Resisting Silicon Valley’s cult of “more”
By Mark Hurst • January 10, 2024
Let the bits go. Nearly 17 years ago I wrote those words in my book Bit Literacy. This was early – pre-social media and (just) pre-iPhone – but I had an inchoate sense that all of this – the data, the software, the overload and anxiety – all of it would be something we would someday want less of. There is, I wrote, a beauty in emptiness:
Emptiness is at the heart of bit literacy, and that may be an unsettling idea. Emptiness often has negative connotations: “I got nothing out of it.” “This is leaving me empty.” We prefer to have something. We live in a culture, after all, where more is better. The symbol of success is abundance, measured in size and quantity: bigger houses, for example, containing more stuff. This isn’t a moral judgment but merely a point about acquisition. In a world where resources are finite, or scarce, people are often evaluated by how much stuff they have.
Today in 2024, rather than embracing the value of less, our society is still dominated by “more” – especially online. Success is defined by more users, more investment, more growth. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is a king of “more.” As I mentioned in last week’s column about the airplane blowout and our rotten economy, Andreessen’s recent techno-optimist manifesto repeats the word “growth” like a mantra, like a desperate prayer, as though it was the one shred of hope left in life, to eke out just a bit more growth, just a bit more.
There’s good news, though, in a refreshing antidote to Andreessen and the cult of “more.” On this week’s Techtonic I spoke with Ben Grosser, an artist and professor whose various projects call into question the beliefs of the tech kings. In Order of Magnitude, a project from 2019, Grosser strings together every time Mark Zuckerberg said the word “growth,” “more,” or some giant number, in the first 15 years of Facebook. You can see Zuck age through the video, from adolescence to early adulthood, saying things like: “Do more. More. More. Accelerate the growth. Tens of billions. More. More.” It’s that “growth” mantra again, this time chanted for over 45 minutes.
Grosser launched a companion project in 2021 called Deficit of Less. It’s another supercut, but this time it shows every instance, over those same 15 years, when Zuck mentioned the word “less.” There are of course far fewer clips. Rather than 45 minutes, this collection – played end-to-end – clocks in at less than 60 seconds. So Grosser stretched it out to match the length of Order of Magnitude, resulting in a slow drone of Zuck saying “lllleeeesssssssssss.” If you need any proof that Zuck and the kings of “more” are abhorrent of less, just listen to Zuck hiss like a snake for several minutes. It’s creepy.
If the supercuts criticize the cult of “more,” another project from Grosser encourages us to embrace “less.” It’s a social media site called Minus. The design is similar to other social feeds – most recent posts on top, scroll down for earlier ones – but with a twist: every user gets a total of 100 posts for the lifetime of their account. There’s no underlying nudge for you to engage more, to post more, to overshare. Instead, Minus invites us to say less. Perhaps then, when we do say something, we’ll make it mean something.
Here are pointers to my interview with Ben:
• More Techtonic episodes: techtonic.fm
We need more projects like Ben’s, offering alternatives to the Silicon Valley cult. As I said in the interview, it’s one thing to complain about Big Tech, but so much better to create something that gives people an opportunity to live better outside that cult.
I’m trying to do just that. My own Big Tech alternative is the Creative Good Forum, a members-only community where we discuss and explore tech news, non-evil products, and the (fairly frequent) fun items that we come across. I hope you’ll join us as we build a community that’s very different from Big Tech platforms.
For example, here are some current threads on the Forum:
• Discussing recent news about ChatGPT and automation.
• Comparing the early web to today’s web (lots of examples of Google’s decline and spreading AI glop).
• A frequently-updated list of people and articles dunking on Elon Musk.
• A “new and improved surveillance” thread covering the latest disturbing launches – like spy cameras in hospital operating rooms, recent Facebook spying revelations, and more.
• Actually helpful uses of ChatGPT and DALL-E, written by a Creative Good member who’s a software developer.
• A good explainers thread, including a crazy (and easy) way I just discovered to declutter online recipe sites.
• A thread on car manufacturers destroying privacy in their new-model cars, including one major brand announcing that they’re adding ChatGPT to its infotainment system (ugh).
• A “fun stuff” thread with frequent entries like David Byrne dancing, a white-noise generator website, a retro teletype news service (as a website), and a map to hundreds of independent sites online.
• Good Experience Games, my list of fun games playable in the web browser, with over two dozen new games in the past year – including one I added today.
These are just some of the hundreds of threads and resources on the Forum – helping us understand our technological society and live better within it. I don’t know any other resource like this online, anywhere. And a bonus: your membership helps fund my work on the Creative Good newsletter, which you’re reading right now, and which has years of archives, for free, with no advertising or surveillance, on the Creative Good site.
Please join as a Creative Good member. You’ll be among friends, and you’ll help keep this newsletter going.
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see our services or join as a member
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