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What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into…

What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of… (edition 2020)

by Adrian Daub (Author)

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Title:What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley (FSG Originals x Logic)
Authors:Adrian Daub (Author)
Info:FSG Originals (2020), 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley (FSG Originals x Logic) by Adrian Daub


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Tech thinking is a result of tech leaders trying to explain and justify their own success by reference to a handful ideas they absorbed in their teens and twenties. Those ideas include Ayn Rand's notion of lone genius, Marshall McLuhan's emphasis on media over content, a moralized version of Joseph Schumpeter's creative destruction, spiritual notions originating from Aldous Huxley by way of the Esalen Institute, and some self-help psychology inspired by CBT. In the bizarre but influential case of Peter Thiel, there is also the religious thinker Rene Girard.

Because these thinkers are so often cited by tech leaders, there's a tendency to attribute some part of their business success to those thinkers. But it is more plausible that there is a common explanation for both tech leaders success and their embrace of these ideas. A couple of candidate explanations are their being born to wealth and wanting a justification for the work they do.

This short book provides a sketch of the historical context of each of these influential ideas along with Daub's explanation of how each might have come to be embraced by tech leaders. In some cases the explanations are simple (eg, Ayn Rand flatters), whereas in others they contain nice ironies tech leaders don't appreciate (eg, Schumpeter on the inevitability of socialism).

I particularly liked the excursus on the google memo guy, James Damore. He is not a tech leader, but Daub believes his memo and its reception by people like David Brooks is a singularly neat example of trolling. Here's Daub: "It’s not that poor James Damore made an honest overture to the closed-minded (but 'unstable') libs and they turned on him. It’s that he sent a message meant to be misunderstood. To engage with it at all is to get tripped up in its terminology, to chafe against assumptions it has to make but won’t acknowledge. The real point of the message is the inevitable next step, where the writer claims that his text—which, recall, is pretty much impossible to make sense of on its own terms—was unfortunately and woefully misunderstood. The memo exists to allow David Brooks to be sad about it. Damore’s missive is not a communication that’s sent out into the world by someone hoping to be understood by an audience. It is a communication sent out by someone in order to be disappointed, an offering to be refused. But here’s the thing: James Damore is fairly typical in his occupying and weaponizing that space of preordained, deliberately engineered disappointment. We have all been there. We all send this missive, we all know the joy of being disappointed, at least some of the time. It’s the feeling of having tried to communicate honestly but the other side is just too darn ideological to genuinely engage. I don’t mean to suggest that this feeling is never correct or appropriate—rather that we over-rely on it and are falsely deferential to it, even when it isn’t correct or appropriate. After all, some version of this feeling is inherent in all trolling: I tried to engage with this question in good faith, and my opponents decided to be uncivil."

I'll be checking out other books in this series, a collaboration between FSG and Logic magazine. ( )
  leeinaustin | May 17, 2021 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Adrian Daubprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gebauer, StephanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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