Marc Andreessen is right – love doesn’t scale
By Mark Hurst • November 17, 2023
I spotted a curious phrase online the other day. Buried in Marc Andreessen’s Techno-optimist Manifesto (Oct 16, 2023) are three words that might qualify as the shortest philosophical treatise ever written:
Love doesn’t scale.
So true, Marc.
I’ll admit that I’m taking these words a little out of context. The phrase appears in Marc’s argument about why markets are so important. Getting rich with markets, he says, is better than the alternative of starting a war. The only other option would be doing something for love, but why would anyone do that? Love doesn’t scale.
What we should invest in, Marc argues, are platforms that can grow a thousand times bigger, or a million or billion times bigger, with no regulations impeding growth. Like other Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Andreessen is always talking about growth. A perfect example is an edited version of the manifesto itself: I recommend reading Ben Grosser’s redaction of Andreessen’s “anti-regulation anti-ethics hyper-capitalist growth-obsessed screed.” (I also did a dramatic reading of the piece on Techtonic – listen to it here.)
For the rest of us – who haven’t made a career investing in unethical growth-at-any-cost companies – the phrase might hit differently.
Love doesn’t scale.
Deepening a relationship. Visiting a sick friend. Serving at a soup kitchen. Andreessen’s “techno-optimist” mindset is confounded by acts of love. They don’t make money, they don’t supercharge a market, and perhaps most heretically, they’re typically low-tech or even involve no technology at all. What is a techno-optimist supposed to do with this “love” idea, this thing that keeps people out of markets and off the internet? It literally doesn’t compute.
A good response to “love doesn’t scale” came up this week in my Techtonic interview with Ed Park, author of the new novel Same Bed Different Dreams. The book features interlocking stories about – among other topics – modern Korean history, 80s pop culture, and a dystopian tech company. As I said on the show, I give it a strong recommendation:
Midway through the book I came across a sentence that serves as a good response to Andreessen. It’s a simple thought expressed by one of the younger characters in the novel:
Dreams are everything that’s not online.
The “online” we experience today is the outcome of the Silicon Valley worldview, what Maria Farrell calls a personality disorder: the internet is a surveilled, controlled, corporate space ruled by algorithms and the cancerous growth urge that fuels them. Scale is ascendant. Love is not.
Increasingly, the place where our dreams live is not online. Our hopes and aspirations thrive outside the reach of corporate surveillance. What matters most does not compute.
But the safe haven of offline moments – “everything that’s not online” – might soon disappear, if Mark Zuckerberg has his way. On the November 6 Techtonic, I played an excerpt of Zuck’s recent appearance on the Lex Fridman podcast. The interview was conducted over a VR connection showing synthetic, photo-realistic avatars of the two guys – eyes blinking, facial expressions, and so on – as they discussed Zuck’s vision of the future. People will soon be wearing augmented-reality glasses, Zuck said, allowing Facebook to project images into the wearers’ visual field. (No doubt many of these images will be advertisements.) What was really striking was Zuck’s pronouncement that these surveillance glasses will change the very nature of reality. I’m not exaggerating. Here’s what he said (emphasis mine):
A lot of people have this phrase where they call the physical world the real world, and I kind of think increasingly – the physical world is super important, but I actually think the real world is the combination of the physical world and the digital worlds coming together. But until this technology, they were sort of separate, right?
. . . I think part of what this technology is going to do is bring those together into a single coherent experience of what the modern real world is. . . . It’s got to be physical because that we’re physical beings. So the physical world is always going to be super important. But increasingly, I think a lot of the things that we kind of think of can be digital holograms.
Notice how Zuck makes a distinction between the physical world and what he calls the real world – or as he calls it later, the modern real world. This is what you see when you put on (or are forced by your employer to put on) Zuck’s headset. Facebook will claim dominion over everything you see through its lenses, infiltrating your vision with its algorithms, its advertising, and its surveillance. This is what Zuck considers “real.”
But not to worry. Zuck condescendingly calls the physical world “super important” (as in, “you’re so adorable, thinking that still matters”). This is everything that’s not online, not available to Zuck’s intrusions. It’s merely the dusty, outdated, physical world, what in pre-Zuck days was considered “real.” But now, with Zuck’s VR glasses just around the corner, reality itself is redefined, a la Andreessen, as that which can be surveilled, that which can grow, that which can scale.
If Silicon Valley succeeds, many of us will soon experience life filtered through Zuck’s growth-at-any-cost psychosis, his ocular projectors beaming deceptions and manipulations into our retinas, spreading a thick layer of Zuck between us and everyone around us. Anything that scales will be left in. Anything that doesn’t scale will be left out. And love doesn’t scale.
If “dreams are everything that’s not online,” Zuck is making sure that we’ll have no more place for dreams. Pretty soon, everything will be online.
On our members-only Creative Good Forum – which I’m inviting you to join – we’re discussing a variety of topics:
• A new AI-generated TV commercial that is both terrifying and hilarious
• The Google antitrust trial and a summary of the case so far
• The enduring value of email (it’s not dead)
• How cars are destroying privacy, and cluttering the driver experience, with unnecessary tech
• News and updates about facial recognition
• Why Elon Musk wants to put a chip in your brain, with Neuralink
• New revelations about a mobile data broker and how it tracks you and your family
• Silicon Valley as a personality disorder – discussing recent thoughts by Maria Farrell and Charlie Stross
• Recommendations for RSS readers
• Two new word games in Good Experience Games
These are just some of the items on the Forum in the past week or two.
Join Creative Good now to access all of these – and you’ll get our 25% discount, as we celebrate 25 years of this newsletter.
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see our services or join as a member
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