Cause & Effect

I've been reading sci-fi and thinking about sci-fi's relationship to technology innovation. I posted last week about Twitter and the Metaverse and noted that Neal Stephenson had imagined things in the early 90s that happened almost twenty years later.

But of course it is possible that many of the things that are built by technologists are reactions to reading sci-fi and wanting to realize the fertile imaginations of sci-fi authors.

So it's not entirely clear exactly who is inspiring who. Like most things, it is likely a bit of both. Technologists create new things. Writers are inspired and create stories that reflect these emerging new technologies. Technologists read those stories and are inspired by them.

It's a virtuous circle. Technology innovation doesn't occur in a vacuum. It happens in a dialog with society. And sci-fi writers are but one example of the way society impacts technology.

I think that's one of the reasons that many of the most interesting bay area startups are choosing to locate themselves in the city. And it is one of the reasons that NYC is developing a vibrant technology community. Society is at its most dense in rich urban environments where society and technology can inspire each other on a daily basis. Steven Johnson wrote about this phenomenon in his excellent Where Good Ideas Come From.

So if you want to know what is going to happen next in the world of technology, you need to be thinking about society and where it is going, how it is interacting with technology, and how it is inspiring technologists. Which is why I am reading a lot of sci-fi this summer.

#Books#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Matt A. Myers

    Science fiction writers simply have a way to express their creativity and use it as a means of earning money for a living; We all have a way to express our creativity of course – they happen to be transparent about their ideas because they know the technology allowing what they’re talking about to be possible is very far away in the future.Queue a creatives’ thought generation around the leading edge of technology, they won’t be publishing their creative thoughts, not so much at least until they have at least some form of advantage; Mind you, many people due share their thoughts if they’re not planning to pursue it as a method of generating income.And of course being the creator of an idea of course has its advantages, as you had the mind that lead to the initial discovery and therefore have a higher likelihood of being able to continue on a train of that that will allow you to see further into the future, of how things will be or need to be.Re: Fred’s last paragraph – where society is going in the holistic way, if you trust Carlota Perez’ findings and theory that the next technology revolution is towards wellness, then figure out what that means in relation to Fred’s last paragraph.

  2. kidmercury

    we have many unsustainable trends in society, with high levels of debt being my favorite example. technology will likely be a factor in solving that, and the resolution of the unsustainable debt trend will change a lot of other things, as it will change the grand flow of money.another unsustainable trend is “peak everything” — society is running out of accessible natural resources of all kinds. the technology that solves this problem is atomic energy, which gives us enough energy to get all the stuff that is deep in the earth’s crust or in outer space. or, if there is a big breakdown in government and all the secrets about ET technology come out, that is the other option for the energy expansion needed. but i find it hard to imagine how society will react if all the secrets about ETs are revealed; i think society will ignore it until it becomes impossible to ignore, like until there is an ET standing in front of you at the grocery store and there is no possible way for you to ignore it.50 years from now, i think the two most embarrassing things about our current society will be organized religion and the nation-state as a model of how people organized and formed communities. it will be seen as completely ridiculous. well, organized religion might last longer and that might be wishful thinking on my part. but it too will find its demise in due time. the nation-state, being a citizen just because of the plot of land you were born on, and patriotism in the form of sacrificing yourself for your country, will all be seen as ludicrous and akin to how we currently see sacrificing yourself for some random business in your town that you are only connected to because you shop there periodically.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Peak everything is indeed the biggest problem, at least in some sectors. That’s why we need to switch to a GPI system vs. a GDP system. That will be the best way to measure progress; GPI is Genuine Progress Index that takes into account non-quantifiable things, like if you’re sick and you’re spending money on medication then the GDP goes up because money is being spent, however your own individual productivity, happiness go down – and GDP doesn’t factor that in (or rather, it’s factored in as a positive, as it increases the GDP).

      1. FlavioGomes

        As do prisons. If we solved the crime problem, I’d reckon a major hit to GDP.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Not sure if you’re being sarcastic?If we alleviated the reasons why people commit crimes and created proper rehabilitation programs, etc. then the GPI would increase dramatically; If measuring by GDP, it would likely go up after time with the population being more productive, happier, etc.. And money would still need to be allotted to rehabilitation, etc..

