press the button labelled Cook. He grew increasingly flustered, and I suspected he wanted me to make the rice for him. He managed to sauté a boneless, skinless chicken breast, but only by following the instructions on the package to the letter. ‘How did it turn out?’ I asked. He said. ‘I’m full, that’s all that matters. I don’t care how it tastes.’

“When I first heard about Soylent, the startup selling a gooey ‘meal replacement beverage’ with a determinedly ‘neutral’ flavour, I wondered what sort of miserable insensates would choose to subsist on such glop. Now I knew.

“It may have been better for everyone when the overpaid nerds stayed home. ‘They’re importing children to destroy the culture,’ one bar owner told me.”

There was not much genius about, the reporter says. Most of the labour force was doing as told for minimum wages over maximum hours …

We were grown men who lived like captive gerbils, pressing one lever to make food appear and another for some fleeting entertainment – everything on demand. Airbnb and Foodpanda served the flesh, Netflix and Lifehacker nourished the soul.”

Meanwhile, of course, back home, while this book was being researched, old-fashioned hard work in a trade was dying out as a way to live, let alone become a billionaire, and Obama America turned into Trump America.

The Shed got its extracts from the book from the Guardian’s Long Read section, which also recently had a good extract from an essay by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, on a new edition of the Communist Manifesto, marking its 170th anniversary. published when Marx was 30 and the world was in even more turmoil than ours is.

Varoufakis points out that capitalism was a tentative new thing when Marx and Engels wrote their book but they were being proved righter and righter in their predictions of how it would change the world.

They said, he summarised, that capital would …

“nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. Exploitation of the world market would give a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. Constantly revolutionising instruments of production would transform the whole relations of society, bringing about uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation.

“As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage workers.

“Tne ultra-rich become guilt-ridden and stressed. Those smart enough to realise their long-term self-interest recognise the welfare state as their best insurance policy. But alas, explains the manifesto, as a social class, it will be in their nature to skimp on the insurance premiums and they will work tirelessly to avoid paying the requisite taxes.”

As Varoufakis says, not bad for 1848. Although in the world of sheds, the tendency is to agree with The Times, which said:

“Marx was not responsible for the atrocities committed in his name. Yet there is a lethal presumption in his thought that makes totalitarianism the likely outcome. He imagined that the end state of history was a social unity in which antagonisms would be resolved. There will always be values that clash and claims to resources that conflict. The best form of society is one that manages these conflicts peacefully by protecting liberal political rights and free expression. Marx deserves study but his ideas stand exposed by the unremitting evidence of history as a colossal mistake.”

The Shed’s comment for now is: let’s play They Don’t Grow Tobacco Here No More, by The Old Crow Medicine Show.

Google Old Crow Tobacco to get here …


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