Why People Hate Tech: A Response to Tech Entrepreneurship and Shifting Sentiment

Why People Hate Tech: A Response to Tech Entrepreneurship and Shifting Sentiment

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I’ve been watching the shifting sentiments towards the tech industry for some while now, and it’s funny - they’ve shifted so much, and so quickly, that even people in the startup ends of the tech industry seem to have worked out that, you know, not everyone likes them anymore! What’s funny, though, is watching them try to figure out why. A recent article doing the rounds attempts to sort this out in typical “Wow, you’re high on your own supply…” fashion, so I thought I’d be helpful and offer a bit more of an outside opinion on why, exactly, nobody likes the tech industry anymore.

No, I’m not out of lightbulb reviews, by far. But this seemed timely.

Tech Entrepreneurship and Shifting Sentiment

The article I’m responding to directly, and then expanding out from, is titled Tech Entrepreneurship and Shifting Sentiment. Go read it, and if you can make it to the end without at least one giggle, snort, or eyeroll, you’re doing better than I did. The author correctly identifies that the sentiment has shifted against the tech industry, but then proceeds to hypothesize about some reasons, and… well, I think it’s safe to say that they’ve not made it outside their little social bubble of “tech startup” workers in a long, long while.

Upton Sinclair’s quote about “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” is relevant here. If you’re in the tech bubble (and I use that term broadly to include “Most tech companies and surrounding companies/cities”), and don’t regularly interact with people outside it, or pull back out of it and analyze it from the outside, you miss what’s going on - to your own detriment.

So, from the perspective of “someone who works in the deep weeds of tech, really dislikes what we’ve done with it in the last decade, and still talks to a lot of people who aren’t sky high on whatever shows up in the punch at VC parties,” here’s my response to their possible reasons about why sentiment has changed. I’ll follow that up with my views on why sentiment has changed.

Startup fraud genre. Consumers delighted in the startup disaster stories retold in Inventing Anna, WeCrashed, Super Pumped, etc. The media frenzied around Elizabeth Holmes’ trial and sentencing.

Nope. Most people outside the tech industry don’t care, and I very much doubt anyone outside the “very tech bubbles” has even heard of those publications. I try to pay attention to what’s going on, and I haven’t heard of them. If most people know anything about Holmes, it’s probably that the company she founded outright lied about it was doing, repeatedly, over and over, across the board, and are pleasantly surprised to see that someone is facing real consequences (maybe…) for outright fraud, because the normal industry path is that you lie to everyone, defraud investors, and still come away clean with your golden parachute of tens of millions of dollars in exchange for having “failed completely and blown up the company.” This is utterly unlike the rest of the world, in which there tend to be consequences for criminal actions like “theft” and “fraud”.

You can only hear about how some new startup is going to “disrupt” some industry, based on what are pretty clearly absurdities to every normal person, before you expect the next one to go down in flames too. Most people have the good sense to recognize that “I’m going to sell you $10 of services for $5, but I’ll make it up in volume!” either means you’re going to try to drive everyone else out of business so you can achieve monopoly and then raise prices, or you’re full of crap. Milking VC funded companies for actual products is fun (I’ve done it, the church EV charger is a direct result of that), but most people who’ve had to deal with reality also tend to recognize it for the scam it is.

But the scam has been evident for well north of a decade now if you’re grounded in reality, and I don’t think this has really changed. It probably means you’ve got more of an uphill battle, but I guarantee people thought your startup was full of shit long before these recent trainwrecks.

The crazy rise and fall of crypto.

Again… what percentage of people were or are actually invested in crypto enough to even know or care? Go do one of those “Man on the street” surveys and ask people what Bitcoin is worth, +/- 10%, and I expect you’ll go through a lot of people before you find anyone even close - and it would be far worse for Etherium or one of the other “The Future of Smart Contracts to Disrupt Everything!” coins. But, yes, a lot of people have heard the breathless hype about how Crypto Will Change Everything, and… it turns out to have been nothing much more than speedrunning the history of why we have various financial regulations in the first place. Outside tech circles, again, people don’t care.

Past technology waves – mobile in the late 2000s, social in the early 2010s, and cloud in the mid-2010s – brought time and money savings to the average consumer and office worker. In contrast, crypto didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet. A lot of money and hype was poured into a technology that promised improvements down the road, but never bear fruit. The FTX explosion was a fitting capstone.

They… sorry, they what? Having to buy a new phone every couple years and pay $100/mo for cell service sure as hell wasn’t saving money vs the previous options, and having your attention weaponized against you (by a device you’ve spent a lot of money on) didn’t really win much goodwill, even as it was very profitable for a short period of time (for the attention gatherers). “Cloud” is, similarly, something that most people don’t know or care about. I’m not at all sure that it did bring time and money savings to the “average consumer” - it’s an additional expense, and while convenient, I’ll touch a bit later on how those conveniences have all been attacked in the endless pursuit of attention based profits.

