Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

My Thoughts

How Technological Denial Threatens our Future

Strangely, technological denial is one of the greatest intellectual threats to our world’s future.

Technological denial is the refusal to acknowledge the effects technology has on our lives, economy, world, industry, markets, and culture. Technology deniers refuse to acknowledge or accept the power and influence of tech.

For example, many tech deniers refuse to acknowledge the importance, popularity, influence, power, potential, and profitability of digital media. A good example of such tech denial is media outlets that focus their coverage on legacy mediums; such as movies and network television, while ignoring video games.

A symptom of this shortsightedness, is all the attention the media lavishes on the meaningless spectacle known as the Academy Awards. Vast amounts of media attention is directed at awards given to movies most people will never see.

Technological Denial in the Media

Statista estimates that only 14% of American adults claimed to regularly watch movies in theaters in June 2019. Hence, 46.34 million Americans claimed to go to the movies.

To explain, the United States had a population of 331 million in April 2020, and 14% is 46.34 million. Conversely, nobody is watching movies in theaters now because of coronavirus.

In contrast, 67% of Americans, 221.2 million people played video games in September 2018, NPD group estimates. Moreover, people are probably playing more video games because they are stuck at home with nothing to do.

Yet, TV networks and publications still devote far more coverage to movies than video games. In fact, network TV “news” journalists seem to go out of their way to ignore the video game industry. Probably, out of fear that stories about gaming will drive off their aging viewers.

The Varieties of Technological Denial

Currently, several varieties of technological denial pollute American thinking. Those varieties include, downplay, willful ignorance, nostalgia, and disbelievers.

Professional deniers; such as New York Times house conservative Ross Douthat, concede technology’s influence but downplay its effect. For example, Douthat refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that modern technology kills jobs.

Instead of citing statistics as basic income advocate Andrew Yang does in his warnings about technological unemployment. Douthat will focus on one news article about a failure of self-driving car technology. However, Douthat fails examine the entire self-driving car field or overall progress.

Douthat’s methodology is shoddy, because he has not proved autonomous vehicles will not kill jobs. Instead, all the articles Douthat cites shows is that some autonomous car systems do not work.

Conservative Technology Denial

Unfortunately, Douthat fails to raise or answer the question why have companies spent $16 billion on self-driving car research?

I cannot imagine companies such as Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) spending billions on something that will not work. Douthat’s dismal of autonomous vehicles in his book The Decadent Society consists of a statement that such vehicles cannot see in the rain. To elaborate, precipitation interferes with some autonomous vehicle sensors.

I guess this means has Douthat read a few articles on self-driving cars a few years ago. Sadly, Douthat does not mention the source of his information or his reason for such an opinion. The willful ignorance, this so-called intellectual displays is frightening.

A similar example of Douthat’s methodology is the claim there has been no real progress since 1950 or 1970. To elaborate, Douthat thinks there has been no progress because the 1950 and 2020 homes contain some of the same machines. For instance, both homes contain a refrigerator, an automobile, a telephone, and a washing machine.

However, Douthat mentions nothing of the computer or the smart phone in the modern home. In 1950, there were a handful of computers in the world, mostly at US government facilities. Today, almost every home contains a computer of some sort. Many affluent individuals’ houses will contain several computers.

Moreover, the 1950 telephone operated on a party line, and there was a strong chance its owner had to ask the operator to make calls. Plus, our 1950 home owner probably had to pay a toll to call long distance, possibly to his coworker in the next county.

Back in the 1940s, calls within the same region were often considered long distance. In fact, phone companies considered a call from Long Beach to Riverside California long distance in the 1940s.

Thus, Douthat cherry picks history and facts to validate his technology denial. I consider much of Douthat’s writing exercises in willful ignorance designed to suppress any information that unsettles the writer.

The Motivations for Technology Denial

Douthat denies technology because tech is proving more powerful than institutions and values he loves. For example, technology has more impact on the lives of ordinary people than religion or traditional culture.

Moreover, Douthat makes by his living spreading opinions on digital media. Thus, Douthat engages in activities that could destroy everything he loves. Instead of acknowledging the hypocrisy and absurdity of his position, Douthat ignores tech’s power, and admits his income is more important than his faith.

Additionally, Douthat is afraid to consider the philosophical, moral, and theological questions the rise of tech raises. For instance, is digital technology part of God’s plan, and how should believers use tech?