          1. Emily Merkle

            Matt, not trying to be a hardass here, but – your sentiments, while insightful, do not line up with my understanding, at least, of GDP – which in and of itself is a cloudy, inaccurate and thus largely toothless indicator of economic growth. Can you expound on your ideas?

          2. Matt A. Myers

            I agree with your description of the GDP, and a solution to helping with that is GPI;…I’m heading for a run, and then to the beach afterward – hope that video helps?

          3. Emily Merkle

            I like the metric in theory. It is more a tool ( at this point ) for academia and research.

          4. Matt A. Myers

            Indeed. It should replace GDP as the leading metric though for guiding policy in the future though; GDP is good to know too.

          5. Emily Merkle

            Not quite πŸ˜‰ GDP does not guide policy. While analytics in any realm are valuable in assessing the state of business or things in general, it is important to be mindful of keeping their influence in the proper perspective. se, for lack of a better analogy.

          6. FlavioGomes

            Not at all Matthew. I find industry built on societal ills intersting particularly when they seem to perpetuate its growth.

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      david pilling ‏@davidpillingEnough is enough of the age of consumption – piece questioning the limit of growth gets surprisingly big FT readership

    3. Luke Chamberlin

      Most likely in the aisle that sells Reese’s Pieces.

      1. kidmercury

        i tried to think of a candy that might especially be well-suited towards ETs, but i couldn’t think of one off the top of my head. so i guess reese’s pieces it is!

          1. kidmercury

            oh! i never saw the movie ET so i did not get your reference to reese pieces (just looked it up now). i will need to watch that movie to up my alien cred!

    4. William Mougayar

      “unsustainable trends in society”. Bingo. How do we break these apart if they are in the category of “bad”? That’s what I’d like to know. I hope you’re wrong about the two most embarrassing things you mentioned, but I think you’re right that there is a “bad” trend that’s developing there.

      1. Emily Merkle

        “unsustainable” and “bad” are not equivalent descriptors. Unsustainable is a value-free descriptor while “bad” is a term of vague, subjective judgment.

        1. William Mougayar

          I wasnt saying they were equivalent. But when combined, it’s not good.

    5. fredwilson

      You should write scifi Kid. You have vision.

      1. kidmercury

        at one point in my life i really wanted to become a fiction writer — i minored in creative writing in college, wrote a few manuscripts, had a literary agent (this was the world before blogging/kindle/wattpad/lulu/fastpencil etc), and seriously pursued it for a few years. now i’m a conspiracy writer — which some would argue is the same thing! πŸ™‚

        1. Dale Allyn

          I love your self-aware sense of humor, Kid. I was going to rib you along those lines, but feared it would be misunderstood. Kudos.

          1. kidmercury

            lol you always have to go for the self-deprecating humor before others beat you to it! πŸ™‚

          2. Dale Allyn

            Exactly! I’m totally with you on that!

        2. Emily Merkle

          kid, I like your style. I have been referred to as a conspiracy theorist, among other things. I find much of what you have to say not only quite intriguing, but also intelligent, insightful, and rather spot-on. How can I find your work?

          1. kidmercury

            i used to have it up but took it down went i moved to my simplified posterous blog. i’ve been meaning to put it all back up on wattpad, just to see what happens.

          2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            @kidmercury:disqus Oh my word – I just took a look at “Tide Theft”. – Is that for real or a joke of some kind ?If I am out of touch it may be because where I live we don’t lock cars or houses or computers !Two things#1 its a shame to post interesting stuff where there is no comment concept like disqus (Am I being a pain posting here off topic – @fredwilson WHAT is the etiquette on avc ? )#2 Money characteristics are classically portable, frangible, universally accepted, durabley and non-counterfeitableIt seems the economics gurus have it all wrong – the key requirement appears to be steal-ability – however at least Tide has no intrinsic value (but then – can you drink it ?)

          3. Emily Merkle

            kid, I am gonna call bullshit on the notion you put forth that Tide is used as barter for illegal drugs – or anything else. James – agreed; I would love to joust with those in the know – or think – over kid’s ideas.

          4. Emily Merkle

            dude. point taken.

          5. fredwilson

            The etiquette is what you think it is. Anything goes that seems appropriate

          6. kidmercury

            tide theft is becoming more common, as is an underground economy for manhole covers. i expect more organic bartering economies to develop and i think that will be a major opportunity on the internet via craigslist-like sites.

