One thing that has been bugging me recently is that a lot of what is going on in technology is stupid and pointless. I think the big issues facing not only the USA, but the world as a whole are peak oil and climate change. If we don’t find something to replace fossil fuels, I think we will backslide technologically and deal with a lot of societal and geopolitical tensions.
Hedge funds and banks on Wall Street hired people with degrees in math and physics to develop software that figured out ways to trade more profitably. I think society would be better off if mathematicians and physicists actually worked on math and physics. And the financial-industrial complex nearly drove society off a cliff. So much for the idea that the best and brightest know how to allocate resources effectively. Or that they were all that bright to begin with.
The free market may be good at solving short-term wants, but it does not seem very good with long-term needs. Perhaps in a country where more people look at the web sites for Fox News and ESPN than The Oil Drum or Oil Price it’s a futile quest.
I was at a startup conference about six months ago here in Chicago. It seemed like most of the companies were “building mobile social networks so you can send your tweets to your friends’ iPhones.” I felt like playing “Worthless Copycat Technology Bingo”. There was one that was trying to commercialize a new process for manufacturing solar panels. Pretty much everything else was Garbage 2.0. One was a social network for men so they can get together and do manly things. They had pictures of guys playing cards, and mountain biking, playing video games. What they offer that you couldn’t get from Meetup, Craigslist or Facebook was unclear to me.
There were a few articles a few months ago on Business Insider about a presentation by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, on their hiring practices. It went on and on about how they want “A-players”, and how to reward them, blah blah blah. A few commenters pointed out that it’s absurd for Netflix to talk about how they want the smartest people. All they do is rent movies; they are not curing cancer. Given that the stock price has gone from $300 to $66, that their plan to split the company in two was withdrawn after about 3 weeks, that they took a lot of heat for raising prices dramatically and that they are losing subscribers, I think it’s fair to ask if Mr Hastings deserves even mediocre employees.
If you are not solving an A-problem, then you don’t really need A-players.
Image from Kristian Dela Cour on Flickr