The Media and Silicon Valley are at War

Even if Big Tech is only just starting to realise it

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

Michael Crichton

Stratechery reports that Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z, a venture capital firm, is planning on launching its own media property which views the world through a lens of rational optimism. Some journalists are critical (“To grow and improve its products, the tech industry needs to be open to more independent views, not more sycophancy”, “Silicon Valley Thinks You're Stupid and It Will Pay a Lot to Make It True”).

These concerns aren’t completely misplaced. This publication will undoubtedly be biased towards putting a positive spin on tech. Indeed, when someone tells you it is part of their mission, we should believe them and assume they’re going to do just that.

On the other hand, media companies are hardly unbiased either. There has always been a degree of bias in the media and this increased during the Trump era. Even if you think that this was necessary to avoid normalising Trump, I think that if you’re being fair, you would probably have to admit we would expect moving away from objectivity to increase bias and that it has, in fact, had this effect.

The media is increasingly seeing its mission as speaking “truth to power”. Perhaps this is what its role should be, but this is in tension with its role as a power-structure in itself. The media sometimes criticises itself too, but can any man really be their own judge?

This increase in media bias isn’t just limited to politics. The media has become increasingly sceptical or even hostile towards Silicon Valley. Some of this is warranted. Despite his achievements, we have to acknowledge that Elon Musk sometimes acts erratically or is kind of a jerk. The negative social implications of social media are becoming increasingly obvious and undeniable. And Amazon treats its warehouse workers brutally, even if it has improved their pay. Nonetheless, the media has dramatically shifted towards scepticism by default and always trying to find fault.

So part of this is for good reasons, but part of this is that making people outraged brings in clicks and another part of this is that technology is a competing center of power.

I want to focus on this last point. I’m not claiming that CNN, the New York Times and MSBN hold meetings where they discuss how to bring down Google or any absurd conspiracy theory like that. On the contrary, there is a culture clash between mainstream media which is becoming increasingly progressive and tech which is also quite progressive, but moderated by the influence of libertarians and the Intellectual Dark Web. When tech was small, it was just a fun thing to speculate about, but as it started to gain power, members of the media started to become worried about the direction it was taking society. So they started to write stories and these memes propagated until it eventuatally became the Mainstream Media Narrative.

(Aren’t their worldviews essentially the same, especially when compared to the Republicans? No, see Freud’s Narcissism of Small Differences. What matters is proximity - both coexist and compete within the bubble of educated professionals.)

These minor differences are exacerbated by a highly politicised environment. Jealously likely plays a role too with massively paid engineers being recruited straight out of college vs. journalists barely scraping by, facing constant layoffs and a grim future as their audience slowly dies off and their authority is eroded. Worse, this is all happening because of big tech, with Netflix having mostly killed TV for the younger generations and the accessibility of news around the world creating an absolute bloodbath for those depending on a subscription model. Expecting the media to unbiased about tech in this context is like expecting coal miners to be unbiased about renewables.

Given this context, we can hardly expect journalists to be treating tech fairly. a16z will be biased too, but with mainstream media being tech sceptical and a16z and similar future outlets being tech optimistic, we can hope that it’ll balance out and that the best ideas will win in the marketplace of ideas.

Further Reading: I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup, Slatestarcodex