          7. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            @kidmercuryWhen it comes to manholes as you suggest I think it is the hole “cover-up” inherent in the associated “bowel-earth-movement” that fertilizes “organic barter economies” .On the other hand the currency of “Tide theft” is probably only inevitable because “time and tide waits for no man”Notable in both is the convenient braille that has been applied to assist those previously thought too blind to beggar belief.

      2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        I wrote a lot of fiction at college – Trouble was my masters was in Engineering – I wish tutors had seen ScFi where they smelled BS πŸ™‚

      3. LE

        I will support whatever the kid puts on kickstarter, even his conspiracy theories. I will even go for a higher level of support.

    6. ShanaC

      Traditions are important. Secularist society doesn’t really have (yet) a wedding, a funeral, a birth, a “joining man/womanhood” set of traditions yet – but these are the things that culturally mark us.

      1. kidmercury

        religion and tradition are two different things; people not affiliated with organized religion can get married, die, and be born. new forms of spirituality and governance will emerge to replace the obsolete ones (religion and the nation-state), and these new forms will likely have develop their own traditions along the way.

        1. ShanaC

          Oh true, but the process is going to be long and difficult. And these moments are awkward without religion, since religion already predefines tradition of what these life stages are.Thing “cake parties” and the sex of babies. They’re just awkward.

    7. LE

      “embarrassing things about our current society will be organized religion”See that’s the problem with politics. It’s not ala-carte. Some of the shit you say I fully support. Other stuff I barf. Political parties require someone to buy into the whole thing or nothing.

      1. kidmercury

        Im commenting on what I regard as probabilities based on current trends, not my own preferences. I acknowledged my dislike towards organize religion though still regard its days as numbered; once aliens are accepted, which I regard as inevitableand probably within one century, religion will be a gone, imho.

  3. jason wright

    Higgs Boson.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      The child of decades of creative mathematics / problem solving.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Something that was ridiculed by a lot of smart people. The Higgs Boson is like a super hero πŸ™‚ I love it when something that most people say can’t exist is proven to exist (quasicrystals, for example). It’s so encouraging and motivating.

      1. Emily Merkle

        me too. science. it works, bitches.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          LOL. +1

        2. ShanaC

          I need to send that line to my brother

          1. ShanaC

            that it does, but I don’t know his shirt size….

        3. Dale Allyn

          I prefer: “Nature. It works… “Fewer errors. πŸ˜‰ (but saying that as a science geek, too)

    3. ShanaC

      end of an era for particle physics.

    4. LE

      As soon as I am smart enough to know exactly what that discovery will mean to me I will be very impressed with it. For now though, it’s the economy, stupid…(“will be very impressed with it” is a variation on something I heard a long time ago when a somewhat relative who didn’t graduate from college heard that his closest friend had just gotten a “chair” at the university. He replied “As soon as I can figure out what that is I’m going to be very impressed”.)

  4. awaldstein

    A twist on your thought…Culture is driving innovation more than tech itself. This is a change.People adapted themselves to the possibilities of behavior as tech advanced up the ladder. For a long time. Every new thing was a wow. We just didn’t know that we could do that. Apple was the artist of this paradigm.Now.. as product creators, we plumb culture and create platforms for it to surface.Now…in cities, not only is culture intensified, it’s a mobile moshpit for innovation. You can’t invent social mobile intersections in the wide open spaces, You discover them as we bump into each other and other things to share to each other

    1. Matt A. Myers

      So culture comes before technology, technology merely facilitates.

      1. awaldstein

        When I was creating and publishing video games in the 90s, every piece of technology and datatype was a ‘let’s use it’ thing.Creative became a $B company from just about zero in less than 4 years because duh, we had a way to standardize sound, so let’s just use it. Not different with graphics actually.We added sound and emotion to a silent and non emotive world.That was then, this is now.The web today is full stuff that is there because it can be. A backwash that will go away.I design today to plumb ways to surface human need and behavior. Tech…simply the frying pan, albeit a smart one.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Right. Thanks.The frying pan is the ecosystem, the tool that allow creatives to be creative, and there’s always a lot of experimentation with creativity, for learning and discovery purposes.

