Where Are We?

I have been away for two weeks in Europe. The first skiing and the second meeting with startups in Berlin. As usual while traveling I took a break from blogging which I find helps me in a couple of ways. First, it frees up some more time for reading and I finished two interesting posts (more on those in separate posts). Second, it also gives me a bit more time to think about the bigger picture. And when I do that I unfortunately come back to the my “Is it 1880 or 1914?” post.

Most of us working in tech are doing so in a bubble of our own making. And I am not talking about valuations here (although that might be a consequence) but rather about a protected space in which great things are happening. We see friends who have great jobs, work on exciting projects, create amazing technologies, etc. It is a world of good news. Even if you are at a startup that’s not doing so well at the moment, you are either convinced that it will turn around or that the next thing will work. We all keep ourselves so busy with that to the point we pay little to no attention to the larger political and economic landscape globally.

If you take the time to do that what you find is fairly scary. There is Putin’s dictatorial and expansionist leadership of Russia. Big parts of the Arab world are a complete mess for a variety of different reasons resulting in extreme violence and upheaval. Europe is desperately trying to maintain a monetary union in the face of massive regional differences. China’s economy is slowing down and the stability of its banking sector is anybody’s guess. 

It would be easy to make this list much longer. The biggest issue though is that almost uniformly politicians are approaching these problems as requiring incremental responses aimed at bringing us back to some version of the near past. Nobody with real power seems to be trying to imagine a different future. Put differently we are trying to preserve a status quo in the face of powerful changes (which are mostly driven by technology). This is a lot like damming up a river. It works for some time. But when the dam breaks the resulting damage is all the more catastrophic.

Those of us in tech need to ask ourselves whether we can be bothered to look outside of our bubble. It is ever so easy to live in our own splendid isolation. History suggests that’s a bad idea.