Silicon Valley’s Gilded Cage

Yves here. I hope readers will unpack some of the threads of this piece, because many of the things that Liu finds stultifying about working in tech are just as true of woking in Wall Street, particularly back when that was the place to be, or, say, elite law firms.

What struck me was the expectation that work would deliver not just a paycheck and a place to go every day and be with people who were hopefully at least pleasant, but instead vehicle for doing Important Things and by extension, being important yourself. By contrast, when I was a kid, I didn’t see adults for the most part relating to work that way. That was in the days when most people worked a strict 9 to 5, where if you got a job a t a big company, you were assured of a 20 year run if you were competent, didn’t piss off people, and your employer didn’t get acquired.

In other words, it didn’t appear that most adults saw work as a vehicle for self actualization. People with special talents, like artists, might have that desire, but it was more common for people to invest some of their energies into work, some into friends who weren’t much or at all involved with your employer (a sports team, poker buddies, a community group) and of course family. But a significant contingent of young adults have been acculturated to expect the workplace to be something it is unlikely ever to become, and to keep doubling down on their efforts to achieve happiness or validation from it when it fails to deliver.

Having said that, some lucrative jobs an even worse pay/personal satisfaction tradeoff than Liu’s description of Silicon Valley. In his classic Fiasco, Frank Partnoy describes the openly predatory culture of derivatives sales circa the early 1990s, when the industry was young. Salesmen like Partnoy would talk about “ripping off his face” as a badge of honor. Management actively fostered a hyperagressive culture. When Partnoy went on a company skeet shoot, an event he was keen to avoid as a gun novice (fortunately, a woman was an even worse shot than he was), everyone was encouraged to see blowing up clay pigeons as just like blowing up clients, a demonstration of success.

When bonuses were about to be awarded, Partnoy described a long discussion among his peers on a slow day where they all said they absolutely hated what they were doing, that they’d rather do anything else, like dig ditches or collect garbage…..except for the money.

Partnoy quit not long after that and now teaches law.

By Wendy Liu, a software developer and (reformed) startup founder. She studies inequality at LSE and is an economics editor for New Socialist. You can find her on Twitter @dellsystem. Originally published at  ; cross posted from

WIRED Magazine recently published an article subtitled  The article described a noticeable shift in public discourse on the tech industry:

As headlines have exposed the troubling inner workings of company after company, startup culture no longer feels like fodder for gentle parodies about ping pong and hoodies. It feels ugly and rotten.

How did we get here? How did we get to a point where even  publications like WIRED have become so critical? And why is it that so many people inside the industry seemingly refuse to even see it, much less acknowledge their own culpability?

I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell my story. I used to be one of those people: as a software developer and startup founder, I once loved being part of the tech industry, and I really did think that it was making the world a better place. I used to think that all the criticism of the industry – of its toxic culture, of its outrageous salaries, of its saving-the-world mentality – was based in ignorance or even jealousy. Surely, I thought, it was unfounded, and tech would ultimately triumph over its detractors.

I no longer believe this. I’ve lost my faith in the industry, and with it, any desire to remain within it. All the perks in the world can’t make up for what tech has become: morally destitute, mired in egotism and self-delusion, an aborted promise of what it could have been. Now that I realise this, I can’t go back.

This inquiry, based on my personal experiences, is an attempt to explain why I left, and in the process shed some light on the technical and political composition of the industry.

In the Beginning

I started building websites at the age of 12, probably due to having way too much time alone on a computer as a child. I was soon hooked on what I saw as the promise of the Internet: the possibility of a new world beyond my computer screen, which seemed much more interesting than the real-life world around me. I spent a colossal amount of time on the Internet during my teenage years, either steeping in its culture in places like 4chan and Reddit and  or building my own websites. Back then, the Internet was my saviour; it connected me to a larger community of like-minded people, held together by the twin strands of real-world alienation and shared competence with computers.

Those were heady days. My  were people I thought of as the pioneers of the Internet, people like Neal Stephenson and Paul Graham and Eric S. Raymond whose writing on hacker culture made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something exciting. One post that particularly resonated with me was Jeff Atwood’s 2007 piece , which asserted that most – 80% – of all programmers working in the industry aren’t actually very talented, but if you’re one of the lucky few reading this post, then you’re probably in the talented 20%. It’s hard to overstate the role that sort of ideology had on me, and probably countless others, in developing my worldview. All these brilliant and successful people were whispering to me through their writing, telling me that I was special, that I was capable, that I was just intrinsically better than those who didn’t have computer skills. And that if I kept developing these skills, I would be justly rewarded for my efforts.

Don’t Be Evil

So I plunged headfirst into tech. I started an undergraduate degree in computer science, and spent my free time working on whatever software development projects piqued my interest. When I got an internship offer from Google, in my third year of university, it felt like that reward was finally in sight.

In the summer of 2013, I interned as a software engineer in Google’s San Francisco office. My job was to maintain a web application for the capacity planning team, in order to help Google forecast demand for new servers. The code itself involved technologies that were either already familiar to me, or sufficiently documented, and so I didn’t have much trouble getting up to speed. By the end of the first day – which consisted mostly of independent, self-directed exploration of the codebase – I had grasped enough of the architecture to be able to make my own changes.

The highlight of the job was the level of autonomy involved. On a typical day, I would get in to work around 9:30 – just in time to catch the end of the catered breakfast – and get to my desk around 10. Once there, I would spend anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour catching up on everything I’d missed: email, Facebook, Twitter, . The work itself was never interesting enough that I ever felt an urge to work on it as soon as I got in, and I was confident enough in my ability to get it done that I wasn’t worried about being reprimanded for not working more efficiently. Every once in a while, I’d have a one-on-one meeting with my boss to frame my progress in management-speak (in terms of and ), but it was generally very hands-off; I was trusted to work on the list of outstanding features with minimal superversion.

The actual technical environment was neither especially challenging nor trivial. In fact, it wasn’t that different from what I would have encountered when working on my personal side projects. The real challenge was that the work itself just felt so meaningless. With my personal projects, I actually cared about what I was working on, whereas at Google, I was only working because the company was paying me to. In Marxist terms, I was alienated from my labour: forced to think about a problem I didn’t personally have a stake in, in a very typically corporate environment that drained all the motivation out of me. I remember thinking: is this it? Is this what my life will be like if I come back full-time? Is this really what I have to look forward to?

Google was supposed to be the goal, the reward people worked so hard for. And on the surface, it was everything you could have asked for: lots of autonomy, excellent compensation, a workspace that caters to your every need. So why did it feel so empty?

When I talked to other interns about this, the conversations never got very far. We’d concur that the work was kind of dull, and tentatively wonder if there was something better: maybe a different team within Google, or just a different company in the tech industry. Never did we connect our shared malaise to structural issues with the industry itself; it was much more natural to turn inward, and ask ourselves if our unhappiness was the result of , a symptom of just not being cut out for the industry.

When I got my offer to return full-time after graduating, part of me didn’t want to take it, because I thought there must be something better, this can’t be it. This what can’t be what I’ve worked so hard for.

But I couldn’t find anything else.

So I resigned myself to it. And because I had nothing else to be inspired by, I focused on the material aspects. At the time, the standard Google software engineer salary for new university graduates in the Bay Area was estimated at $143,000 USD in total compensation: $100,000 base, $15,000 projected bonus, and over $100,000 worth of stock which would vest over 4 years. I calculated how much I would get in each paycheck and, months before even graduating, started budgeting for vacations and luxury purchases and nights out. After all, why not? What else was I supposed to look forward to, except mindless consumption? Wasn’t that the whole point of making that much money? Wasn’t that what drove people to work so hard in the first place?

A Way Out?

I never made it back to Google. Uninspired, despairing of a future that looked so hollow, I spent most of my last year at university looking for alternatives, a way to escape the barren path I saw in front of me. Eventually, I found such an escape – at least a temporary one – through startups.

It was at a hackathon that I first worked with some classmates who would eventually become my co-founders, during one sleep-deprived weekend at the University of Pennsylvania that culminated in us building a web app together. Even though the project was summarily abandoned, the buzz of working on a technical challenge with friends was enough of a high to get me seriously considering turning down Google to do a startup instead. I wanted to extend the hackathon spirit beyond that one weekend, as a way of avoiding the existential dread I associated with a full-time job at Google.

For a while, it worked. The first summer of that startup became one giant hackathon, a blur of late nights and empty coffee cups in the living room of my cofounder’s apartment. I remember being so intently focused on my laptop screen until the small hours of the morning, so utterly consumed by the esoteric technical challenges at hand that I didn’t want to sleep even though I knew I needed to, that I didn’t even care about the fact that we were working in an apartment filled with ants which my cofounder once misguidedly tried to kill with laundry detergent. The high I felt every time I overcame another technical barrier. Feeling like we were some sort of visionaries, building something so new, so exciting, that it was the only thing that mattered.

It took us over a year before we had a product that we could actually sell to anyone, and the revenue from our first sale was a grand total of $125. Even then, though, we stubbornly maintained our entrepreneurial hubris. We talked disparagingly about companies that only had $10 million in annual revenue – why even bother if you’re not going to aim bigger?; we scornfully turned down acquisition offers; we scoped out competitors with bigger teams and proven track records and decided we could beat them. We were a bunch of kids in an ant-ridden apartment with barely any funding and no clue what we were doing, and yet during the highs we really thought that our breakthrough was just around the corner.