Additionally, Douthat is afraid to consider the philosophical, moral, and theological questions the rise of tech raises. For instance, is digital technology part of God’s plan, and how should believers use tech?

Notably, Dreher works for a niche media player; The American Conservative, while Douthat sits in the Ivory Tower at The New York Times. Sadly, Douthat is typical of establishment media pundits who deny technology. Cynics will say Douthat places more value on his paycheck than his beliefs.

Willful Ignorance

A more frightening technology denier is Nobel Prize Winning Economist turned New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Krugman denies tech because its power contradicts his world view. To explain, as an economist Krugman believes money and finance are the most important factors in the economy. Technology’s disruption of the economy threatens Krugman’s world view.

Moreover, Krugman’s economic models are based on the false beliefs that jobs and human labor are the only sources of wealth. Technology disproves those models by creating vast amounts of wealth with little human involvement.

In addition, Krugman’s economic model is based on the belief that the economy can only function properly when everybody has a good job. However, technology was running at full steam, before coronavirus, with tens of millions people lacking good jobs.

Instead of examining the new economy and its contradictions. Krugman mocks those who publicize the new economy’s existence. In particular, Krugman makes childish attacks on failed presidential candidate Andrew Yang (D-New York), but refuses to examine Yang’s argument that technology is killing millions of jobs.

Denial of Job-Killing Tech

A frightening belief of Krugman, and many right-wing economists, is that the economy will always create sufficient numbers of good jobs, despite technological progress. The argument is that past technological progress always created good jobs in the past, so the next wave of new tech will create “good jobs.”

This argument has validity but the hope that history will always repeat itself in the same pattern seems naive. Notably, today’s new technology differs greatly from the advances of the 1950s or 1960s. Remember most 1950s and 1960s machines required human operators, many of today’s machines need no human input.

Additionally, the nature of digital technology disproves the technology creates jobs argument. In fact, thousands of college educated professionals such as stock traders, journalists, and investment bankers are already losing jobs to algorithms.

For example, Pew Research estimates newsroom staffs at US newspapers shrank by 51% between 2008 and 2019. In detail, US newspapers eliminated 24,000 newsroom jobs college-educated professionals fill between 2008 and 2019.

Newspapers are dying and shedding staffs because most people get news from digital sources. Moreover, newspapers lack revenue because Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) stole their advertising.

Nostalgia Driven Denial

Nostalgic technology denial rests on the false premise that we can maintain a 20th Century society, economy, and lifestyle, and 21st Century technology at the same time.

For instance, nostalgia-driven deniers believe we can have both Amazon Prime and a traditional main street economy. I think recent history shows most traditional main street businesses cannot compete with Walmart (NYSE: WMT) or Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).

In particular, Amazon, Walmart, Kroger (NYSE: KR), and Costco (NASDAQ: COST) can offer far lower prices than Main Street. Moreover, Amazon can deliver most products to your home at lower prices than traditional stores can offer.

Additionally, many people; including President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), claim we can maintain a traditional culture, lifestyle, and family with digital media. For instance, these people assume a 21st Century teenager; who carries a smartphone lives the same lifestyle as a 1950s teenager who drove a hot rod and read comic books.

Likewise, the ability to access pornography 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on a smartphone is not the same as reading Mad Magazine at the drugstore. Yet many of today’s intelligentsia assume there is no difference between reading Mad and playing Fortnite or watching videos all day.

Nostalgic technology denial is popular because it serves the interests of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The assumption nothing has changed since 1950 or 1970 gives people no reason to question Amazon, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG), Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), or their products.

The politics of Nostalgic Denial of Technology

For instance, some intellectuals today’s believe Goldman Sachs, which employs 9,000 computer engineers is the same as the Goldman Sachs 1960. In 1960, Goldman Sachs was an investment bank and a trading house located in lower Manhattan.

Conversely, today’s Goldman Sachs deploys cutting edge-artificial intelligence to capture a share of the consumer banking market. Thus, Goldman Sachs; which had $106 billion in cash and short term investments and $992.96 billion in total assets on 31 March 2020, is a direct competitor to independent small town banks on Main Street.

Obviously, the claim digital technology has no widespread effects on our society and economy serves the interests of politicians, including Trump. By practicing nostalgic denial, Trump can have both his Twitter and all the campaign donations, Goldman Sachs and its customers make.

