A Nancy Writes Back (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Digital Imperialism)

Is Europe making mistakes in technology or simply avoiding the societal mistakes of Silicon Valley?

How I learned to stop worrying and love digital imperialism
Why can’t we all just sell people’s data?
“Data everywhere but European entrepreneurs seemingly dare not touch it. This mentality that peoples [sic] personal data is a sacriment [sic] is hindering EU startups dramatically.”—Redg Snodgrass

I just read your article prophesying “doom and damnation for Europe’s wearable tech startups” unless us “negative nancies” (eww, gay, bro, amirite?) start doing things differently. And it made me livid. Let me try and explain to you why that is.

Allow me the impertinence to begin by summarising your otherwise nobel-worthy piece of literature: In a nutshell, you say we should talk like you, fund like you, and disregard human rights like you. (Will the real Redg Snodgrass please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?…)

Excuse me if this does not appeal to me.

Has it even occurred to you that perhaps — just perhaps — we are not failing at being like Silicon Valley but that we do not want to be like Silicon Valley?

Have you ever wondered if maybe we can do better than to adopt an excessively greedy system of venture capital and exits that funds spyware and treats people as capital to be bought and sold?

The system you espouse is one that is against our own interests both as individuals and as a society, however much it may benefit a tiny group of myopic con artists who themselves will be harmed by it in the long term

Has it ever entered your adorable beanied head that coming over to someone else’s home and criticising the decor because it doesn’t match what you have in yours might just be a tad culturally insensitive if not downright clueless? Especially if you got your furniture by less-than savoury means?

Let’s cut the crap and call this what it is: digital imperialism.

If anything, I have to thank you for being so blatantly honest about it. I don’t know whether it should encourage or worry us that you don’t even feel the need to codify your intentions.

What you’re doing with your accelerator is attempting to transplant your highly toxic culture into Europe. And you’re wondering why the patient rejects the new organ. Might it be because it has identified it as a threat? Sure, you can still get clueless European politicians to eat up your words, especially if backed by reams of cold, hard dosh. And you can still get policy makers to believe that opposing Silicon Valley’s colonialism means opposing innovation and jobs. But the tide is turning. More and more of us are beginning to realise that the emperor is the only one wearing any clothes. And some of us would like our coats back now, please.

If anything, the Silicon Valley model hurts innovation with its greed-driven fetish for the toxic business model of treating human beings as natural resources to be mined, farmed, studied, and sold. We had a name for this when it was happening to our corporeal selves: we called it slavery. Perhaps it’s time to start asking what we should call it when it happens to our digital selves.

There is a reason why we respect people’s data in Europe. We do it because we respect people. Privacy is not a luxury. It is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are no such thing as digital rights — digital rights are human rights.

What you see as failure, I see as a triumph of humanity. I sincerely hope that we will not make the same mistakes in Europe that you have made in Silicon Valley. Ind.ie and other initiatives are working hard to avoid that fate and to create a future where our freedoms, human rights, and democracy are protected.

As Melvin Kranzberg says, “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” Technology is a multiplier. It does not care what it multiplies. If you feed it bullshit, you will get bullshit back several times over. If you feed it meaning, it will multiply meaning. Silicon Valley has been feeding it bullshit for long enough now. It’s time to feed it more meaningful things. Humanity deserves better than to be enslaved by the myopia of Silicon Valley and its toxic business of factory farming human beings.

We can do better. I firmly believe that in Europe, we will do better. We must. The welfare of our societies, if not the future of our species may very well depend on it.

With love,