The highs rarely lasted very long. In the lows, when deals kept falling through and we were embroiled in interminable cofounder arguments and we still couldn’t get rid of the endless ants, there were so many times that we almost gave up. I think the only thing that stopped us was the lack of any real alternative. We had thoroughly bought into the startup myth that starting a successful company is the only thing worth doing with your life. As a result, we had no real exit strategy; every way out just felt like failure.

So we stuck with it, even when we had to change our entire revenue model and thus lost any pretense of telos. Although we had originally envisioned ourselves as data science startup, it soon became clear that the only profitable avenue was to become an advertising technology startup, selling consumer data to help companies market their products more efficiently. We went to marketing technology conferences in which we forced ourselves to network with people we despised, people in shiny suits and branded lanyards talking about CAC and LTV and NDAs. Our days became a monotonous blend of 3-letter acronyms and sales decks and meetings with people who didn’t want to be there any more than we did.

Underneath it all was a desperate yearning for our startup to mean something. We needed all the stress and supplication and  to be part of the heroic arc of our own entrepreneurship journey, so that one day we would look back on it all and say that it was worth it. After all, all the real entrepreneurs we knew had gone through the same route; we just had to , and eventually we’d look back on all the  we’d endured and everything would finally make sense.

No Way Out

The worst trap is when you don’t realise that you’re trapped. We were our own bosses – not only did we own the means of production, we sort of were the means of production – and so we thought were free, certainly freer than our regularly-employed friends who were chained to their 9-5. Really, though, we were trapped by our own obstinacy, by our conviction that startups were the path to some sort of greater salvation. We were suffocating in this bubble where nothing seemed more important than our company, and because we were constantly facing existential threats, we were always in crisis mode, always fighting for air. We couldn’t afford to take the time to stop and think about why we were doing it in the first place.

I don’t remember exactly when it finally changed for me, or why. I just know that at a certain point, I decided that the startup dream I’d been chasing was bullshit and that I couldn’t bear to waste another second of my life on it. That just because I’d poured years of my life into my startup didn’t mean my efforts were intrinsically worthwhile. That there could be more to life than the continual pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

Eventually, this world stopped feeling like something I could be proud of. My faith in the overall goodness of the tech industry, already shaken by a cold hard look inside the world of advertising technology, had drowned, deluged by the futility of my own startup. I would read about people my age and younger raising millions of dollars for their hare-brained startup ideas and where I might have once felt envy, I could only feel disgust.

And I began to see the monstrosity lurking at the heart of the industry. Underneath the veneer of innovation and shininess and platitudes about making the world a better place is nothing but decay, a black wave of rot and regret. There’s something grotesque in such an inefficient allocation of resources: all this money trickling down from central banks to VCs to startup founders instead of addressing poverty or funding public services. All this money going towards renting exposed-brick offices in SoMa and creating landfill-destined branded startup t-shirts, just so that some clueless kids drunk on the startup Kool-Aid can delude themselves into thinking they’re making the world a better place for a few years.

Because it is a delusion, at least for the overwhelming majority. Even if you start out wanting to produce social value, you’ll soon come up against the structural incentives of the industry: startups tend not to get funded unless they’re rapacious, and so you’ll end up continually tweaking your business model in order to appease investors who .

And soon enough, you’ve become an empty husk trudging along Sand Hill Road, inserting ever more ambitious and less socially useful goals into your pitch deck. You’ll resign yourself to the fact that you’re not even that excited about your startup idea anymore, but that’s okay, because once you sell this one you’ll finally have the cachet to do what you really want, even if you haven’t quite figured that out yet. For now, though, you’re going to give it a shot with your e-commerce or blockchain or adtech “play”.

As if it’s a game. Because, after all, it sort of is, if you’re a founder with the right connections. There are no real consequences to failure. If your startup runs out of money, or you have to sell for less than you raised, rest assured because you’ll probably be able to  in the future. As long as you have a half-decent slide deck and fit some rich person’s preconceived notions of a good founder, you’ll never have to get a real job; your material needs will be taken care of by the Silicon Valley Basic Income.

The Rank and File

The wealth dynamics behind startups—the early stages of tech companies – are still present when these companies succeed and grow to the scale of Facebook and Google. Although founders and employees experience different material conditions, the outcomes are the same: they all spend their days thinking of ways to increase profits for a parasitical corporation. Employees, though, have less power over their own circumstances, trapped as they are by the  of stock grants and dangled raises. Someone who’s worked at a place like Google in Silicon Valley can, after a couple of years, draw  in total compensation. How do you walk away from that? When you’re submerged in a culture that values you primarily based on how much capital you can accumulate, how do you step away from something so manifestly rewarding?

Compounding the problem is the link between the material rewards and the idea of merit. Silicon Valley is brimming with the belief that those who make so much money must somehow deserve it, because they worked for it, in a weird revenge-of-the-nerds-type scenario. That’s the whole function of the “meritocracy” ethos within the industry: to justify the existing distribution of wealth and power, no matter how extreme. After all, software developers aren’t driven by solely by money; they’re just , and if they happen to be well-compensated in the process, they’d earned it by dint of their hard work and skill.

It’s painful, for me, to see things twisted this way. Because there really is something wonderful about being able to manipulate technology, an exhilarating intoxication when it’s just you versus the machine. That “aha!” moment when things finally click and it’s like you’ve unlocked the secrets of the cosmos. You feel like a kind of god, sometimes.

And that feeling is great, and more people should have the opportunity to master technology in that way. But technical expertise has morphed into a filter, an excuse for justifying existing patterns of inequality. Those who are on the top clearly just deserve to be so, by fiat; there’s no room to question the validity of the system.

What’s especially dangerous about the glorification of the brilliant technical worker is how it obscures the very real exploitation going on beneath the surface. These highly-paid technical employees, producing intellectual property, find their dialectical opposite in the low-paid employees who provide the material foundations for the company’s success. Similar to how women’s domestic work was (and still often is) invisible, this work is often done by contractors working under punishing conditions. Facebook has its army of moderators in the Philippines; Apple has its assemblers at Foxconn; Uber has its drivers; Deliveroo has its riders; Amazon has . And all of these tech companies have the staff that directly caters to the highly-paid employees: cleaners, chefs, baristas, security guards.

There’s a clever strategy at work here, behind the scenes. This is  answer to the labour-capital crisis of the 70s, in which workers were able to attain enough leverage over key points in order to seriously disrupt production and thus exact concessions from capital in terms of better wages or working conditions. The trick here is to bifurcate labour. First, identify the workers who can contribute directly to the intangible assets and thus could potentially have leverage over production, and treat them really well. Pay them well, of course, with a high base salary and stock grants that refresh every year, but also provide them with free food, , and lavish parties at . Make them feel valued and special and like they’re part of something important.

In short, do whatever it takes to ensure they have .

This is how these companies get away with treating a subset of their workers : these workers rarely amass enough company-specific knowledge or access to have any significant bargaining power, and thus easily are replaced. The ones who do have leverage, on the other hand, you can count on to be sheepishly loyal to the corporations on account of their paychecks and the free office La Croix.

Whether or not that’s a deliberate strategy is debatable; your typical hiring manager is unlikely to be this class-conscious. The point is that it works. It has, at least so far, been an extremely successful method for preventing too much of a Polanyi-esque double movement. Thus these companies owe part of their continued success to their ability to contain labour through strategic stratification.

Tech Workers of the World

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of movements to organise tech workers by  between high- and low-paid workers. This could be a potent combination: highly-paid workers at crucial production points have  and could demand better conditions for their less well-paid peers, or call for more ethical business practices.

The challenge is to get those on top to see that, to see the extent of their collective power and thus responsibility. It’s to get these well-paid and well-treated workers to realise that they are  and, moreover, human beings, whose interests won’t always be aligned with the interests of the corporation they work for. It’s to get them to take a sort of cognitive leap, from seeing the world as mostly fine and just trying to take their place in it, to realising how flawed it is and resolving to do their best to fix it, bit by bit.

I hope more of them realise what the industry they’re part of has done to the world, and reclaim that long-buried promise of technology to make the world a better place. I hope more of them realise that everything they care about—this abstract world of JavaScript frameworks and Apple Watches and stock options in which they’ve become immured—is just so much superstructure and that with every passing day, the material foundations of their existence are crumbling, crumbling like dirt into the San Francisco bay.

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102 comments

  1. JTMcPhee

    Yah, build that solidarity among tech workers. Because it’s just inevitable that some Rainbow Convergence will just Happen, and your coding skills and Deep Mind understandings of the Universe and Stuff will lead to meaningful goodness and stuff. And some few among your cohort will contribute to the cooperative commensalism project of building Big Mind, and some others will bring us Slaugherbots and maybe some defenses against Slaughterbots that a few can afford, and some others will codify the great Genetics Matrix so some of us can tell our somatic cells to re-grow so we look just like Darth Maul, and also Never Die, and be less affected by cosmic rays and stuff, so we can “develop” on the path to becoming truly Successful, first as a Muskian “participatory democracy” on Mars, then maybe on a vast intergalactic scale, like the aliens in the black ships that brought us the patriotic nightmares of “Independence Day…” Able to Make Change, Innovate and stuff, create and assign meaning to Existence and stuff, and skip over that existential question that some of those among the coding and other-tech cohort sort of sense but are apparently afraid to ask, and answer, every morning… Love to hear the Essence of “that long-buried promise of technology to make the world a better place,” for what definition and appearance and manifestation of “better”?