    2. Luke Chamberlin

      In the consumer space this is absolutely true.Consumers used to make technical decisions. Should I get 64kb of ram or 128kb? What kind of sound card should I get? This one doesn’t support MIDI, etc.Now people don’t have to confront these decisions. Even the cheapest computer is capable of doing everything the average consumer wants it to do (with the exception of maybe high-end games). Same with smartphones and other bits of technology. How many more megapixels can you fit into a cellphone camera? We’re past the point where it matters.Now the focus is on networks and the social interactions they engender.Outside of the consumer space, I think this is less true. Tech is still driving innovation in places like energy, medicine, and nanotech where tech is still a limitation to building the things we can imagine but not yet build.

    3. William Mougayar

      I agree. I don’t want technology to trample too much with culture and societal values. I don’t mind having technology to improve our lives, but the degree and speed of changes can be more detrimental than beneficial sometimes.Technology, Culture, Values and Society. It’s a fine balance.

    4. fredwilson

      Great point Arnold

    5. ShanaC

      i don’t agree. We’ve culturally staginated. Our music sounds similar to what was available 20? 30? years ago. Clothing I could transplant myself to the year I was born and not look out of place, despite changes in fabric development….How is culture driving innovation?

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I think this only applies if you look at mainstream. I don’t think clothes, or music, or film, or art in the alternative is anything like 20 or 30 years ago. Even some mainstream stuff is quite new (like Kanye’s last album or “Inception”). Pick up a copy of Juxtapoz . Innovation and creativity are alive and well, you just have to prepare to feel a little queasy when you first encounter them πŸ™‚

      2. Emily Merkle

        Think of “culture” as the way various societies (and sub-groups therein) function. How they interact, both within and between. How and why they communicate; what their priorities are; how they work, play, love, learn. What problems do they face? What needs do they have? What itches need scratching? It is in studying these issues and more that leads to innovation driven by culture.

      3. awaldstein

        Goes to show you that each of us lives in a world of our beliefs and the passions that drive us.Culturally, creatively, socially…this is the most empowering, forward and optimistic time I’ve experienced.The amazing social groupings of the 60 and 70s infused with a global point of view, untethered by restrictions to build and try anything, and the realistic belief that change….the unimaginable, is truly possible.Shana…I encourage you to take another look.

      4. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        So fashion is cyclical – and it should be – Our bodies are fundamentally the same shape (even if we have put on some pounds) we still want insulation, protection, and freedom of movement. Our auditory range is the same, and our fundamental frequencies (eg heartbeat and walking pace) do not vary much.The bigger question is perhaps, why do we care about fashion ? Is being different or the same really so superficial?I love the variety of views I find here – I am also comfortable with the social norms that bring freedom.So what is marriage – Walls obliging obedience or a garden of safe exploration ?I guess it depends whose Garden you are in – Get in the right one and you never want to change – This is why I sit here in my sloppiest old tee-shirt – not caring a fig for my fashion sense!

        1. Emily Merkle

          Fashion means different things to different people. When I hear “fashion” I think “fad”. Fashion to me is better said to be my “style”; it is how I express myself. I dress not to draw attention. I dress in quality clothes that are classic in style. Caring about fashion is not necessarily superficial. I for one feel more comfortable and confident when dressed just so. If others feel the same when in their chosen duds, well then, question answered in part.

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Emily – perhaps you missed the play on words – Superficial as in on the surface as clothes and classic “duds” or as dressing “just so” must always be.Doubtless you may be attractive, and this has a role. But if a partner is attracted to clothes because this is how you express yourself, when you are older, or poorer, or dead – you will find yourself expressionless – and lonely.Underneath the surface (beauty being skin deep) we see values. These distinguish. The success of the climb (by the person for whom it was tough), the mastery of the tool (by the person judged incapable) . And indeed the beauty of the wrinkles belonging to the woman who scrubbed floors to pay for an educated child.If we paraded these on the catwalk – I would become a fashion cognoscenti – until we do I care nothing for the world of fashion.I prefer to be distinguished by my values than by my failure to value distinction.

          2. ShanaC

            We’re still rewriting values!

          3. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Not sure – Plato and Socrates would say we are discovering the true knowledge that we have forgotten or lost since the fall (or equivalent – choose source of original sin here)Google “Anamnesis (philosophy)” to rediscover values and lost knowledge.It’s such a cool concept you have to love it – once learned never forgotten πŸ™‚

          4. ShanaC

            you know me too well πŸ™‚

          5. Emily Merkle

            No, nothing missed here. Beauty is not skin deep. I find there is beauty in witnessing the operationalization of one’s values.