But as for cloud and the claims made, I’ll suggest that if you want to do anything serious, especially if you need a lot of disk or RAM, “colo your own boxes” is a far cheaper solution than cloud for most companies, and an awful lot of individuals (even if data centers look at you really funny when you want to colo a box as a random individual these days). Plus, if you don’t mind looking at the “crypto experience,” pretty much all the cloud based solutions (exchanges, mining pools, etc) got their hot wallets hacked, and the few services running their own hardware seemed to fare quite a bit better on the security front.

Some of tech’s heros have fallen. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates’s marriages fell apart. Elon Musk did some weird stuff and got into the Twitter debacle. Even beloved founders like Jack Conte and Patrick Collison got some bad press.

Nobody cares about Bezos and his marriage to whoever he was married to. Bill Gates is long past most people caring about him. Elon Musk, though… yeah, he’s gone from “up and coming savior of the planet” (through his companies that will, of course, be very profitable to him) to “Loose cannon on deck with a glowing fuse and an ever-increasing number of children who want nothing to do with him.” And I guarantee most people outside tech circles have no idea who Jack Conte and Patrick Collision are.

Now, do a lot of people have a problem with Bezos? Sure. It’s because he’s an arrogant billionaire, who views Seattle as his personal plaything, who runs a company that has “disrupted” quite a few local retailers out of business, that has now turned into one of the scummiest, most disreputable places you could possibly buy anything - because “actively fraudulent scammers” are encouraged (What’s Good for Amazon is Good for Amazon), the “hijack high reviewed listing and totally change them around to sell something else” game is stupid, and if anything is successful, Amazon will clone it themselves, having all the internal data about search and sales that nobody else can get access to. I hate Walmart with a passion, but I trust Walmart more than I trust Amazon now, by far.

VCs funding unsustainable business models. Billions of dollars have poured into zero-revenue companies. … I think that people resent the founders who make enormous promises and, with venture funding, pay themselves a lot from day 1, then end up having to lay everyone off when reality can’t match the vision.

This is closer to the problem - but still manages to get it wrong. The problem isn’t the founder compensation. The problem is the rest of the business model! When startups go about “disrupting” things and leaving a hot mess behind themselves, people get a bit annoyed. When “E-Scooters” get dumped by the thousands (without having asked permission to litter the city first) and end up broken and blocking sidewalks by fourteen different companies all buying the same crap from China, or rusting in ponds, yeah. You annoy people. When the “tech solution” to something means that the old methods that work get ripped up, and then you’re left with something that half works, but is worse than old stuff for more money, people get annoyed. And, as I mentioned earlier, most people outside tech have the good sense to recognize that while selling a $1 bill for $0.80 may rack up the “unique eyeballs,” the path to profit with that business model is pretty iffy. I promise you, it’s not what the pay to founders is. It’s that everyone knows that no matter what the initial promise is, it’ll turn into a profit squeeze sometime soon, to the detriment of everyone who want to actually use the product. And “paying for a non-shitty version” won’t be an option.

Why do people hate the tech industry?

You know why people hate the tech industry?

Because they’ve wedged themselves into everything (regardless of how much sense it makes), and made it suck more, in pursuit of glorious advertising profits. I suggest learning the word “Enshitification” - Doctorow’s new word, which is very much useful to describe the current state of things.

Because everything is now trying to be a “smart device” that has a short service life, that you can’t easily repair, and that exists to collect data on your behavior and shovel it into the mill that tries to influence your thinking so you {vote correctly, buy correctly, think correctly, etc}. For someone else’s paid value of “correctly.” Doing what it claims to is a side effect that has to exist to get you to buy it, no longer the actual goal of the device. But, good news, the alternatives no longer exist (just try to buy a TV without “smart” guts).

Because they’ve shoved their noses into every part of life, trying to intermediate Every. Single. Human. Interaction. It’s not enough to be a useful tool people are willing to use as needed. You have to collect all the attention for your ads. Ping. Beep. Check me! Look at ME! A modern phone, in the sort of “default configuration,” is horrible to use, because everything is constantly vying for your attention and streaming your behavior upstream, on a device you paid for, with a data plan you pay for. Good deal, for someone. Not the end user, though. Unless, of course, they’re just going to dark pattern you into subscribing against your wishes. I’ve seen some genuinely evil tactics used there, too. Your “Free trial uses” only exist once you’ve signed up for the subscription? Huh.

Because “A working piece of software you can use for a decade to do the same thing” isn’t profitable enough. Now it has to be monthly subscriptions for everything. I’ve heard all the justifications, but the reality is that for a lot of people, a copy of Word 2005 is more than adequate for their writing needs - and that option is being removed from people going forward. How’s that whole “Windows 10 is the last version of Windows” thing going?