    Like the author asks, at each node in her personal-growth net, “Is that all there is?”

    What’s the Goal of It All, again? Maybe just a do-while loop?

    1. Croatoan

      I had a long discussion about the term “Meaningful Work” with a friend last week. The author brought this up several times and I am glad you did as well.

      Only people who are already wealthy can do “meaningful work”, so to us it was a code word for being wealthy. It was is a starting point, it was is end point. It is an end point that capitalists keep you striving for in a system that can only sustain a very few people at that level.It tricks people into subjecting them selves to capitalism in the hopes that one day they will have enough money to be free. HA! That is the joke, they trick you into thinking you need money to be free!

      There is no such thing as meaningful work, or maybe meaningful work can be a matter of perspective; isn’t it meaningful to bag groceries for an elderly person? Maybe not working at all is the most meaningful work, to which I look at St Francis or the Buddha.

      We came to the conclusion that the only meaningful work provided than food, clothing and shelter. Any other work is meaningless, I do not care how you feel about your art or your writing or even this blog, just because it makes you feel good does not mean it has any significant meaning. And the assumption is that all these wealthy people are really doing what they love. Isn’t that the biggest assumption?

      Do what you love, also code word for “buy stuff from capitalists that you need to do what you love”. I see these cell phone commercials that are selling the idea that to express yourself you need their phones. I see Land Rover commercials saying you need their SUV to go on a trip with your girlfriend and her dog.

      We are not supposed to love getting food, clothing, and shelter. They are things we have to do. We are supposed to love people, not things or action. Capitalism has made getting food clothing and shelter such a pain in the a$$ and isolating that we look for ways to make it not suck so much. Doing what you love? People really love taking opioids it seems.

      Anyway, done with my rant. There is no way out inside of capitalism. You can try to make it cognitive, or more kind, or unionize to sustain the never ending battle against the owners of capital. If a man keeps getting bitten by snakes, yes, giving him anti-venom will help, but taking him out of the snake pit is the cure.

      “It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
      ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

      1. Rosario

        Le Guin was the best. I have another one more related to the individual experience from Kahlil Gibran:

        “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
        The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
        When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
        When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

      2. California Bob

        re: ” I see Land Rover commercials saying you need their SUV to go on a trip with your girlfriend and her dog.”

        Uh, I believe that’s a Subaru commercial but, point made.

      3. Wendy Liu

        Great post, and great Le Guin quote. Love your analysis of the concept of “meaningful work” and how that functions as a carrot within the capitalist treadmill.

  2. Steve

    The description of her life at a startup really struck me, having personally participated in two startups; how different it was from my experiences. The differences that occur to me:
    1. I do analog circuits. You can do software on a shoestring with almost no capital. Not true of hardware. It takes a lot more effort to delude yourself.
    2. Bay Area. It’s a far different place than when I worked there in the early 80’s. Hardware? who does that?
    3. Modern times? Maybe startups have changed.
    I don’t really put much weight on #3, I think 1&2 dominate.

    We didn’t work 40 hour weeks, but never something like 80. There was life outside work. A major advantage was that we had someone with real skill in business running the place. There were difficulties but I wouldn’t change a thing.

    The other bit that amazed me was the new grad starting salary at Google. Not far below what I’m earning now in Seattle with almost 40 years experience. Strongly contributing in my case was being laid off for 2.5 years, no complaints about my present job, just amazing to see those numbers in print.

    1. Fiery Hunt

      RE: #3 Bay Area

      The cost of housing has exploded…Saw a 194 sq. ft. “studio” without A KITCHEN (community “kitchen on the floor!”) listed at $1,600…here’s what’s still available:

      Everyone’s working 60 to 80 hours now just to afford the rent.

      1. JBird

        That is not surprising at all. Back in 2000 just before the Internet Bubble meltdown, it was over $2000 for something akin to a large walk-in closet. Community bath and kitchen. Smaller than a bedroom in a junior one bedroom apartment although it was in San Francisco not that no good town of Oakland. It did not get quite as high in 2007, but the current level of housing costs is one of the reasons I expect the pop to happen by August of this year. I could be wrong as housing costs in California in general, and the Bay Area in particular, always crushes expectations.

        This is one heck of a change from when my family could rent a whole house in the Bay Area, working in retail, odd jobs, and as college students. Some of those jobs were in fruit picking and cannery work, so somethings have changed just a bit.

        Since this post, and the comments, are about being caged, I would like to mention failure nowadays has a far higher cost, and is much easier to do, then it was fifty, forty, even thirty years ago. If a job, or a career, didn’t work out there was another different one. If you got sick, or laid off, the same. It was much easier to pay for the essentials and with a greater variety of jobs. Now, it’s tech, government, or finance, with all needing a college degree, and if you fall, you fall completely off. Hello, it’s the street for you! That is not even thinking of your family.

        This one of the reason we are so desperate now. There is no room for mistakes, accidents, or even just a little bad luck. All must go well, and you must obey, and conform, or you might as well go and die.

    2. Wendy Liu

      From what I can piece together, new grad salaries at companies like Google have increased substantially over the last decade or so, without being accompanied by salary increases for more established roles. It’s a strange situation that likely results from high “competition” for (certain) new grads in recent years.

  3. toklatcharlie

    What I am struggling to understand here is how Wendy and the author’s partners survived during those months – maybe a year, possibly two? – doing their startup? How did these people pay rent, eat, clothe themselves? Did some VC person stake them for the ant infested apartment? And who paid for their trips to conventions and meetings with backers?

    1. a different chris

      That’s the first success filter that they never tell you about. I don’t know about Ms. Liu, but generally: family. Neither Bill Gates or Elon Musk actually needed a “real job” to keep the lights on.

      1. economicator

        Exactly.

        Also, thinking only about vacations and trips when planning your life on $143k a year means you don’t have any real responsibilities — and therefore you don’t know real life. Try raising two kids and supporting a sick parent on that income in San Francisco and then think again whether a job at Google for $143k a year is meaningless.

        But at least in this case, kudos to Wendy that she did a great job of exposing the other aspects of the delusion.

        Also, she said one key thing, that I realized some time ago from my own observations: there are no real consequences of failing in this culture. Once you get in the game, you can bullshit your way using other people’s money and have a nice life without every actually delivering anything.

        1. economicator

          … PS. An anecdote on “no real consequences of failure”:

          A friend who’s been doing the startup thing somewhat small scale had to fight IRS over unpaid FICA taxes for his startup. The amount was about $500k over 3 years. He managed to settle the claim for $25k. Guess what – the startup that had accrued these FICA taxes never made any profit. Basically these unpaid taxes were my friend’s income over these 3 years. When I learned that, I thought: well, it certainly is a good gig to be an entrepreneur. You could not get away with that if you are an employee!

      2. Wendy

        Author here. Completely agreed. We had a bit of funding for the startup itself, but not enough to actually pay ourselves salaries­ until we started getting revenue. I personally had savings from working throughout most of college as well as some parental financial support, and I know my cofounders had some level of parental financial support as well. I doubt any of us would have done this otherwise.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      I was wondering about that too. I guess they just pay themselves a salary and when the $$$ runs out , they ask for more? I have a buddy in the Seattle area who made friends with the right person and somehow got into the startup culture. He’s in the gaming industry and from what I can tell the VCs just throw a ton of $$$ at the company and people start being paid a rather lucrative salary to peck around on a keyboard all day and hopefully the investors get a game out of it. He seems ti finish one project – either they produce a game or run out of $$$ – and then it’s on to the next one.

      Nice work if you can get it. I really liked the author’s turn of phrase “Silicon Valley Basic Income” – show up with your nerd gear and someone will pay you big bucks whether the work you do amounts to anything or not.

  4. Norb

    Myriad local movements, along with the growth in artisanal production is a direct response to this soul destroying corporate culture. More people of talent and passion are placing personal material gain lower on the priorities list and starting to activity build genuine community, not the false corporate kind. There is always a balance that must be struck between soul-less work and meaningful personal satisfaction. The problem today is that political and business leadership has lost all sense of proportion and balance. They have lost the view of larger goal and social purpose.

    There has to be authenticity of character in order to reverse this trend, which is the true mark of a leader. Sanders and Trump both tapped into this phenomenon from different directions. Sanders from the need to alter coarse perspective, and Trump from the return to past glory angle. Sanders struggles with altering reality, while the showman Trump attempts to keep the facade from falling down.

    Only when people of talent and resources see the need to restore social balance will any peaceful shifts occur. Slowly but surely, new relationships will form around this need for a higher purpose and meaning in life. What is so difficult about building a company and paying your employees a living wage? The longer this notion that there is a small group of supermen/women deserving this outlandish compensation for their efforts persists, the chance of violent upheaval increases. It that occurs, all the “change the world technology” will reveal its fragility very quickly and probably stop working.

    The question becomes is your social position based on solid, authentic character, or on the false, manipulative kind. In times of real crisis, authenticity wins out.

    1. a different chris

      What’s interesting about “artisanal”* production is this, from Croatan’s post (which I agree with):

      >I see Land Rover commercials saying you need their SUV to go on a trip with your girlfriend and her dog.

