Tech execs, stick with what you know

 Business strategy on blackboard
Credit: Peshkova

That is, data mining and invasion of privacy -- leave the drones and the moonshots to someone else


It’s definitely getting worse. I’m referring, of course, to the ongoing trend of overvalued multi-freak-zillion-dollar tech firms expanding their businesses into markets completely unrelated to their original venture. What else?

We used to see this in only a few companies, mainly Google, where legend has it Sergey and Larry spent 2002 to 2010 strolling into work Monday mornings and rolling polyhedral dice to decide which random business they’d buy or sell that week: sometimes a digital ad engine, sometimes an organic lingerie factory, often a robot company.

Like every other habit introduced by the Googlicious Duo, that tradition has caught on. Now every wingnut that scores a billion bucks in tech eventually wants to randomize their business plan into brilliant, hitherto uncharted territories. Fortunately, collegiate tech-xecs value emulation a lot more than pure randomization, so “uncharted” usually means drones, robots, or space, maybe virtual reality if the kajillionaire in question thinks he looks good in goggles.

Once Larry and Sergey, now Elon and Mark

Last week, Elon Musk was spouting about his future space conquests between bouts of vigorous cheekbone polishing and confusion on whether he’s terrified of artificial intelligence or whether he trusts it so much he’s willing to charge us another few billion dollars to let it drive our children around in his cars.

This week, it’s the Zuck who saved up a lot of headlines for his F8 Facebook developers’ conference, not all of them having much to do with Facebook proper. If you missed the conference we can sum it up here:

  1. Hi, I’m Mark and the stress of running this pig is really starting to elongate my face.
  2. I love Messenger and you will, too. Yes, you will. Shut up! You totally will! I command you to download it now!
  3. I have flying laser drones, and I’m going to make them really big and sun-powered, so they can beam whatever I want anywhere on the globe because that’s a Good Thing. It really, really is.
  4. P.S. I think we’re going to do something with these virtual reality goggles, too, someday.
  5. P.P.S. I keep “liking” Gov. Chris Christie because he’s good people, same with Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, President Barack Obama, and probably Hillary Clinton. That way, you can’t characterize me in one political movement as I’m a member of the data-positive, pro-knowledge, poly-obscure, omnivorous-political-favors-purchasing economy -- so there.

When you think about it, it’s not a weird trend. Tech billionaires are burdened by creative brains regularly sprayed by puberty-induced hormone surges, which is why they can make apparently brilliant, innovative leaps between totally unrelated tech trends, like seeing MySpace dominate the world and suddenly coming up with a never-before-seen platform concept, like Facebook. Pow! They’re world-famous billionaires with multinational business empires, and Forbes is telling the world they’ve peaked, a whole month before senior prom. Tying these guys to only one, focused business plan is like telling Kleiner Perkins it can discriminate against only one woman each day. That’s a tough situation, so it’s only natural these kids act out.

Some, usually residents of San Francisco, retreat to the frat house, which at least brings to the tech industry the benefit of youthful thinking, like beer for breakfast, a religious reverence for pot, and a socially devolving fear of smart women. But the great ones, like Zuck, can’t bear to go backward. The frat house is gone for those people. They need to shoot for the moon -- literally, with laser-dripping rocket drones.

Ripple effects

The problem isn’t theirs -- it’s ours, and by “ours,” I’m talking about those of us with huge investment portfolios in the tech sector. (Or, in my case, those of us who should have huge investment portfolios in the tech sector but don’t because we spent too much time drinking. Besides, we decided to become journalists, which means we make slightly less than the median income of your average tropical fish.)

How are intrepid investors like ourselves, the backbone of the post-millennial, info-positive economy supposed to safely invest in blossoming tech powers when on any given day a tweenage CEO might emerge groundhog-style from his office, beer bong dangling from his mouth, and announce, dude, he’s going to drop $4 billion of his chat app business into solar-powered seaborne drones so that one day his company will be able to deliver high-speed Internet access to underserved surfers and lobstermen in remote parts of the globe? That can really ding a stock price.

Sure, playing the stock market has inherent risks, and playing with new tech in particular is trickier than punching random holes in condoms, but I think we deserve consideration here. Those of us looking down both barrels of impending old age need to make up for all that Social Security we’re apparently not going to get and scoring a million or two off a booming tech stock is little enough to ask in my opinion.

You damn kids need to tone down the droning on drones, leave the spaceships in the hangar, and stick to what works: selling our personal data and bloating unnecessary devices with profitable adware you’ve built using Malaysian kids who’ve grown too old to be exploited in sneaker factories. I know it’s boring and uncomplicated, but you have to think about the bigger picture here: Me.

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