          6. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            OK – If I understand that – it’s a really, really cool thought that I had not considered.Are you suggesting that style / content are not a dichotomy with one over the other (as I have presented it) , but that style is an emergent symptom of valuable content.Clearly this can be true.However, as clearly it can be faked if good dress sense can.Watching an episode of suits ( I love the theme tune and enjoy the programme but could not afford the suits ) confirms value in both of our viewpoints.

          7. Emily Merkle

            You got it – style and content can and do live in harmony; when authentic, they come together to create an expression or impression that is not only unique, but greater than the sum of its parts.Good dress sense cannot be “faked” any more than any other type of creative expression of self.

          8. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Aw shucks – If good dress sense cannot be faked – what am I to do for sartorial elegance?

          9. Emily Merkle

            Sub-par style sense can be augmented by hiring a stylist – all the cool kids have one!

          10. Emily Merkle

            This convo is flirting with the zone of familiarity that exists between regulars while leaving those like moi slightly confused and unable to partake…

          11. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            I’m very glad you said that … If my wife found me flirting within your zone of familiarity – there would be trouble πŸ™‚ !!!However, it does seem to me you are holding your own pretty well – @JLM would back you up in a trice.But I cannot resist asking – Was the “moi” ironic or a genuine attempt at pretense ? πŸ™‚

          12. Emily Merkle

            lol good one!Thanks for the props – navigating rapids without paddles here…moi – not meant to be pretentious or ironic πŸ™‚ just mixing it up and flexing my useless French education.

          13. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Worse than a useless education – is any education that is used less.

          14. Emily Merkle

            I should qualify “useless French education” – it is only useless due to the fact that I rarely encounter the opportunity to speak French. In hindsight I should have opted for Spanish; French just appealed to me from an aesthetic point of view.

        2. ShanaC

          This is beyond cyclical – technology and “culture war” type changes has so changed our modus vivendi that it is hard to actually come up with new culture. Flappers came with the right for women to vote. We don’t have just the right for women to vote, we have complex birth control, post aids, in an internet culture where you can post whatever. Clothing has no match.Same thing with music – when was the last time you heard of a riot in the opera house? That used to be normal in the first half of the 20th century.I haven’t even heard of a shocking novel. Something that is art and that you have to see/read/look at because it shocks the senses about what could be – technology took over that role, and we’re still catching up.

        3. Emily Merkle

          πŸ™‚ the institution of marriage is not one size fits all; I will say that like you, I sit here happily in my jammmies knowing that my best friend and partner in the crime of life loves me even when I am not sporting Pucci.

      5. Earbits

        If you think music sounds similar to what was available 20-30 years ago, you’re not looking past mainstream FM radio. There is an unbelievable amount of new music being created, and some of it was not even possible 20-30 years ago.

        1. ShanaC

          Comparing In C with The Dharma at Big Sur – In C still sounds newer.Same with comparing John Coltrane to Ken Vandermark. In most cases, John Coltrane sounds newer.I was at NYCB spring gala for my birthday gift to myself – They had comissioned a dance with music by Nico Muhly with Millepied as the choragrapher, named “Two Hearts”. Both are hailed as important artists of our time. And while I loved the dance, and I have a music crush on Nico Muhly, the NYTimes is right when it saysThe ballet is at its prettiest in these duets, though they all struck me as emotionally trite, immediately merging in my mind into a single Valentine’s Day greeting card (…Compare that to the premiere of Ballet Russe/Stravinsky “Rite of Spring.” The Joffery Reconstruction still is markedly harder to watch and more thrilling to boot in terms of complexity of structure. (and this is from someone who thinks Millepied is just getting started and could take over Nijinsky if the music moved that way)…

          1. ben

            John Coltrane and Ken Vandermark are both Jazz musicians. Of course they don’t sound drastically different. I don’t know what you mean by “newer”, but if it is another way of saying “better”, I also think coltrane is “newer”. But that is pointless and doesn’t really mean anything.Here’s my question: Are you qualified to say “Music has stagnated?” Do you listen to every single genre out there? If you haven’t, then you are not qualified. I am saying this because I’m one of those people who try to experience all kinds of music. And I still don’t think I would even qualify to say something like that. I try to listen to all kinds of music, from some obscure african music to super weird experimental music to Japanese music, not to mention most of the “conventional genres” like jazz, classical, electronica, hiphop, rock, ambient, chill out, etc.And you know what? I still discover new type of music every day. It’s so amazing how human beings can still create something original. Of course 99% of the songs out there sound the same, but the 1% are really creative. If you listen to 100 songs, you will discover 1. If you think they all sound the same, maybe you’ve only listened to 99 crappy ones.