      An old Land Rover used to darn near be an “artisanal” production. Stuff like that wasn’t even very obviously made to “minimize cost”, they put together what they felt would work. The best thing I always find is recollections from car aficionado’s about their arguments with engineers from English auto manufacturers. The engineers weren’t, in their eyes, making crap, they just saw things for some reason, differently.

      The customer wasn’t always, was maybe never right. Had they every built a car? No, thus ipso facto. It wasn’t really the way to run a major business, but that’s the problem. You don’t have to throw pottery to be an “artesian”, you just need to keep the size of what you are doing within your control.

      *Am I the only person who giggles at that since it seems to be a contraction of “artist” and “anal”???

      1. LifelongLib

        A friend who owned a Triumph TR3 said the oil blowing back from the engine was known as English Undercoating. Sure was fun to drive though.

        1. Kaleberg

          I saw a bumper sticker on a Triumph once: “All parts falling off of this vehicle are of the finest English workmanship.”

  5. DJG

    I think that the article is a good diagnosis of what ails postmodern U.S. life (and I understanding Yves Smith’s warnings up top about expecting too much from work). The U.S. is now dominated by banking, consulting, software, law–all careers that are fairly boring but that are notable for being good at charging a great deal for their services. So what we see is the creation of an annex to the U.S. bourgeoisie: A new generation of bourgeois with bourgeois preoccupations and, until now, little sign of typical bourgeois bad faith and the vague sense of guilt that should motivate the bourgeois. So now Liu has diagnosed herself. One can understand why she was distracted by the salaries she lists. It is only later that she realizes that there is a moral component to work and to choice of career (in Buddhist terms, right livelihood).

    At this point, this story may be the Emperor’s new clothes. But what she confirms is that Trump is one more symptom of an unhealthy and unproductive and self-absorbed culture.

    Back to Yves Smith’s headnote: The difference years ago is that many of these boring fields did actual work. The loan officer at the bank made loans and had clients. Lawyers talked to clients and engaged in negotations and lawsuits. The M.B.A. cadres hardly existed, so that the endless burbling about business superheroes didn’t exist (everyone knew that the Rockefellers were polite thieves). Now people live on a shoeshine and a smile and a hoodie and attitude (in heavy doses), and we are in a swamp of non-production.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Actual work — done by a pest control company — could have solved the author’s ant infestation problem.

      Is there a pest control startup we can invest in?

      1. DJG

        An “ant-ridden” apartment in Philadelphia? (Typical baroque touch, a plague of ants, indeed.) Six black ants and “Nature” intrudes on our heroine?

        Maybe they could have stepped for a moment out of hacker culture, put the half-drunk and stale cups of boba tea in a garbage bag, along with the carry-out clamshells with the remnants of pork-belly sandwiches, and bought some groovy bag clasps for the kale chips.

        It seems to me the Pest Control Startup is called “housekeeping.” Now talk to me about the groovy bag closers startup that we’re going to start up…”Virtual Bag Man.”

        1. jrs

          honestly they probably don’t need any of this although I don’t know their situation (maybe the whole apartment building is a giant ant infestation), but they probably just need to get their eyes off the computer and clean up whatever is causing the ant problem.

        2. kareninca

          Cinnamon works fine; I am not willing to kill ants. They love life too. All you have to do is divert them, clean the area of their pathways very well with soap and water, and sprinkle fresh cinnamon around.

    2. jrs

      I would add medical to the list of booming fields. There aren’t many.

      I think the difference is now you have to give your life over to work to survive just to the sheer hours it requires, and so people look for passion etc. in work as there is no chance for it elsewhere. Overtime laws would help.

  6. Dirk77

    Someone needs to tell the author that she is being too hard on herself. Sure she was hoodwinked and the tech world now is mostly about regulatory arbitrage and violating people’s privacy rights. But SV is just an aspect of the rot that is the current utopian political philosophy gone off the rails, free market capitalism, and just life on Earth right now. There are so many things that are falling apart. Yves could have a whole post of just one sentence bullet points of things that need to be fixed. And as Yves mentions, this whole idea about needing to find euphoric meaning in the work we are paid for needs to be rethought because I don’t know how it started either. Collecting garbage will always be just as noble as any other and apparently more so. Get a forty hour a week job if you can, and then a hobby. And yes I hope the author doesn’t take that advice because I really want her to continue her now more enlightened way in making the world a better place – and be glad it isn’t me.

    1. sgt_doom

      Google? Aren’t they an intelligence contractor, like Amazon, who is a contractor to ALL 17 American intel agencies?

      Just wondering . . .

    2. Wendy Liu

      But SV is just an aspect of the rot that is the current utopian political philosophy gone off the rails, free market capitalism, and just life on Earth right now.

      Agreed. It took me a long time to realise it, but at least now I have.

  7. FriarTuck

    I attended a conference for electricans a few years ago where the keynote speaker made an interesting point related to finding a job that has meaning.

    Essentially, he argued that for the last forty years our society has had it wrong. “Find something you care about” is actually terrible advice to tell young people; when you start work on something, no matter what it is, you don’t know if you’ll care about it and you don’t know if you’ll be good at it.

    It is only through the act of practicing and learning a trade/activity where a job becomes meaningful. The task of proficiency becomes the thing that gives the job meaning-especially if you find out that you’re well suited for the work.

    Who in their right mind would getting into the intricacies of the electrical code, law, finance, welding, cleaning, or corporate computer code and find it to be intrinsically meaningful? And yet people devote themselves to learning every aspect of a sector; the more invested in it someone is is usually related to how enthusiastic they are towards their job. Ask someone who has done a job for a long period of time, and they can rattle off details that come with being experienced.

    I’m not sure how true this holds for everything or everyone – heck, I’ve experienced things that I’m good at that I hate with a burning passion. At the same time, what keeps me from going insane in a corporate environment is that I’m focused on my job being well done. Maybe that’s what evades the author’s inspection of the “golden handcuffs”?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think this was very much the message of Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book which has now sadly become very unfashionable, but it changed my perspective on things when I read it.

  8. ATK1983

    Following on from Steve, and from the author’s internship at Google, it’s pretty simple–at some point after 2000 “tech” companies stopped doing tech and became mass media and advertising entities. It’s like you took a 20th century automotive engineer and told them to think up names for engines rather than fiddle with the moving parts to increase performance. Thus tech people feel deluded and the non-tech people tend to lead the direction the company goes. At best you get Dilbert.

  9. Travis Bickle

    This is all symptomatic of a “knowledge and creativity” economy where the ‘assets’ of employees are taken over by their employers. Legally, I suppose, it will be argued they are transferred to the employer. Similarly, we now see NDAs being inflicted on fast food workers, presumably for their eye-hand coordination. This seems to have begun in the graphic arts industry, where work-for-hire agreements have being standard for years. Think Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame. This group now includes engineers, but the mindset of employers owning the soul of their employees now covers anyone, for anything they might produce. It’s the mindset of pure and total ownership.

    In the same way business models have evolved to focus on rent extraction versus simple transactions (an extreme case being Blackberry, retroactively with patents, after its time of actual productivity had passed), intellectual property is now recognized as the gift that keeps on giving. BTW, that copy of MicroSoft Office you thought you owned was only licensed to you.

    What this means in the selection and management of employees is that employers have absolutely NO need for a neck down, 9-5 attitude, toward work. If an incredibly talented and productive engineer is able to do a great job and disappear at 5 PM, their employment will be questioned: what are they doing in their time off that would otherwise be to the corporation’s benefit? Are they expending their intellectual property (‘our’ IP) on another job or, heaven forbid, on themselves? And even if innocent of passively depriving their employer, what sort of example are they setting for their colleagues? It all comes down to the acronym of HR, where management science functions to optimize the investment made in organic assets in the same way they would any other piece of equipment.

    Marx tends to be a bit obtuse, but he was really quite insightful. There may be employers who assume responsibility for leadership and organization to the benefit of the tribe. But, as seen in mega civilizations from the pyramids onward, the attitude is more likely to be one of exploitation as an end in itself. Hence, modern employers seek out people who will strip-mine themselves for the corporation, and that’s what we’re seeing.

  10. cnchal

    . . . Although we had originally envisioned ourselves as data science startup, it soon became clear that the only profitable avenue was to become an advertising technology startup, selling consumer data to help companies market their products more efficiently. . .

    And with that, pop goes the bubble. Nothing to sell, except the sell itself. Mercenary and soulless where your values mean nothing.

    To Friar Tuck – that keynote speaker at your conference was on the right track. For myself, I tried different jawbs, to find out what’s what and to find out what I didn’t like doing before deciding to pursue something I liked. I had and have a jawb resume that would make a “recruiter” barf and in today’s world isn’t possible to do anymore. Spending life in an office cubicle was dismissed with prejudice, as the ass kissing required to get ahead didn’t align with my values.

    1. PKMKII

      That’s the huge irony when it comes to SV: for all the mythos of being the forefront of capitalist gains, the industry (outside of the rentier hardware/software establishment, and even then the margins are often slim) still hasn’t quite gotten a hold on how to make a profit. All forms of banner and pop-up ads are tuned out or backfire, viral marketing is notoriously unreliable and often comes off as “How do you do, Fellow Kids?”, and selling user data to marketers seems less useful data and more, as you say, the sell itself.