Technology Denial in Silicon Valley

The strangest variety of technology denial comes from Silicon Valley. Oddly, the most famous Silicon Valley denier is a tech billionaire, Peter Thiel.

Thiel; and his associate Eric Weinstein, spread the bullshit notion that technology has had no effect on the economy. Weinstein goes so far as to claim, falsely, that there has been no “real” economic growth or innovation since the early 1970s.

These claims are bizarre because Thiel has built a $2.3 billion fortune from technology. In fact, Thiel co-founded the super-disruptive, digital payment giant PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL), made early investments in Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), and heads the controversial data-intelligence company Palantir Technologies.

Thanks to those endeavors Thiel is a billionaire. If the absurd claim about there being no growth was true, Thiel would practice law for a living.

Thiel’s denial is partially nostalgia and part self-serving politics. In a 2011 Yale speech famously griped, “we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Thiel dislikes technology because it did not give him the future he wants.

As a technologist, I think Thiel knows there are a host of technical and physical limitations that make flying cars impractical. Yet he spreads the imbecilic notion we could overcome those limitations through wishful thinking.

Thus, Thiel uses fantasy to bolster his unrealistic libertarian ideology. To clarify, Thiel blames government and politics, rather than science and technology, for the lack of flying cars.

Peter Thiel’s Self-Serving Fallacy

The second part of Thiel’s complaint is more bothersome. Thiel claims digital technologies such as Twitter, Facebook. and PayPal have no effect upon the real world.

By making that bizarre statement. Thiel asserts Silicon Valley; and by inference himself, has no responsibility for any of the real world problems digital technology creates.

Hence there is no need for government to regulate technology or control its activities. Or limit Thiel’s ability to make money through digital technology. Or increase Thiel’s taxes to pay for programs to alleviate technology’s side effects.

Weinstein, the managing director of Thiel Capital, goes further by claiming technology has no economic effects. Weinstein bases his ascertain on a fantasy understanding of how technology and progress work.

Weinstein equates progress only with big ideas and massive changes. Einstein’s theory of Relativity, and the Manhattan Project. Unfortunately, technology almost never progresses in leaps and bounds.

Instead, technology progresses slowly, and painfully. For example, DARPA built the first prototype internet in 1968. Yet the public did not get access to the net until the 1980s, and most people were unaware of the internet’s existence until the mid 1990s.

Weinstein’s idea that technology advances in leaps and bounds comes straight from a comic book. For instance, Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man) can run into his workshop and come up with a major technological breakthrough in a few minutes when the plot requires one.

In reality, achieving major technological breakthroughs take years, decades, and sometimes generations of blood, sweat, and tears. For instance, it took close to 20 years for Thiel’s friend, Elon Musk to bring an electric car to a mass consumer market. Likewise it took a century for two-way radio (wireless) to become versatile enough to fit in your pocket, in the form of a phone.

The other problem with the Thiel and Weinstein hypothesis is that it assumes technology and science have no real world effects. Thus, there is no reason to hold technologists; such as Thiel accountable, for the effects of their creations.

The Dangers of Technology

The dangers technology denial creates are many. First, nobody tries to alleviate the negative effects of technology. For instance, there are no serious efforts to help those unemployed by technology.

Second, nobody discusses the consequences of technology or its potential effects. Specifically, only a few conservatives and worried parents ask if it is a good idea to give a 10-year-old boy a pocket-sized device that gives him access to an endless stream of pornography? Or to destroy tens of thousands of high-paying bank and newspaper jobs in a few short years through digitization.

Third, the refusal of mainstream intellectuals to discuss technology allows the kooks and the cranks to dominate the discussion. Sometimes it seems the only people who criticize smartphones are the morons who think 5G causes coronavirus. Sadly, the lack of mainstream criticism legitimizes the nuts because they are the only ones questioning the status quo.

Fourth, politicians and other leaders can ignore technology’s effects. Thus, we find ourselves in an economy where millions face a no-jobs future and all most leaders offer is vague talk of “creating good jobs.” Nobody but Andrew Yang, and Elon Musk asks the obvious and vital question: what if there are no good jobs. What then?

If we want to avoid economic collapse and cultural chaos we need to discuss technology and its effects. More specifically, we need to start discussing the phenomena of technological denial and start holding its practitioners accountable for their willful ignorance.