Because just about every single “conspiracy theory” about social media, ties to government, and content moderation has been demonstrated to have been true. Twitter asked “How high?” any time they were asked to jump by three letter agencies, and then started jumping on their own, just because they could. Facebook, YouTube, the rest of them, all doing the exact same things. “You can say whatever you want, as long as it’s the exact approved line!” Except, that line changes daily (see “lab leak theory” and what you were allowed to say/think/write about it over the past three years for the most egregious display of this). Nobody actually believes that every tech company on the planet magically decided on the exact same day to deplatform whoever - the collaboration behind the scenes is obvious. The steady drip of “Your location data has been sold to whoever can write a check!” stories gets old. It doesn’t make people happy to find out that lots of the things they weren’t allowed to say at risk of their online presence turned out to be true. Whoops!

And it goes on, and on, and on. Modern “tech companies” haven’t come up with any aspect of life they haven’t tried to “disrupt,” for the purposes of addicting you and then enshitifying the service by shoving ads in front of your eyes. Woohoo, the future!

I grew up with the promises of the internet, and I’m pretty well over the whole thing at this point. I lurk in my niches, occasionally venture out, but… overall? The experiment has been an utter disaster. “Social” media as a “spherical cow on a frictionless infinite plane” concept is fine, but as an implementation? Every single version seems to have ended up in the same “Stoke outrage, anger, and division, to drive more time on the site, to sell more ad views!” sort of cesspool. We’ve replaced old, rugged phones with smartphones that are an utter pain to use in a lot of ways, expensive to buy, expensive to service, expensive to repair (“Oh, golly, you can’t possibly be trusted to repair that yourself, it’s complicated!”), that are, as much as they possibly can, just spying on our activities to sell us more things or influence our thinking. Spy on me at your own cost, thank you much.

And that’s before looking at the security of our systems, which can’t keep secrets, because they’re too complex for even the people who make them to reason about them. If you’d told someone in 2010 that within a few years, processors wouldn’t keep secrets at all if you knew how to speculate your answers, you’d have been thought a loon. Yet, that was the state of things. Apple gave up, because even with their sandboxing, zero-click attacks were a thing (Lockdown is nothing more than an acknowledgement that complex software cannot be verified to not be a trainwreck). And it goes on. Just last week, it turns out that a bunch of phones have a rather severe set of vulnerabilities that… well, I’ll just quote Project Zero.

The four most severe of these eighteen vulnerabilities (CVE-2023-24033 and three other vulnerabilities that have yet to be assigned CVE-IDs) allowed for Internet-to-baseband remote code execution. Tests conducted by Project Zero confirm that those four vulnerabilities allow an attacker to remotely compromise a phone at the baseband level with no user interaction, and require only that the attacker know the victim’s phone number. With limited additional research and development, we believe that skilled attackers would be able to quickly create an operational exploit to compromise affected devices silently and remotely.

People hate the tech industry because the promised utopia, when delivered, turns out to be a dystopian surveillance nightmare - and because the people creating it don’t even realize it. Or, they do, but won’t admit it. I’m not sure which is worse.

A List

In the HN discussion thread that spawned this post (I do participate there on occasion), a user, mentalpiracy, posted this gem, which I think sums up the point, very, very well:

Tech used to be a promise: we are building the better, faster, cheaper future right now. Tech was delivering novel new experiences, new networks, new entertainment, and enabling a way to live your life that was completely different than anything in human history that came before it.

People loved tech because it fulfilled its promises.


Tech is intrusive, deceptive, and outright predatory.

Tech is the constant harassment to sign up for a newsletter, that you’re running out of your free articles.

Tech is convenience fees, cleaning fees, venue fees, existence fees.

Tech is my television interface changing every few months.

Tech is not having a way to opt-out.

Tech is having less control over the objects I own now compared to what I bought ten years ago.

Tech is paying subscription fees for everything now.

Tech is destroying mass public transportation so they can sell me an idiotic car tunnel.

Tech is reducing my existence to a set of data points to be milked for revenue.

Tech is spending $$$ on electronics only to have them bricked remotely when the company goes under.

Tech is filling up my trash can because I’m blocked from fixing anything myself.

Tech is the new paywall on the old website that built it’s value on open access and user contributions.

Tech is the faceless extractive hostility that is relentlessly turning everything to absolute fucking garbage.

People hate tech because tech doesn’t give a single fuck about people.

Well said. None of this, of course, is what was speculated about - but this is why people hate tech. Because it’s turned rotten. If you’re in the tech circles and object to this characterization of whatever value-added advertising thing you’re pushing, you’re part of the reason people hate tech now. Good job.

Opt Out.

If you’re “in tech,” and building this sort of trash, reconsider if you want to use the sort of crap you’re getting paid (very well, probably) to create.

If you’re not? Reject this trash and find ways to starve it out. Turn your phone off randomly and regularly. Shut down your laptop in the evenings after work. Build your own tools. Start building systems based around analog, in person human interactions again. Because the tech industry isn’t your friend. It doesn’t want much! Only all your attention, all your time, and all your money. The more it can extract, the better. It’s a rotted zombie, shambling around moaning “Disrupt!” And, apparently, it still thinks it’s a real person.


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