      Which is not to say that there isn’t social value potential in the tech industry, there really is. The need to grind a profit out of that potential kills it, though. Social media presentation stops being about socializing and starts being about optimal advertisement placement, data science becomes marketing data, content providers sells space to advertisements designed to look like content. Perhaps the dirtiest little secret about SV that few in the industry would be willing to admit, is that the market economy is not the best one for it.

      1. Rosario

        Your last sentence stuck with me. A buddy and I went through grad school together doing computer vision and pattern recognition research. He went off to work in LA utilizing computer vision and pattern recognition at, you guessed it, an ad firm. I on the other hand, work in a completely unrelated field. When we were in school we actually had a discussion about exactly what you are alluding to, what is tech good for, what is the internet best suited for?

        After discussing it for a while we looked at Marx’s shoddiest contribution, how to actually supplant capitalism, and thought, well if anything is suited to undermine the power of capital it is tech and the internet. They help decrease the need for labor in its most easily exploitable forms (in turn the capitalist’s who need to exploit it), dramatically improve the ability to exchange and absorb ideas, and optimize the allocation and consumption of resources (i.e. putting apps/computing/data to “good” use). It seems to follow the course of technologies relationship with culture throughout history. Fossil/mechanical energy ushered in Capitalism which destroyed the old feudal models, which were more oppressive and restrictive than the capitalist ones. It seems by the same logic that tech/internet would have moved Capitalism out of the way for more “real” socialists models, but nothing has really happened. If anything it seems capitalism is more entrenched than ever.

        Instead we have a wasteland of dumb consumption coupled with identity reinforcing social media. As I said above, tech just seems to be creating an ideal consumer economy. More markets (identities) to market to. More identities to partition and patronize. It sucks. I’d say it is capitalist conspiracy, but I’m afraid the culture perverted the potential of the technology long before any of the tech idealists even knew what hit them. The war was lost as soon as capitalists found a way to force the new tools to make them money, and they did it because they didn’t know any other way to do things.

    2. jrs

      I can’t imagine anyone getting the in to try many jobs except low paid ones if that. I’ve seen internships that want people that I’d qualify as mid-to-senior level. And entry level jobs barely exist and require 1-3 years experience, junior level jobs 5.

    3. Rosario

      True on the bubble, I guess the problem is, isn’t it kinda that way for most big money enterprises now (tech, finance, real estate, etc.)? Also, how many years has this extreme form of “ether” economy been going…10, 20, 30? Even one of the fav crypto-currencies is called Ethereum (can’t think of a better way to betray the true spirit of the venture). I don’t really think there was a line crossed when things got silly, more like a gradient, but surly there is a tipping (really tripping) point of silly.

      This attitude has even seeped into the “hard” commodity economy a bit. Unconventional oil looks much less appealing when it isn’t financed by creative debt instruments. It is a bit easier to hide the pitiful EROEI with loads of capital chasing harebrained schemes.

      1. jrs

        Ehtereum isn’t the full satire, there is Dodge coin named after someone’s dog, originally a joke and now worth a boatload of real money.

  11. Self Affine

    Kinda delusional and removed from reality I think. She complains about the lack of meaning in her life while making a 6 figure salary. She is writing from a privileged point of view.

    Anyone who thinks that a corporation will induce “meaning”, which is an internal construct, needs to try farming for a living for a couple of years.

    Or, try making a living by working in a factory or two minimum wage jobs.

    I never understand why people think that they are owed not just a living, but “meaning” by society. Meaning is something one has to discover oneself and if its not available in the current culture, then change the culture.

    As Marx wrote: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

    1. nowhere

      “I never understand why people think that they are owed not just a living, but “meaning” by society. Meaning is something one has to discover oneself and if its not available in the current culture, then change the culture.”

      While I agree, I tend to think that this is an opinion that is developed throughout life. When people are young, they generally lack the social capital to “change the culture.” Ironically, a major avenue where young people can disrupt change the culture is through high technology.

      1. Velma

        When your experience is limited to one really positive thing, it is obviously ‘the Best Ever!’ Similarly, one bad experience can only be ‘the Worst! Rock Bottom!’

        Ms Liu tells us that she got the internship offer from Google in her third year of university and took it up in the summer of 2013. Presumably, then, she graduated from university and began her startup in 2014. Erm … isn’t that less than four years ago?

        > It took us over a year before we had a product …

        OK, that takes us up to 2015.

        > We were a bunch of kids…

        Wait, isn’t she talking about herself only three years ago?

        Even though Ms Liu writes well — which is always a pleasant surprise, nowadays — the fact remains that such a cri de coeur from such a young person always seems naive, even jejune, to someone who has been around the block a few times.

        > … just because I’d poured years of my life into my startup …

        Sorry, what?!? And

        > Eventually, this world stopped feeling like something I could be proud of.

        ‘Eventually’? Please. ‘Eventually’ doesn’t come after five minutes.

        Ms Liu tells an interesting tale. Many of us have no insight into the working life that she and her former colleagues led. But Germinal it is not.

        1. Wendy Liu

          The “Eventually” came after about two years. Not exactly a lifetime, but not five minutes, either. I’m not surprised it sounds naive—I fully acknowledge that I was (and still am)! Don’t know what you mean by “Germinal”, sadly, but thanks for the back anyway.

    2. jrs

      I doubt that 6 figure salary buys as much as it seems though. I mean you just know it’s almost all going for rent (except if living 10 to an ant infested apartment maybe …). They don’t live in a part of the country where it is going to go all that far.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        A six-figure salary in a place with six-figure expenses can become a very stylish and comfortable hand-to-mouth subsistence-existence. And if the 6-figure work is painful and brainraping enough, a 6-figure R&R lifestyle becomes necessary just to dull the pain and keep going. When you have to pay the cage lords for every turn of the wheel, running in the hamster wheel becomes expensive.

        Olders who criticize Ms. Liu for callow youthful judgements should remember their own ( our own) callow youth. At least Ms. Liu is struggling towards a sort of wisdom at a fairly early age. She could benefit from reading the anomymized writings of wisdomful Olders. Why anomymized? So that she can know they are not able to gloat personally about her reading their writings.

        And let us all remember the saying: Wisdom is wasted on the old.

    3. a different chris

      ???? I thought she was offered the 6 figure salary and turned it down? Thus the ant-infested apartment.

      1. Wendy Liu

        That’s correct. The ant-infested apartment was actually my co-founder’s, not my own (we just worked there).

    4. Ape

      Meaningful work means value beyond the paycheck. Toilets are cleaner, the bus gets there on time. Bullshit works is extracting wealth from others.

      But people’s minds are topsy turvy. They look for meaning by looking for power. And end up doing bullshit. Ask Graeber.

    5. Wendy

      She is writing from a privileged point of view.

      That’s kind of my point, to be honest. It’s meant to be an immanent critique. I no longer think that a corporation will induce “meaning”, believe me. And I’m fully on board with the eleventh thesis!

  12. John

    I went through high school, college and a stint in the military in the 1960’s and somewhere during that time, I was fortunately infected with the meme that the great computer god was as nasty, ruthless and soul destroying as another angry old man skygod that I had been admonished to fear.
    I think it was mostly about the potential for the surveillance society that has now manifested. But it is also about the fact that all those zeros and onesies are just not very interesting. Terminal stage dualism.
    The military finished me off for indoctrination into conventional American drone bot BS thinking that infects most every thing. Thank goddess.
    I consider doing nothing my highest achievement. I live by a creek and I love to sit by it daily and contemplate the flowing water. Occasionally I try to help people with little functional tasks. The rest is nonsense. Do the math. All the techdickdom in the world is doing little to help people or their lives on the planet.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The subgenius would say . . . you have Slack.

      ” Tune out. Slow down. Slack off.”

      One hopes our bloggers and hosts decide to solicit replies and advice from people who feel they are successfully tuning out, slowing down and slacking off in the teeth of the Cage Lords’ cultural mind-matrix of
      ” Faster hamster, run run!”

  13. Roquentin

    While I agree with parts of this essay, finding personally fulfilling work is mostly bullshit. I lost my job in the media, typical “creative” millennial nonsense career and ended up processing invoices for a construction company. It’s been better all around. No one expects me to be passionate. It’s simple, honest. There’s work to be done, someone has to do it, get paid and go home. That’s all I’ve wanted for a long time. Construction contractors would never think of talking that way and it’s been a massive breath of fresh air. I feel as though for so many years, I had it all wrong, looking for something I’d never find.

    For years I’ve resented the question “What do you want to do?” As if that were ever on the table for people like me….

    1. jrs

      The expectation to be passionate is unpaid emotional labor, and they think only women in service professions have to do emotional labor, but what does anyone think having to fake passion about one’s work is?

      I wonder how you transitioned to the new career though, did you process invoices before, get a new degree? The job market is so bad that there aren’t just openings for people who want a change.

      1. Roquentin

        I did process invoices before, issued purchase orders, tracked deliveries, that sort of thing. It was one of the only useful, transferable skill sets I picked up in nearly a decade. I applied to hundreds of jobs and this was eventually the one that took. I had to temp in collections for nearly 6 months in the meantime. Calling 40 people a day to tell them they owe you money will sap your will to live pretty quick.

        I guess it worked out in the end. A lot of people don’t even consider construction.

