Jack Dorsey, a founder of Twitter and currently CEO of Square, gave a disruptive speech at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt in San Fransisco.
Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, Dorsey called on the room packed with entrepreneurs to “pick a movement, pick a revolution, and join it.”
For some background, it is important to understand that the Disrupt conferences are actually a celebration of the volatility of capitalism not a critique of it. For example, it is not uncommon to hear Joseph Schumpeter’s famous creative deconstruction theory cited – as it was this year during one of the interviews with Yammer CEO David Sacks and conference founder Michael Arrington – to justify or even elevate the behavior of the firms being discussed or promoted.
Being disruptive is a good thing.
This is how many in Silicon Valley see their endeavors – that the havoc caused by the introduction of new technologies is creative destruction. That while the momentary shock of the change introduced is unpleasant for some, the holistic or net contribution is positive.
The Silicon Valley culture embraces rather than rejects the principles that underlay the theory of creative destruction, principles ironically first articulated in the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx – from whom Schumpeter adapted his theory – that capitalism is a revolutionary force that transforms the world. The Silicon Valley adherents to ‘capitalism as revolution’ would likely rather embrace Schumpeter’s narrative frame of “innovation” than version 1.0′s frame of “commodification” but this is a stylistic (sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t make a semantic web pun) not substantive change.
OK, so what the hell was Mr. Dorsey talking about if not the capitalist revolution of creative destruction?
Disruption is like an earthquake. It has no purpose. It has no values. It has no organizing principle. It has no direction. And it has no leadership. I think we have to change the name of this conference. This is not what we want to bring into the world.
What we want to bring into the world, is revolution.
Revolution has values. Revolution has purpose. Revolution has direction. Revolution has leaders. Revolution looks at the intersection ahead and pushes people to do the right thing.
One does not need to strain very hard to see a critique of the more savage and disorienting aspects of Neoliberalism, no matter how unconscious, within those statements. Especially when you consider it was said with a slide of the French Revolution on the screen and riffing on William Gibson’s quote about “redistributing the future.”
It is equally hard to believe that someone can join “a movement, a revolution” that was successful and the status quo of Wall Street political dominance could remain. What kind of revolution would that be?
Is Microsoft’s Avoid The Ghetto App part of that revolution? It’s certainly innovative. How about iGated Communities – talk about a walled garden!
Skepticism is bound to creep in to any discussion of rich tech entrepreneurs intoning with great pathos on the virtues of “revolution” because Silicon Valley has traditionally engaged in some clever intellectual jujitsu regarding civic engagement.
The typical defense goes something like “By creating these wonderful products and services we are creating a better world, ergo, my business is my politics.” … Right. To be clear just because something is incredibly self-serving and convenient does not mean it is not true. Though in this case it is untrue.
Creating better technology is in no way, shape, or form a substitute for morally consciousness activism and engagement in public affairs. The 20th century saw numerous regimes that were extremely technologically innovative and all those disruptive tools just optimized the forces of tyranny and oppression. Technology is neutral.
But… that seems actually to be Dorsey’s precise point. That mindless disruptive technological progress is the problem. That technological progress is required but not sufficient for a better world.
So did Jack Dorsey just endorse the Occupy Movement? Or some other movement? What is this revolution? How can someone “distribute the future” to those who don’t have it without any involvement with the greater society that Silicon Valley exists within?
Or is this the disruptive corollary to Think Global, Act Local – Act Global, Think Local. Revolution by industry conference?
It is a compelling speech but while the material world progresses and morphs through the power of science and technological innovation, the art and symmetries of human dynamics are eternal. Politics is about people.