In just under two weeks, CNN will be airing Black In America 4, about that rarest of breeds: African-American entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Already the topic has generated controversy with an interview of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. When asked if who his favorite black entrepreneur is, Arrington was stumped.
“I don’t know a single black entrepreneur,” stumbled the extremely well-connected blogger-turned-VC. From there, a heated online debate ensued — largely triggered by provocative post written by Arrington (“Oh Shit, I’m A Racist”) where he claims he was set up by CNN (whose parent company AOL coincidentally just fired Arrington over some conflict-of-interest aka politrix issues) and that his inner database isn’t racially indexed. O’Brien herself dove into the fray, claiming the interview was anything but a set up.
For longtime but still rare afrosomething new media executives like me, the discussion has been an intriguing change from the usual navel-gazing myopia that often characterizes much of tech journalism. It’s fascinating to see technologists like Mitch Kapor train their formidable sights towards a social issue that, for once, doesn’t involve unfriending or Like buttons.
While most thinkers like Kapor rightly admit one reason black geeks are scarce in Silicon Valley is because the industry is more a “mirror-tocracy” than a meritocracy, there is another side to this burdensome scenario: historically, African-American kids have been conditioned to aspire to becoming superstar athletes, platinum-selling artists and other role models far “cooler” than a serial entrepreneur or a PHP coder. Where being a brainy student among Asian, Indian and Jewish kids is not generally viewed as a negative, in too many black schools you’re viewed as a “pointdexter.” The situation wasn’t helped much by Hollywood whose past portrayals of atypical black males were too often represented by feckless fictional characters like Steve Erkle or Carlton Banks.
The good news is that, indirectly, Silicon Valley is already changing this scenario. In the past decade, technology itself has become “cool” thanks to ubiquitous breakthrough platforms like mobile tech (from the SideKick to the iPhone) and social networking — starting with MySpace and now with Twitter where a disproportionate percentage of users are African-American. Coupled with increasingly low barriers to entry, the fundamentals of network and application layers are being understood and embraced by young black America. It’s only a matter of time before the culture that produced bebop and hip hop discovers a profitable twist on new media much like DJs reinvented turntables. Any enlightened investor knows this.
And, as the obviously non-racist Arrington pointed out in his blog, good things are underway: “At Google Zeitgeist I sat with Will.i.am, Ron Conway, Larry Page, and others over lunch. Will.i.am was proposing an ambitious new idea to help get inner city youth (mostly minorities) to begin to see superstar entrepreneurs as the new role models, instead of NBA stars. He believes that we can effect real societal change by getting young people to learn how to program, and realize that they can start businesses that will change the world.”
It's Cool To Be A Black Geek
In the meantime, Silicon Valley should not let itself off the hook and should instead continue to resolve this anachronistic lopsided situation. As the digital world becomes increasingly dominated by China and India, America will need all the diverse brain power it can get to compete in the global, electronic marketplace where no one knows you’re a dog, let alone a certain color. — MG
“ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner
For those of us who are lucky (read: middle-to-upper class, Westerner, decent health habits), there may not be a time to die. At least not for a very long time. Maybe even a thousand years if British author and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is correct. De Grey and scores of researchers around the world have been working on reversing the aging process through various means including regenerative medicine. Indeed, De Grey famously quoted in 2008 “the first human who will live up to 1,000 years is probably already alive now, and might even be today between 50 and 60 years old.”
Similarly, noted Futurist/author/inventor Ray Kurzweil predicts humans will eventually live forever, through a mix of what he refers to as GNR (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics). “My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT,” wrote Kurzweil in 2009. “And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years. ”
In this MIT lecture Kurzeill remarks “Say goodbye to cancer and heart disease within 15 years, and hello to living way past 80.”
One issue De Grey, Kurzweill and other anti-aging soothsayers seldom discuss, however, is self-identity. Even at the age 20, human beings are not who they were when they were five — completely different epidermis, different blood and scant if any memory of themselves as five year olds. Imagine at 300 years old; you will be a complete stranger to the person you are now (unless, of course, total Singularity happens). All of which begs the question: what is the point of immortality if you are essentially “reincarnated” as a complete stranger?
Enter the cloud. Storing your digital identity in a social cloud service like Facebook or G+ will serve as a personal time capsule if you live to 200, 300 years and beyond. Everything that comprises your personality — your tastes, thoughts, friends, family, images, career — is often now digitized in the form of photos, videos, blogs, emails and short form text like Twitter or SMS. As the Nexus 6 replicants of Blade Runner showed, the difference between being a synthetic cyborg and human being ultimately comes down to memories. It’s the essence of what makes us unique individuals. Lose your memories, however, and you become whatever you are programmed to be.