          2. ShanaC

            I can say I’m pretty qualified as a layman. I listen to nearly everything except hip-hop (for some reason I don’t like rapping voices against syncopated beats, I want to listen to one or the other, not both at the same time).I do think within genres that are western there is this postmodern “what of the future” thing going on. There hasn’t been a shift in the way we think about sound since either Cage/Terry Riley’s reaction (which whether I want to admit to it or not, both are highly influential in other types of music if I sit there listening for the sake of sound).Though a part of me is hearing some newer material. But just barely, as if we are on the edge of something. Still, I haven’t heard anything in a long long time that makes me redefine the way I think of the world.(and got recommendations?)

    6. iamronen

      wow … so many unfounded assumptions in one comment!I would like to think we are moving into a time where we are driven less by culture (social patterns) and more by intellect (which has the freedom to supersede and go against social patterns). Technology has been contributing to evolution when it has enabled THAT … it has been causing stagnation and deterioration where it has attached to social (not just software and internet) is ONE element in society … you can be at least as creative in using a tractor or a plow or a hoe as you can in using an app on a mobile phone. people adapting technology is not something new and Apple is far from being the artist of this paradigm ( I would even suggest that modern-day Apple introduces limitations to this paradigm instead of opening it up).don’t be f—ing arrogant: you don’t plumb culture … it’s the otherway around … technology creators (you) flow within culture and society. To quote Robert Pirsig (…”This city [New York] is a higher pattern than either a substance or a biological pattern called man. Just as a farmer raises cows four the sole purpose of devouring them, this pattern grows living human bodies four the sole purpose of devouring them.”culture is not intensified in cities … it forks in a certain direction … and in doing so it moves closer to some things and further from others … it is a mistake to view city as representative of culture … it is a subset … one flavor of many.”we bump into each other” is one example of a city-paradigm … yet “bumping city people” seem to also be busy reading books and yearning for an experience of “flow and connectivity” … something different then bumping.Fred – please, please, please … when you say society think of something more then cities, New York or even the USA … there is a global society out there … it is the one I would like to see getting YOUR (and your circles) attentions!

      1. LE

        “Fred – please, please, please … when you say society think of something more then cities, New York or even the USA … there is a global society out there “In an ideal world a “Fred” could be in more than one place and experience many things. You are correct that there are many things happening in many places and it’s obvious that the people who create, fund etc. have their location and environmental bias (college kids with yet another “meet your friends app”, male engineers not thinking about and understanding the problems that woman face (and lack of women engineers), the media thinking that things that they are aware of in NYC being overly important to the entire country and making them front and center on the news (every now and then they do travel around the country in a RV of course). The list is endless.By the way if this is the type of stuff that makes you happy that’s fine it’s your life:…From your site:”I realize I am doing exactly what I want to do and should be doing.” point being that don’t expect someone else (not speaking for Fred here actually myself) should lead their life or find what you seek important. Personally I don’t. I like living where I live and having the creature comforts which I work pretty hard for.

        1. iamronen

          LE … I don’t know you (in the sense of a presence here on … I really appreciate you taking the time to get to “know me” a bit.I am not suggesting that anyone else should the life I lead … I am suggesting that the two worlds are connected and we would all be better served if that mentality was present in our awarenesses, intentions and actions.As for your “creature comforts”, and I say this with care since I don’t know you and we are not talking about specifics, you are quite welcome to them as long as you don’t end up pissing in my (or anyone else’s) well.Having lived in both the world of “creature comforts” and “my world” I am under the impression that there is quite a bit of “well pissing” taking place. In a round-about way “my world” is a result of solving problems I perceived in the “creature comforts” world I inhabited. Having done that I am here and speaking out because I am bit worried for you. Though for the time being you may be more comfortable then I … I believe your comforts may be threatened.I believe that “Fred” through his work is in more then one place/culture/place/bla bla … his outreach has precious potential. I believe that reaching for thet potential carries with it seeds of “better business” in more ways that we, at this point in time, can even begin to imagine.