        1. Arizona Slim

          Too bad, because they’ll miss out on meeting a lot of great people. Construction people are among the best I’ve ever known.

  14. Off The Street

    has left the building. His pyramid of self-actualization influenced many of the 1960s generation. Their self-delusions and low-cost explorations ran headlong into the crushing recession of 1974-75. Jobs seemed plentiful before then, since the go-go 60s and ebullience in American life seemed infectious and likely to go on and on. All of a sudden gas got more expensive, food started creeping up in price and cars were more challenging to acquire and maintain compared to that shoe-string budget of the heady years.

    The recession killed off the hippie movement and suppressed the yippies and a few others, with only an echo of the SLA appearing later. Add in the governmental and institutional problems showing up through Watergate and the Church Commission and it was enough to scare the free spirits back into hiding. They even had to deal with the indignity of Nixon’s daylight savings time experiment. Each generation needs its founding stories and character-building experiences. It is not just an adventure, it is a job.

    1. Arizona Slim

      That was Jerry Ford’s DST experiment. Happened when I was in high school. And we kids were NOT happy. Ditto for our parents, who had to send us out to the bus stop in the dark.

  15. Summer

    A good example of promoted lifestyles being used to absorb diversity…diversity being any thought contrary to the primacy of profit over people.

  16. PlutoniumKun

    A good friend of mine was once a HR manager in FB. I used to sometimes meet her on a Friday evening with her colleagues, mostly very young and eager. I knew from her that many of them were on surprisingly low salaries and the majority would be discarded after a few years. Only a small elite (not necessarily the most talented or hard-working) climbed the slippery ladder and made serious money. There were numerous little tricks to ensure they were happy to work far more than a 40 hour week. Some, I learned from my friend, were earning less on an hourly basis than if they were working in McD,s when you took account of the real number of hours they worked without overtime (yes, they found it amusing that I was astonished that no body got overtime). I used to, semi-jokingly, tell them they needed to join a union. They would laugh – not ironic ‘ah, as if…’ laughs. They genuinely thought it was a joke. Why would anyone want to be in a Union when you could work for FB? I doubt if many of them still work there. My HR friend was fired because her face just didn’t fit in.

    1. jrs

      unionization is actually a bit overkill here though, I mean it might be necessary at this point to even get to the point we could get laws, but we really just need overtime laws and enforcement, tech labor was specifically exempted from overtime laws, so it’s not just the failure to unionize, it’s exemptions crafted into laws themselves. Of course it doesn’t mean overtime is being enforced even in the places where the law is actually in the worker’s favor, illegal wage theft is rampant as well.

      And if they laugh at unionization well the same thing goes on at the other side of the income spectrum, remember the drive to unionize FAST FOOD labor failed and became simply a fight to change laws (fight for 15).

      1. Paul Boisvert

        jrs, you raise a good (marxist) point about unionization vs. legal context. They are dialectically related–if you had sufficient unionization to get pro-labor politicians elected to pass the laws, you wouldn’t need the laws; they could bargain their own appropriate overtime pay. But if you have a legal and socioeconomic context like the present (with both those categories dialectically intertwined as well), unions find efforts to increase their numbers largely fruitless–so far…

        Most workers are dissatisfied–Trump’s and Sanders’s support shows that clearly. Simultaneous efforts to build political/legal movements representing them, and to organize them into unions, need to be made, but it’s the latter that have to take ultimate primacy. Unions were originally organized in the face of existing labor and political opposition–it will (have to) happen again… :)

    2. Jesper

      One complication for unionisation is the outsourcing. Many, most or possible even all of the real low level employees at FB are outsourced.
      Here is a link to an ad to what I believe to be working at FB:

      Yes, the employer is listed as CPL….

      And based on this the company with the outsourcing contract to provide the service might be Accenture:

      So profitmargins of at least two companies might be affected quite a lot by unionisation of the workforce at one site. If the client of the outsourcer doesn’t like one employee at the outsourcer then that employee will be moved to another client. If no other client takes that employee then redundancy for that employee.
      How many people believe that the one employee who began unionisation would continue working for FB/Accenture/CPL?

      From the stories I’ve heard people don’t do the unpaid overtime due to love of FB or being happy about the work. They do it to keep their jobs. There are also some who dream that they one time will be directly employed by FB. It happens about as frequently as someone winning the lottery….

      A gilded cage would be an improvement for many so the feelings of sympathy for the ones in the gilded cage might be limited.

  17. PlutoniumKun

    Just on the point of being trapped by a treadmill, I think this is surprisingly common. I was talking to a colleague recently who was visiting relatives in Silicon Valley, a married couple with kids. They had been both very well paid software engineers in Dublin. They moved family to London for another job and doubled their income. They doubled it again when transferred to head office by their big five company. By any standards they are well within the top 5%, if not 1% in earners. But having suddenly found that they are finding it hard to make ends meet. They paid a fortune for a very average house in SF, and with a huge mortgage and other debts associated with the move and schooling they were telling my colleague they have far less disposable income than when they lived in Dublin (and Dublin is by no means a cheap city). They feel… well… trapped, because their debts and the disruption to their kids means they feel they can’t reverse course, either by changing jobs or location.

    Now obviously, its hard to feel much sympathy for people making good six figure salaries, but there is a treadmill where you find yourself with a particular set of expectations, and its surprisingly hard to reverse. Marriage in particular seems to have that effect – a lot of men feel they can’t admit to their partners that they want to downsize their lives. I think its something employers are well aware of and use it to maintain staff discipline.

    1. Redlife2017

      Your last sentence struck a mighty cord with me. I am at a large UK asset manager and have seen first hand the treadmill and how it is used to instil discipline in the higher ranks. The higher up the chain you go the more they have to have the big house (with the huge mortgage), send the kids to private school, have the nice car, etc.

      It took me many years to figure out that for senior figures the bonus is nice, but it is also the form of control that the firm has over them. These people don’t save their bonuses, they SPEND them. Using them as the basis of loans for overpriced large houses out in the deadening suburbs. They have gone down the rabbit hole of debt with no way out of their gilded cage as they will lose their social status as well. They must work hard to get that bonus or all will be lost!

      The other bit is that these senior people (and I suppose enough worker bees) believe they will be ‘free’ the higher up the chain they go. It’s really almost a quasi-religious experience for them (I weirdly get these people to be honest with me), but of course, it is meaningless.

      It’s like the neo-liberal consensus world is a big box. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the further inside the box you go. You get to the highest part of the hierarchy, which is actually the part furthest inside the box. It has lovely paintings of what they think the outside is to gaze at. But they don’t know why they can’t sleep at night. Why their heart cries out to them. They remove their feelings. But you never can remove them – they come back in the oddest ways. Their ‘freedom’ is an illusion.

      It’s depressing to watch the waste of human and societal potential.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, employers are VERY aware of the wife dynamic. I recall partners at Goldman openly saying when men at the firm would get married: “Now we really have him.” He was getting caught up in overhead that would force him to work diligently…and since Goldman paid better than other firms, give Goldman leverage by virtue of having to take a pay cut if he were to leave.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        And possibly even more the ex-wife dynamic. A relative who is a partner in a hedge fund had to work right through his bowel cancer treatment. He told me ruefully that his entire life is ruled by his ex wifes excellent choice of lawyer.

  18. Craig H.

    Computer geek here; not inside valley.

    This (valley) “meaning in life” / meaningful work trope is Venn-diagram-overlapped at least fifty percent with the cult of Steve Jobs. Which is a combination of a hoax and a fallacy because S.J. was a selfish poop head. Personally I find meaning in life a high priority and for many years the only responses I see from 95% of the people in the room if anybody brings up the topic are blank looks.

    My heroes were people I thought of as the pioneers of the Internet, people like Neal Stephenson and Paul Graham and Eric S. Raymond whose writing on hacker culture made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something exciting.

    Graham is a Steve Jobs wannabe. Raymond is a Steve Jobs wannabe. Neil Stephenson is a very notable guy who wrote 9/10 of two great novels: Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. Neither book had an ending. The hero of Cryptonomicon is a Steve Jobs wannabe. Stephenson knows some of the greatest factoids of any body ever and I bet he is a hoot to drink with. Graham and Raymond not so much.

    Heroes should be (figuratively) killed at the first opportunity. Optimally before age 18 but for sure by 24.

    1. Carolinian

      Thanks for this (and all the other great comments). Re the technology aspect of the above post, one could point out that a great deal of our current tech was created by enthusiastic people for the sheer joy of sharing. Linux might be the most prominent example, but there’s also a ton of software that some of us use every day and that was written with little expectation of monetary gain. The author of the above seems to be expressing dissatisfaction more with the corporate world in general. Mike Judge, creator of HBO’s satirical Silicon Valley, also directed the now almost cult film called Office Space that pokes fun at the bureaucratic absurdities endured by our cubicled “knowledge workers.” Perhaps those who wish to live for their own interests are going to have to resign themselves to being “starving artists” and dial down their material expectations.

    2. ChrisPacific

      Also if the author based their career choice on reading Snow Crash, I don’t think he/she paid close enough attention to it. Yes, it’s an entertaining work of fiction, but it’s also a satire on neoliberalism, with a lot of funny-but-not-very-complimentary things to say about the USA, consumer culture, and rule by market. If they thought he was such a visionary on matters technical, maybe they should have considered the possibility that he might have had a point about the other stuff too.

