“All Empires Vanish”

Wired’s Virginia Heffernan writes an excellent, concise brief on Sheryl Sandberg, the embattled Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In. Heffernan stages the piece in a interesting way1, focussing not on a #meToo angle or tangentially the feminist perspective though Sandberg’s brand effuses both. 

Instead, Heffernan posits Sandberg’s failure is one of vanity and hubris, not femininity. No single human can do what Sandberg is trying to do: capitalize on self-publishing within the framework of moral obligation.

Facebook has democratized publishing for the world. While there are a litany of technical challenges to this, two ideological problems stand out:

  1. The world is untrained in the importance of self-editing. Newspapers, though gasping and choking now, quickly learned the symbiotic importance between writing and editing.
  2. Capitalism is not good for democracy. Bad actors exploit self-publishing for financial and political gain. There are numerous financial incentives in doing so.

Facebook didn’t know what it was getting into. If it did, its leadership is sadly incompetent2. If it didn’t, its leadership is naive of the war-ravaged political and historical context of publishing. Facebook is not a service, as its marketing collateral unequivocally states. It is a publishing platform.

Act accordingly.


  1. Heffernan benefits from contributing articles to Politico, so she is keenly aware of the political lens through which stories can be viewed.
  2. It’s fashionable in the current media landscape to attack Facebook. It’s also fair to say that Facebook’s accomplishments are amazing from a technical standpoint. But there is historical context for the dangers posed by publishing. Adding the layer of publishing for an untrained everyone increases the complexity and severity of those dangers.

Driven

Alphabet’s Waymo division is testing driverless taxis within a limited operating area of Arizona. Apart from the overt business advantages of this technology, I’m still trying to understand how driverless vehicles make life better. I’m certain there are incredibly bright people working on this technology, but I often think that technology should fundamentally support that singular goal: improve life.

Major challenges remain, starting with technical hurdles. A Waymo One taxi tested by Reuters last week proved slow and jerky at times.

Alexandria Sage for Reuters

Slow and jerky is just a bug — a smaller experiential piece that can be addressed over time. The more alarming bit of Sage’s piece:

“Waymo is now accelerating … because if they wait two or three years longer they will get overtaken,” Froehlich said on the sidelines of last week’s Los Angeles auto show. “So they have to move early, even though that’s quite a risky thing for them.”

Klaus Froehlich, BMW’s global head of development

The race to be first to market when you have not only your business to consider but the lives of customers in your hands is disturbing. We’re living in a period of history wherein technology doesn’t necessarily work as prescribed. If you want to find at a plausible culprit for technological failure, I’d start with the rush to market.