          1. LE

            “don’t end up pissing in my (or anyone else’s) well.”I think I rank pretty well in this area actually. (If I didn’t I’d probably be much more of a success!)

    7. Dave Pinsen

      I mentioned in a comment elsewhere in this thread Neal Stephenson’s speech about the smallness of vision of technologists in recent decades — from moonshots to spam filters, as it were. Nicholas Carr offered a slightly different take on that more recently, one that your comment here reminded me of (“Why Our Innovators Traffic in Trifles: An app for making vintage photos isn’t exactly a moonshot. Are we too obsessed with ‘tools of the self’?”). I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.

      1. smikolay

        Along the same lines,… – capitalism as it is in the US has resulted in the big innovations becoming infeasible.

        1. Emily Merkle

          That article you linked to is quality analysis; thanks for sharing.

      2. awaldstein

        Great share Dave, thnx.Well argued piece but I don’t agree.The power of the net’s collective community to change the world does indeed start with ‘me’ and the empowerment of the individual. It is the complete drive to let me organize and see the world as I personally want it that makes connection and collective groupings possible.Or so I think.Transparency as a broader norm, civility in culture more expected, intolerance and bigotry lessening not growing are all, in my mind, offshoots of the power and individual intelligence of the mass market.The world aint’ perfect. Instagram is not a cure for the common cold. Cultural change for the better and individual empowerment are easy to throw rocks at as soft advances but there is a platform for big change that is being built that is greater than the sum of all its ‘trivial’ parts.And honestly, a dream to let any one individual talk to the entire world for free and share their thoughts. Platforms for authors to build an audience for their work without touching traditional publishing. Artisans who can sit in some little chunk of land and make crafts and sell them across the globe.These to me are big dreams that people are making real.I think that people are dreaming big actually.Would I like to see this innovation in medicine and government as well, Certainly…but I”m optimistic that its coming.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          I admire your optimism, Arnold, and agree that some people are still thinking big. But I don’t see the increasing civility and tolerance you see; I see flashes of it (in this community, for example), but more of a hardening of ideological silos for the most part.

          1. awaldstein

            Stuff ain’t perfect.And yes, i have some buffers against harshness I agree.But, I can’t remember the last time I was discriminated against (that I knew of ) for being Jewish, for being over 50. Or being confronted with just really bad behavior from someone i needed something from that I just had to swallow and deal with it.So…things look better…

          2. Dave Pinsen

            I think we’re sailing past each other a little on this one. Perhaps a conversation better had in RL.

  5. Marcin

    Fred, would you care to share your sci-fi reading list? I’m sure you put some solid research into it we could all benefit from πŸ™‚

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      That would be cool – a book list down the side of AVC similar to The Gotham Gal’s.

    2. fredwilson

      I am re-reading the best stuff. Starting with Snow Crash and Neuromancer.

      1. Marcin

        Have a look at NeoAddix – it’s an interesting intersection of SciFi and Fantasy which results in a feudal futuristic picture: social mobility reduced to zero, people completely in parallel to the law and growing influence of spirituality. Less about tech, more about the direction of values and society.

        1. fredwilson


  6. Dave W Baldwin

    It comes down to definitions of future. Society at large cannot grasp the implications of nano/femtotech- creating self producing structure/organisms, self thinking machines and living past 100, followed by 120 and 150 in a quicker time frame most can fathom.As far as the SciFi goes, do your damn homework! If you set something in the future, there is more advancement that happened than one or things you go in to. We have had a lot of crap SciFi shows over the past decade.As far as now, we are in an important time frame where freedoms can easily become illusions as we throw away our rights to privacy/discussion. Throwing this away (and it is already becoming political) will lead to dangerous outcomes… for that matter, maybe a good Sci-Fi thriller.

  7. Kirsten Lambertsen

    β€œThe goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write β€œChildhood’s End” and think up communications satellites.- from Tim Kreider’s recent NYT piece, “The Busy Trap”

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Redefining what employment is, is really the bigger issue. It should just be called living, as there are lifecycles involved – work and play being parts of the whole.The goal of the future should be having a full, vibrant life – which would include working, meaning doing things that help others.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I’m probably not equipped to defend Arthur πŸ˜‰ But, why should helping others necessarily involve employment? Just food for thought. I’m entrepreneur so obviously I love work and hate employment, ha!