      1. Wendy Liu

        Author here. I actually didn’t read Snow Crash until fairly recently! I first read (and loved) Cryptonomicon as a teenager, though, and I feel like that has a much more positive take on entrepreneurial culture that probably influenced me in myriad (subconscious) ways.

  19. David

    For me the worst part about the “passion and meaning” BS is the obligation to pretend to have it. Try selling duty and responsibility and flexibility to some idiot in HR who thinks he/she/xe is in the business of spiritual development.

  20. lb

    I’m now 20 years into a tech work career having known I was always going to do some sort of computer work since well before it was lucrative or hot. Yesterday I was out to lunch with some of my peers and we were talking briefly about how to sell our job to potential new hires when they ask, “Why do you come to work each day?” The obvious answer to most of the folks was that cynically, as I put it, “I bring home a bag of money with a dollar sign on it each night.” But in actuality I had to offer the also true, “If you find a workplace where you can interact with one brilliant person, that’s great, but if you find one with a couple dozen, that can keep you around.” To this I had to add, “But there are tech workers who think they’re doing God’s work. We’re not doing that. We’re merely working on infrastructure technology and that, at least, causes no specific social harm.” Thankfully I work among people who have an awareness and appreciation of the importance of social utility (or at the least, the lack of harm, in a workaday job). This seems remarkably rare among the delusional tech workers in their perpetual hubris bubbles. 18 years into working in Silicon Valley I can see an entire generation that’s only known this (increasing) hubris, only known one downturn which they survived (bolstering the egotism mentioned by the author above) and ever more divorced from any actual value to their fellow man. The trends are rather dire and depressing from the inside.

    I also find it not coincidental that the arguments over the bifurcation of tech-company labor seem to mirror _and_ overlap the arguments about the co-option of the professional class/10% by a certain political party simultaneous to the punching of the working-class left and anyone interested in using a class lens in politics. That very same political party sure seems to see the tech industry as untouchable, unquestionable, beyond reproach (anti-trust enforement, anyone) and so on…

  21. NoOneInParticular

    This is a fascinating discussion. My perspective: Maybe all day-to-day activities seem meaningless all or much of the time. Waking, bathing, eating, working, the million trivial tasks involved in existence all add up to emptiness if you choose to focus on the small all the time. It would drive you nuts if you count how many times you’ll chop carrots or whatever for dinner over the course of a lifetime. For me, the question isn’t whether the job is meaningful. It’s whether my work is useful, whether it’s constructive, whether my opinion is valued, whether my interactions with co-workers are helpful and pleasant. And, most importantly, is the product we’re making constructive or destructive in a larger, societal perspective? And, sadly, I have concluded that the evolution of my profession over the last 30 years has been toward the destructive. The fundamental reason, I think, is the structure of the economy and its insistence that corporations be judged by their stock prices. The relentless focus on this number trickles down and pollutes even the lowest level job.

  22. HotFlash

    We were our own bosses – not only did we own the means of production, we sort of were the means of production – and so we thought were free, certainly freer than our regularly-employed friends who were chained to their 9-5.

    Look up . That’s this lady. That’s me — we are our own bosses (nominally, in fact every customer who comes in, calls or emails is ‘da boss’). We make less than minimum wage, have no vacation or other benefits, can’t belong to a union (not even the Wobblies will have us) and as a client once commented ironically, looking at our shabby home/workshop, “Build (redacted), live in splendor!”

    Is it meaningful? Some days. We work on stuff that will outlast us by a couple of centuries. Do we get tired, discouraged, and think to hell with it, I’m going back to (redacted)? Often. Some days it’s more tempting than others. And yes, totally old hippies here. But I keep remembering yes, E F Schumacher talking about right livilehood, and Carlos Castenada (that mountebank!) asking Don Juan, “How can you tell when a path has heart?” And the old guy firing back, “How can you *not* tell when a path has heart?” Just ‘coz your path has heart doesn’t mean it will be fun, easy, and satisfying every GD minute of every day.

  23. Jean

    The demand side of this is demoralization and dehumanization.
    These developers think that they are going to save humanity from itself with their app–oh, and make a shitload of money too as a bonus.

    As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I see the spillover of these attitudes and behaviors all the time. It’s sometimes tragicomic.

    i.e. The other day while waiting to buy something at a market I was nonsed why the two younger women in front of me were leaning over the credit card reader while the poor cashier stood by with defeat on her face.

    “I’m ready to pay cash” I volunteered. Cashier voided their sale, took my money and I inquired what the problem was.

    “I can’t get Apple Pay to work! One woman practically screamed. A picture of an American Express card showed on the CC reader screen. “I have a new iPhone, it’s supposed to be seamless!” She waved the device back and forth and sobbed. “We’ll come back later…” They left the store, got in a Tesla and roared away, leaving two bags of groceries on the counter.

    Other activities mediated by software are forcing people to contort their lives and behavior to the software, not the other way around.

    1. Travis Bickle

      We are all being slowly incorporated into one big system, obviously. The story of those two ladies merely highlighted a point of passing conflict to be reconciled apace, as the system refines itself. I understand a new generation of WiFi is just around the corner: it would only be a surprise were it not so.

      Flying into DFW not long ago I noticed how from 3-4,000 feet it’s so clear how the contribution of every square foot of the land beneath had been considered for its contribution and efficiency, from the quality and spacing of roads to the water treatment plants, on to the mega-churches as a programming upgrade to the traditional ones they replaced. Accommodation had to be made in the current iteration of the system for those pesky souls, dammit. Whatever inefficiencies may exist are set for replacement at the end of their depreciation cycle.

      So it is as well with people driving those cars and trucks down the roads of what in an altered state would have been seen as nothing other than an oversized semiconductor chip. Or perhaps, a postmodern body, representing corpuscles in arteries, veins and capillaries. All carrying information, instructions, critical parts, or energy in different forms; or that little worker bee in his Toyota. Each of the organic pieces either playing their part in the body cheerfully or receiving HR counseling before outplacement. Again, all sorta obvious.

      You can extend this on pretty easily yourself, to current politics or wherever. Thinking and attitudes are there to support the prerogatives of system or they will be burnished away in due course by another generation whose only context is the faceless malls with their proven franchises within that Big Chip, who by their nature will supply the system a more appropriate attitude.

      Ultimately one is left with only a fascist vision, where the State, as the face of a set of mutually supporting set of corporations, is the end all and be all of what was once human existence. Resistance is Futile: You will be assimilated.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      How would these two young cyber-ladies have reacted if . . . . after you had gotten through the line by paying cash . . . you had turned to them and quoted the saying: ” cash never jammed a register”. Would they have flown into a rage or would they have learned something?

      Enough of these malfunctions might even drive some cashless people back to cash.

  24. Rates

    I find my life meaningless if every day I do not contribute to the increase of wealth of these few people:
    Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Google guys, the Netflix guys, etc.

    200 million Americans would agree with me.

    Edit: and yes doing the above is ALL there is.

    1. Jesper

      I’d say that what you describe is part of the explanation as to why the predictions of shorter working weeks and earlier retirement has not come true.
      The amount of resources that we now allocate to the distraction part of the economy would have seemed impossible and/or unreasonable 50 years ago. The freed up time due to efficiency gains are now spent on distractions (drugs, movies, tv, apps, games etc) and sadly also on work to be able to afford the ‘necessary’ distractions.

      A supposed shortage of skilled programmers and at the same time we have programmers working on creating games/toys? It happens so therefore it makes sense but still….

  25. sgt_doom

    So Microsoft spawning such patent-trolling firms as Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures isn’t a positive?

    /sarc

  26. audrey jr

    Perhaps the author should have taken a few humanities courses if she is attempting to find a purposeful life. I have always recommended philosophy studies along with sociology, psychology and some cultural anthropology thrown in to the mix.
    You know, things that make you go, “hmmm…”
    Thanks for the paragraph from “The Dispossessed.” Excellent book.

    1. Wendy Liu

      Author here. You’re right, I should have, but I always had a very negative reaction towards the idea of taking humanities courses, likely inherited from tech culture at large. Tracy Chou wrote a good piece about that phenomenon last year. I’m taking some now, though.

  27. Sutter Cane

    I was a fan of the Mike Judge movie Office Space back in the 90s, but while I could relate to the petty annoyances of cubicle life as depicted in the film, having done hard manual labor before I didn’t buy the protagonist’s move to construction work as an improvement.

    As Yves states, having expectations that work be “just a paycheck and a place to go every day and be with people who were hopefully at least pleasant” is healthy, expecting to derive “meaning” from it is likely not. Unfortunately many folks have swallowed the meaning thing whole. People have a lot of FOMO in regard to work, thinking that others are somehow working that meaningful, fulfilling job, while they are just working. An unhealthy mindset to constantly compare yourself to others, especially when you don’t know their circumstances. I find that many of the people who can afford to work the low-paying but “meaningful” jobs (non-profits, cultural institutions and the like) frequently come from money, so they can afford to do so. For us plebs, it is a luxury not a practical means of survival.

    Interesting to me is how, while people are still chasing the illusion of meaningful work, a job like the one in Office Space looks pretty appealing now compared to the on-call 24/7, precarious “independent contractor” work that is common today. People probably watch the movie now thinking “This guy has health insurance and can afford coffee at Chotchkies, what is he complaining about?”

