Discovering, and Deflating, the Technocrat

Crown Prince

Here’s a new one for the startup kiddies. The New York Times took a spin through SXSW, and discovered a digital elite that needed some deflating.

The technocracy, according to Anand Giridharadas, is the new aristocracy. “Like aristocracies past, it has its own rituals and symbols and practices, and it conceives of itself as uncynically serving the best interests of mankind. Like aristocracies past, it seeks to remake the remainder of humanity in its image. It reaches into the innards of our consciousness to shape what we believe, how we spend our days, how we love and reason and remember.”

What kind of anthropological gems did the NYT discover about this breed of mind controlling machine freaks while exploring through the wilds of Austin? “When listening to this music, the technocrats dance in their own way. You will seldom see two technocrats dancing together, as the old-fashioned and the young and lusty do elsewhere. Technocrats tend to dance facing forward, solo, eyes on the band, spared of having to overcome physical awkwardness.”

Geez. Someone needs to get out to a General Assembly happy hour.

These technocrats aren’t just bad dancers, they are also amoral, algorithmic geeks. Giridharadas attended a panel on crowdsourcing hosted by Kickstarter’s Fred Benson. Panelist and professor Jonthan Zitrain raised some questions about the ethical ambiguities of distributed labor. “These are moral questions, not algorithmic ones,” wrote Giridharadas. “Amid the dancing and feasting and networking at SXSW, they drizzled like rain on the parade.”

Many New York startups, like Jumo and Catchafire, apply this maxim to the non-profit causes working for the greater good. As for the rest, they are focused on building a business that solves concrete problems, not ignorant or dismissive of the world’s larger moral quandaries.

  Discovering, and Deflating, the Technocrat