Sometime later today I will finish reading Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution”, his bigger picture follow up to the best-selling Steve Jobs bio. Having always been more or less computer illiterate – though I did own a Sinclair Spectrum 48 way before many of you were even born – I surprised myself how much I enjoyed this book, and not just because it’s so full of useless trivia that forever seems to stick in my mind long after more important information evaporates (did you know that the precursor of the first computer program was written by Lord Byron’s daughter? or that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were all born the same year? or that the “computer bug” takes its name from a real-life moth which got caught up inside Harvard Mark II machine in 1945? now you do).
More importantly, Isaacson’s book is a useful (if somewhat self-serving, considering his personal politics) reminder of how overwhelmingly liberal (in the American, not the European sense) the ethos of the computer industry has always been. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any other sector of manufacturing and production (and therefore putting aside the media and the entertainment industries) so thoroughly dominated by alternative, counter-cultural and progressive elements right from its post-war genesis.
This is something to bear in mind in the midst of the current controversy de jour about Facebook allegedly manipulating algorithms to downplay the popularity of conservative links and news stories. I have no idea to what extent the Gizmodo story is true, though I suspect there is no smoke without fire. What fascinates me more is how in this Trumpian Era even such aÂ relatively unsurprisingÂ story has managed to divide the right. The group of conservative pundits led by Glenn Beck who met with Zuckerberg and the Facebook team have been vilified as “Zuck’s cucks” who out of naivetyÂ at best orÂ maliciousness at worst (to collaborateÂ with the enemy to screw over “Daddy” Trump perhaps) have sold out the right. (By the way, am I the only one who finds Milo Yannopoulos’s constant use of the word “cuck” as an insult somewhat dissonant given his proud self-confessed addiction to black cock?)
On the other side of the right barricade Beck himself (while giving Zuck the benefit of the doubt in this instance) is wondering when did conservatives become such whiny bitches, adopting the left’s politics – and tactics – of grievance and victimhood. I’m paraphrasing him slightly, but the point is a serious and interesting one nevertheless. At Reason, Nick Gillespie makes a related observationÂ when he notes that “persistent claims of pervasive media bias against conservative points of view always and everywhere masks the rise of power of conservatives in the post-broadcast media age”. He concludes:
The fact is that people who do good work generally prosper and those who are mediocre or half-assed don’t. That’s not to say that the only meaningful metric is the size of your audience or your budget. But every bit as much as lefties, conservatives and Republicans are stuck in a culture of complaint and super-quick to see vast and huge conspiracies arrayed to keep them from succeeding in their chosen fields…
All of usâ€”whether left, right, or libertarianâ€”are better off focusing on creating more and better content as the first, best way to build our audiences and influence.
I think there is something to it. I don’t know if Facebook, consciously or unconsciously, censors conservatives. Maybe it does, but it certainly hasn’t seem to have done most – if not all – right-wing outlets any harm; all seem to me to be thriving. There is an old saying, pray as if you were to die tonight, work as if you were to live forever. Yes, the media can be, and is, biased in so many different ways, but the very same technology developed by the liberal Silicon Valley over the past few decades ironicallyÂ givesÂ everyone, ourselves included, the tools and the opportunities to get out there and succeed in the marketplace of ideas – if we have the nous, the guts and the talent. So less whinging and more doing, ladies and gents.