    1. Jean

      I would recommend “The Circle” 2017, a video that shows the dehumanization and profit sucking of the ideal job in social media. It’s on Netflix.

  28. RMO

    I admire the writer for being introspective enough to want to do something meaningful and of benefit to the world and for being aware of the people in the lower income jobs and realizing they are worthy of respect and a decent wage too. The second part of that seems all to rare these days. On the other hand she reminds me a little of the horrible Mark character in the dreadful Rent musical and film. She likes coding, is good at it AND is offered a job in the field with a BASE salary that is in the 90th income percentile – but finds taking that job impossible because it isn’t “meaningful” work.

  29. L

    The worst trap is when you don’t realise that you’re trapped. We were our own bosses – not only did we own the means of production, we sort of were the means of production – and so we thought were free,

    This point reminds me of the documentary The short version is that a strip club in SF became stripper-run and tried to be fair and equitable within the world of well stripping. While I have not seen the film friends who have summarized it that in the end whether it is a collective or run by a boss the same basic issues of stripping inherently remain true it is judgmental, it is based upon an ugly power dynamic, and it does push the dancers themselves to severe trials to maintain other peoples’ fantasies for what is in the end a short time with low pay and no job security.

    Likewise while Silicon Valley sells the dream of the one good idea leading to a successful startup and the dreams of (noble) avarice the fact is that the entire economy is predicated on long work for the dream, a constant churn of VC-funded ideas and bubbles, and new people willing to flog themselves to make web-ads that much better. Whether you get options or not makes little difference to the outcome.

    I for one think that technology can be used for good ends and can be used to improve life. But the economics of startup culture mean that Amazon and Google won’t be the ones doing it. And any serious attempt to “make life better” bumps up against the fact that some of these very companies (e.g. Amazon) are in fact profiting from making things worse.

  30. Arizona Slim

    Thanks for this post. I’m in my second week of giving Faceborg up for Lent. (Yeah, I know. Lent started last month. But it took me a while to find a real Lenten challenge.)

    I can’t believe the difference in my outlook. It’s amazing how something that’s supposed to be so useful is really a drag on one’s morale.

  31. The Rev Kev

    I have been thinking about what both Yves and Wendy wrote and how this culture came about when a question started to come to mind. Whether the derivatives industry or the tech industry, these are both matured cultures with laid out paths for those that want to partake in them. Now a coupla weeks ago it was mentioned on this site that a major reason that there is a hideous tech-bro culture is because decades ago, two psychologists decided that what we would call nerds would make the ideal candidates to work in the tech industry – and thereby pushing women out of an industry that they had a strong presence in. Recruitment practices changed after this report to heavily favour so called nerds over merely talented applicants.
    What if say, a coupla decades ago, there was another report commissioned? What if an answer was sought on how to bring in and hook young talented people into an industry and have them stay there. You can imagine from Wendy’s account some of the conclusions that would be in such a hypothetical report. Throw money at them, make them feel important, tell them they are going to change the world, give them challenging technical problems to tackle, cut them a lot of slack, lock them in with stock options that increase annually, make their work area a play pen with free food and drinks, private parties and their own buses. All these big companies seem to be using the same play book so it would not surprise me that there was some common source of all these ideas and techniques.

  32. MG

    Curious to see what the writer has to say about her recent undergraduate experience at Penn including her thoughts on “Penn Face” and seeming behavioral health issues so many students seem to have.

  33. doily

    So many good comments I don’t know which to follow so I will throw mine down at the bottom.

    Let us neither suppress our demand for meaningful work nor inflate our definition of what that is. All through my life I have found meaning, for a while, in my work. Learning to deal with a wagon-load of Sunday newspapers, to manage a grill full of burgers or dance around my colleagues at the tills in McDonalds. In college I worked in a leather tannery in the summers and marvelled at the elegance with which my co-workers, mostly the sons of Arkansas and Mississippi cotton pickers, worked the machines throwing hides on and off conveyor belts. I think of the sixty-something guy on a team of movers we hired once who hauled beds and sofas up and down stairs without breaking a sweat while the muscled college guys on the team panted and heaved. All kinds of work can be intrinsically meaningful—a puzzle to solve, an aesthetic and elegant way of being in a role, striving for mastery of the tools and the environment—until it isn’t. You sense that someday a robot will replace you, because you have become that robot. For me it seems to be about a seven year time frame.

    I went off to college with upward mobility firmly in mind. Law school, B school. Never happened. I decided that I would find “meaningful” work, and pay a price. I’ve been a musician (one of the oldest precariats?) , a bureaucrat, an academic. Now I’ve decided there is no escape. Indeed “doing something you love” in a context that may once have been a safe haven but has been brutalised like everything else by the prevailing neoliberal lifeworld is actually harder on the soul than checking in and out of some corporate entity every day. Or so I recently calculated, and so well into my 50s I “dropped in” and have retrained in software. Have to say, object oriented programme is pretty cool. I’m just a newbie, but I’ve already felt the buzz of designing something that has a bit of elegance, complexity, and that actually performs. This is going to keep me going for a while. But I can already see the trouble as I look for work. Will I be stuck in a cubicle churning out bug-infested, unmaintainable junk? What chance of doing something of social value? In the small city I am in, one of the the largest tech employers is a TBTF criminal organisation fined over $80 million in the last two months for lying to customers and laundering money, and there are smaller fintech shops all over the place. Yuck.

    Yves’s opening comments reminded me of some lines from Adorno in 1944. Perhaps of the search for meaning at work is a symptom of the collapse of meaning at home? A passage called “Refuge for the Homeless” in Minima Moralia, starts off with the observation that “the predicament of private life is shown by its arena, the dwelling.” After some lines on how our dwellings, and our private lives, have been emptied of meaning, he wrotee:

    “The best mode of conduct, in face of all this, still seems an uncommitted, suspended one: to lead a private life, as far as the social order and one’s own needs will tolerate nothing else, but not attach weight to it as to something socially substantial and individually appropriate. . . . It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home. . . .The trick is to keep in view, and to express, the fact that private property no longer belongs to one, in the sense that consumer goods have become potentially so abundant that no individual has the right to cling to their limitation; but that one must nevertheless have possessions, if one is not to sink into that dependence and need which serves the blind perpetuation of property relations. But the thesis of this paradox leads to destruction, a loveless disregard for things which necessarily turns against people too; and the antithesis, no sooner uttered, is an ideology for those wishing with a bad conscience to keep what they have. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”

  34. drumlin woodchuckles

    Non-harmful survival has its own meaning. Most work is about survival at a higher or lower standard of living. One finds what meaning one can in it, but survival is all that should be expected and survival is all that most work will provide. (Or used to provide, before the work-situation was degraded by several decades of anti-workeritic anti-unionitic anti-farmeritic OverClass powermoney monopolization.) Meaning can be found in non-harmful living while not at work. Doing actual useful good can provide even more meaning.

    Perhaps Ms. Liu and others are confusing “meaning” with ” high profile impact”. If Ms. Liu wanted to change the world in measurable ways, that is hoping to have a higher brute-force impact than strictly finding meaning. Once she has solved the problem of decent non-precarious survival, she might want to think through whether she wanted “meaning” or “high impact”. If she decides the two really are two different things, and she decides she would still like to leave a deep two-by-four print up-side the head of society, perhaps she can figure out how to do that without being paid for it. She can maintain her attainment of “meaning” and then put sur energy ( if any) into “making a difference” and “having impact”.

  35. Kaleberg

    I programmed computers for a living for a fair while. My attitude was based on the old Japanese saying, “If you have three strings, you will eat.” Having a skill, and perhaps some basic equipment, means you can get by. Programming computers paid fairly well. It could be satisfying work. You got a modicum of respect. I was involved in one startup. Like most, it melted down, but it was fun while it lasted. I considered moving to Silicon Valley, but couldn’t take it seriously enough, especially when it was easy to see how things were going to play out. One company seriously chose the wrong chip – National Semiconductor CPUs anyone? Another company had been set up as a hedge if plan A failed, but it was rather obvious that if plan A failed, then plan B was going to fail too.

    The attitude I remember was about building neat stuff, where neat stuff meant stuff only other engineers could appreciate. Computers were the new steam engine or new electric motor, and integrating computers was going to make a lot of things better. As with the steam engine and electric motor, it was also going to make some things worse. I’m not exactly sure when the “save the world” thing crept in. Was it in the late 90s? It was after I retired. I sure don’t remember any job description with ‘save the world’ in it.

    I think Matt Levine over at Bloomberg groks the ‘save the world’ thing quite well: “As far as I can tell, the pitch for data scientists from Silicon Valley is: ‘Come work here; you can build advertising models and pretend that you’re saving the world,’ while the pitch for data scientists from Wall Street is: ‘Come work here; you can build trading models and not have to pretend that you’re saving the world.’ I actually think that is a useful sorting metric, and I know which one I would take.”

  36. pat b

    I used to go to SV/SJ/SF a lot in the 70’s and 80’s and they were all selling a “Bright shiny digital future”.
    Well, I had to go back for a two week stint ( Conference and meetings) so I stayed over, and had some downtime to look around and what I saw was a “Crappy version of the past”. Million dollar slums,
    People with 6 figure incomes sharing group houses, everything was older, crappier, and way more expensive.

    I’m not sure why anyone goes there.

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