The fable of the prodigal TechBro

Maria Farrell (whom God Preserve) has written a fabulously sharp essay about the phenomenon of Founder’s Remorse — the way guys (and they’re always guys) who made a packet out of drinking the Zuckerberg/Tech Kool Aid eventually realised that what they were doing was not exactly good for humanity — and quit to spend more time with their money. Not content with stepping off the surveillance capitalism treadmill, however, they also want to be loved and admired for their signal moral and ethical courage. And swathes of the mainstream media are falling for these faux mea culpae. All of which is just a bit nauseating, especially to those activists and contrarians who have spent decades critiquing and challenging the tech giants.

Farrell’s essay is well worth reading in full, because that’s the only way of catching the Swiftian edge of her satirical disdain, but here’s a sample to whet your appetite:

The Prodigal Son is a New Testament parable about two sons. One stays home to work the farm. The other cashes in his inheritance and gambles it away. When the gambler comes home, his father slaughters the fattened calf to celebrate, leaving the virtuous, hard-working brother to complain that all these years he wasn’t even given a small goat to share with his friends. His father replies that the prodigal son ‘was dead, now he’s alive; lost, now he’s found’. Cue party streamers. It’s a touching story of redemption, with a massive payload of moral hazard. It’s about coming home, saying sorry, being joyfully forgiven and starting again. Most of us would love to star in it, but few of us will be given the chance.

The Prodigal Tech Bro is a similar story, about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.

Great stuff.