This is your future...in bits.
While there are several reasons to be wary of loading your entire life on a platform like Facebook, including privacy, the fact of the matter is that a cloud-based digital backup of your life is a much safer, convenient bet than ever-changing storage devices like optical discs or hard drive. Technology is always changing as any graybeard who has owned a Zip drive or 720MB CD ROM burner knows; it’s a pain in the ASCII to migrate personal data like email every five years or so – a bigger hassle than learning how to tweak the granular privacy settings of Facebook even if they seem to change every few years.
Sure there are dozens of options including memorials websites like Remembered.com, e-Forever and MyHeartWill, but the chances of those services surviving for hundreds of years is considerably lower than Facebook who, capitalized to the tune of $2 billion and counting, is poised to become the IBM of social media in terms of longevity. If you want to electronically ”live forever” then Facebook is probably your best bet. Google too — especially Gmail. With its new Timeline feature, however, Facebook has already shown the value of the personal time capsule: your life in an easy, navigable snapshot.
It’s almost inevitable humans will live well into their hundreds so we may as well start storing our self-identity now for the future. Unless, a solar flare, EMP or energy shortage sets us back to a digital Stone Age. Maybe you should store a hardcopy back up too. — MG
On Twitter, the words celebrity and credibility often blur. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the dozens of dead celebrity accounts where strangers take on the identity of deceased stars, often to disturbing yet surprisingly successful results. Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t give a rat’s ass who are you (unless you claim a verified account) — its namespace is a free for all where squatters, hucksters and freaks thrive with relatively no impunity. Below are 10 dead Twitterers I’ve selected because they’re either really successful (huge following), humorous or so weird that they’re notable, sometimes for the wrong reasons.
Sammy Davis Jr
(203 followers, 163 tweets)
Not only is the Candyman a pretty decent Twitterer (163 tweets so far), he’s updated his hipster lingo as evidenced in this tweet: “Snuck into Brooklyn to see @questlove last night. All that & the company of @faraichidea. As the kids say, “full of win!”
William S Burroughs
(485 followers, 14 tweets)
For a great author, William S Burroughs surprisingly isn’t the most productive dead twitterer but among his 14 tweets are a couple of gems worthy enough to attract 462 weirdos followers. My favorite is this one: “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
(2,907 followers, 149 tweets)
Sure he’s been dead for almost 40 years but that hasn’t stopped Jimi Hendrix from amassing nearly 3,000 followers with tweets like “my fingers are hurting, time to take a break from playing and light myself up a joint.”
(95 followers, 51 tweets)
The scatological punker only has 95 followers and hasn’t tweeted since Nov last year because “I got piss in my PC and for some reason it stopped working” but late punker GG Allin is alive and well on the social platform. With tweets like “Ate some chilli with my hands then fingerbanged myself. Felt GOOD too, real hot and spicy up my hole,” Allin takes NSFW to new levels.
(11 followers, 11 tweets)
Admittedly Joan Crawford is not the most prolific dead twitterer with only 11 tweets posted in over a year but her inaugural tweet ensured this faux diva a place on this list with the dismissive observation: “Busy with housework!” (followed by a series of drunken accounts involving vodka befitting the Hollywood star).
(340 followers, 15 tweets)
The Bell Jar author took her own life in 1963 by sticking her head in an oven. Decades later on Twitter, Plath is still haunting her 340 followers with chilling entries like “Cleaning the oven.”
(26,075 followers, 0 tweets)
Although he hasn’t posted a single tweet and another MJ account has been verified, TheRealMichaelJackson gets props for gaining over 26,000 followers without lifting a single sequined finger.
(1,533 followers, 30 tweets)
Music virtuso Frank Zappa not only tweets, he knows who “A list blogger” Robert Scoble is and accurately notes, “Scobleizer twitters more often than I release live albums….”
(0 followers, 0 tweets)
Okay this one is clearly too soon — the heartless freak who runs the DeadCoreyHaim Twitter account hasn’t even posted a single character but the compelling content here isn’t his tweets; it’s the solitary person Haim is following. Classic conspiracy fodder.
(2.328 followers, 8127 tweets)
Okay the dude’s not dead and every single of his 8,000+ tweets reminds you of that. Apparently over 2,000 followers need to be reminded regularly.
John Wayne Gacy. Not sure who is more disturbing, this serial killer imposter or his followers. Jay Leno. Yeah he’s not dead but his career should be, judging by his non-stop shilling tweets. I’m with Coco. Adolf Hitler. 1,800+ people follow a doofus who tweets things like “Attention Twitter. Jew’s have furry nipples. That is all.” Real funny. J Edgar Hoover. No followers, no tweets, not following anyone. Just a big zero like the guy was in real life.