Home / Technology / Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: The Political Evolution of Silicon Valley

Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: The Political Evolution of Silicon Valley

Or the whole thing could fall apart. I think Apple should have just bought a carmaker and brought it all in-house. Seems to me that the great hubris of Silicon Valley is thinking that you can build everything, no matter how complex, on your own.

Farhad: Hey, Apple’s no puppet. You’re the puppet! You’re the puppet!

Mike: I’m going to ignore that and keep going. Speaking of disastrous car wrecks, a bit more Twitter news to talk about. Earlier this week, the company hired Greg Gopman to work on its fledgling virtual reality and 360-degree video efforts.

TechCrunch criticized the hire, citing a screed against the homeless that Gopman posted to Facebook a while back that made him persona non grata of San Francisco for quite some time.

Shortly after that, Twitter fired Gopman, apparently not wanting to deal with the added headache of a guy who (at one point, but apparently no longer) hated the homeless, especially while the company is dealing with negative headlines from every which direction regarding its sale process, or lack thereof.

TechCrunch, bafflingly, criticized that move as well. Some people are never satisfied.

For me, the biggest takeaway here is that VR tweets seem like the most insane thing ever. But I have been wrong before.

Farhad: Oh, there was another politics-related dust-up in Silicon Valley this week. You remember Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who secretly funded the lawsuit that put Gawker out of business and is also the tech world’s most prominent supporter of Donald Trump? Well, a bunch of his friends and associates said this week that they weren’t going to punish him for donating $ 1.25 million to Trump. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, said Thiel would remain a member of Facebook’s board. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a memo to Facebook’s staff.

Citing similar reasons, Y Combinator, the start-up incubator, also said it would not cut ties with Thiel, even though it disagrees with Trump.

That set off a wave of outrage among people who’ve been trying to promote diversity in the tech industry. Project Include, a group that seeks to advise companies on gender and racial diversity, said it was cutting off ties with Y Combinator because Thiel’s donation to Trump stands in contrast to its goals.

To me, it seems we’re witnessing a newfound political awareness in the tech industry, which is reliably lefty but has long been willing to sit out national political disputes. I don’t think Thiel’s donation is going to cost him anything beyond social awkwardness, but in the long run, I suspect it will spark a progressive awakening among many in the industry. What do you think?

Mike: It’s kind of funny to me how willing tech has been to put itself front and center in the global conversation — they eat up magazine covers and love to be on mostly meaningless power lists, just like me — but then feel completely blindsided when their politics are called into question.

To me, if you’re building technology that is literally shaping the world as it will be defined in the future, there is no avoiding that your personal ideologies will come into question at some point. Perhaps this Thiel situation will finally bring that sense of self-awareness to those who hadn’t realized this yet. In any case, yeah, I think it’s probably going to rouse techies to be more vocal than they’ve been in the past.

Farhad: Yay, more Medium posts!

Mike: Finally, I want to talk about Nintendo. The company released its first teaser trailer on Thursday for Switch, a new console that combines the power and familiarity of a video game setup in your living room with the portability of a hand-held gaming device.

It’s a novel idea: People still want to play video games on their big-screen TVs at home, so you have to produce a console as successful as the Xbox or PlayStation that can run next-generation graphics and games.

That said, everyone games on the go these days. The advent of the smartphone changed what we think of when we think of gaming, as users have migrated en masse to freemium or low-cost app gaming on their phones. It’s easier if, say, you’re commuting, since you only have to carry one device that you already have in your pocket anyway.

I have my thoughts on this — namely, it could be awesome or terrible — but I wonder mostly about the content that needs to fill this thing out. And other than the highly successful franchises Nintendo has built out over the years like Mario, Zelda and a handful of others, I haven’t really seen any blockbuster titles from them in some time.

What do you think? Fail or win?

Farhad: I’m willing to reserve judgment, but at the moment, I’m skeptical of this idea. From the video, the Switch looks like a tablet computer that can be fitted with some game controllers when you’re on the go, and then connected to your TV when you’re home.

But if that’s the case, you have to wonder why you need a stand-alone device — why couldn’t you just carry around a controller for your smartphone or tablet, and then connect your device to your TV when you’re home? In other words, why is Nintendo making new hardware when it could simply put out its games for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices?

Mike: This is the eternal question for Nintendo. They seem to cling desperately to owning the hardware, which seems questionable to me since it is a lower-margin business than, say, plopping out a series of janky smartphone games and sticking Zelda’s face on it.

Farhad: That suggests the second complication. Nintendo recently announced that it is planning to put out some content for other platforms. For instance a Mario game, Super Mario Run, will be available in the iPhone’s App Store this December. But if that’s the case, which platform will get Nintendo’s best games — will Nintendo Switch get the exclusives, or will iOS and Android (which have far more users) be given the same titles?

To me, it seems like a complicated path. I’d favor something simpler: Kill the hardware, focus on creating killer games, release them for high prices on iOS and Android, and profit.

Mike: An intriguing thought. I’m not sure I fully agree with killing hardware entirely, but I understand the impulse. And for what it’s worth, Nintendo’s valuable intellectual property assets would at least give them a leg up in content in the near term.

Look at Disney: After they bought “Star Wars” they planned to crank out a movie a year until 2020, and everywhere I look there’s a BB-8 motorized ball for me to trip over.

O.K., enough for me today. I’m going back to my back-healing poses: Lying flat on the floor like a starfish, tweeting from my phone.

Farhad: You’re a bad hombre, my friend. A bad hombre. Hope you feel better!

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