The Dangers of Unbridled Optimism
Don't go thinking that the world can only change for the better.
Tonight I’m getting together with Tim, A.B., and Will to talk about 2024 and everything that’s coming. We’ll be live at 8 p.m. in the East.
It’s going to be great.
Also, some breaking news: Donald Trump’s businesses collected $7.8 million from foreign governments during his presidency.
Again: These are not payments from foreign companies. They are payments from the governments of foreign countries.
Want to guess which country paid Trump the most?
China. Because, of course.
Projection. It’s always—always—projection.
1. Wired and the Nature of Conservatism
Om Malik thinks that Wired magazine has lost its way and you may not care about this, but it gets at a larger philosophical point that is important to me: Optimism is dangerous and we must stamp it out.
I’m kidding! Sort of!
The not-kidding version is that untempered optimism can be dangerous. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, here’s Malik remembering what Wired was like:
On January 2nd, 1993, Wired burst onto the scene, and let me tell you, it transformed the way many of us looked at technology and its impact on our future. It was like part field notes, part research lab, and a whole lot of fantastic storytelling. That magazine infused us with the kind of wild excitement that only comes from endless possibilities. It was like throwing gasoline on the fires of our imagination and lighting up our optimism.
In 2017, when chatting with Louis Rossetto, one of the co-founders of Wired, along with Jane Metcalfe, I told him, “Discovering Wired was like stumbling upon my Rolling Stone. It gave me my cultural context more than anything else. I didn’t even think of myself as a nerd back then. I wasn’t. I was just genuinely interested in the future.”
And that’s precisely what made Wired so special. It always said, ‘Look at where we’re headed.’ . . .
Nowadays, you have to dig through its pages (and links) like a lost prospector searching for gold in the Sierras. The last memorable story I read in the magazine was a conversation with Jennifer Doudna, the genius behind CRISPR, who rightfully earned herself a Nobel Prize. But on the flip side, there was an article about someone’s quest for the best-smelling scrotum.
Malik’s overarching complaint about Wired isn’t that it turned into a click-farm—it’s that Wired is no longer optimistic about technology:
What confounds me is that technology-first publications such as Wired, and technology-first writing communities seem to have little enthusiasm for technology and change. Now, more than ever, we have so many converging trends that are going to impact humanity and our planet. Technologies are ever so complex that they need careful, longer deliberation, with the right context. We have problems, but we are also on the cusp of breakthroughs that solve these problems. An optimistic view would help explain the complex future and give everyone hope.
Writing about science and technology for a technology-first magazine means that you have to be biased toward optimism. I have written about technology, the business of technology, and the implications of technology for multiple publications. I continue to write with an optimist’s view of the future, but I am never blind to the perils of what we build. It is because I believe that optimism is the key ingredient for the future we want to build.
I disagree with this pretty strongly.