        1. Matt A. Myers

          That was the point! They are one in the same. Time is money, money is time. Whether you’re getting paid or not, it’s helping someone, somewhere. And if it’s hurting people or it isn’t helping anyone (even if it’s creating entertainment / joy) – then I’d have to ask/question why people are doing it..

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Ah, ok. If we didn’t need employment, would Dunkin Donuts still exist? It would be a very different world, no?

          2. Matt A. Myers

            Things like Dunkin Donuts exist in as much mass as they do purely because someone knew how to manipulate people (high fat, high sugar is addictive), could amass resources (like physical locations, to have presence and people’s mindshare), and maintain it because of the control / ownership they have; We’ve also been terrible at educating people and helping them take care of themselves, and it is very easy to fall into and not get out of an unhealthy cycle/trap – which would require even more support, and if we don’t give a lot to begin with, then it means taking even more effort to get out of it. Also if you have a culture/society based around wellness/being healthy, then that is the culture, and then there are positive amplifier effects that come into play.The other piece to this is people would have more time to learn, figure out what they want to do. And if you incentivize a culture of being healthy (and therefore more likely to be seen as attractive), then the population will learn more toward healthy behaviour. It won’t mean people won’t eat junk food – I love candy more than I should, though I know I’m pretty healthy to begin with, and I keep fairly active.

          3. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Re Dunkin Donuts, I was just thinking that in a scenario where employment (as we know it) is unnecessary, no one is going to line up to work there. So it probably wouldn’t exist (unless we have robots to do that work).And then, per your comment, what would society look like? Would we have a culture based more around wellness and health? [Of course, none of that would make for very interesting sci fi πŸ˜‰ The core of drama (good entertainment) is conflict and struggle.]

    2. JimHirshfield

      “unemployment …play…” I think that’s what they have in Qatar.

  8. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I think about this every time I watch “Star Trek” and Spock puts diskettes into his Mac II.(So if I want to be ahead of the curve, I guess I better select some Sci Fi created after 1970.)

  9. Carl Rahn Griffith

    The evolution of gadgets/etc is pretty linear; sometimes exponential – this is fascinating to track in sci-fi, past and present – what’s more of a challenge is how society, culturally and commercially, will evolve in the short-medium term.Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ still sends shivers down my spine, each time watched. Dystopian, yes, sadly. And increasingly familiar.We were promised jet packs, as they say…

  10. Richard

    Lets not forget the great Walt Disney Β and his tomorrow land exhibit started way back in the 60s.

  11. JimHirshfield

    I’m reading steven’s book now. Great stuff. Sci fi next.

  12. Luke Chamberlin

    What good science fiction gets right is that while technology advances in leaps and bounds human nature stays the same.Our problems today will be the same problems we’ll face 100 years from now – envy, greed, sloth, wrath, pride – we’ll just have cooler gadgets.

  13. JimHirshfield

    When I was a child, I thought life would be as depicted in children’s books.When I was in school, I thought life was depicted in history books.As an adult, I find life is unscripted…in real-time.

    1. Luke Chamberlin

      In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a manNow I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can- Led Zeppelin

      1. JimHirshfield

        If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…

  14. Tom Labus

    HG Wells on the future of technology from BBC radio broadcasts from the 30’s. He’s a bit hard to understand but this guy was was ahead of the curve as many novelists.I guess he falls into the science fiction category.

  15. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Fred – To attempt Devils advocacy …”I think that’s one of the reasons that many of the most interesting bay area startups are choosing to locate themselves in the city.” -Well Yes and No !The point is doubtless valid, however it also suggests compliance with normative behaviour – the opposite of disruption!A great observation by GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, from Maxims for Revolutionists…”The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      PS – For truly awesome disruptive technology you relocate your ass all the way to Switzerland and only come out to comment when you have built a team so awesome that @FAKEGRIMLOCK would fear to tread :)))Naturally, many people consider this wholly unreasonable (others like skiing)

    2. fredwilson


      1. James Ferguson @kWIQly


  16. Guest

    Sorry Fred, when I think of ideas that changed society I think of Mohammed, Jesus, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers; all were rural (name a founding father from NYC!).When I think of technology I think of the ideas that change how an individual lives their life.Innovation, especially that which we focus on here at AVC, and true of all innovation impacts our individual lives and has the potential to impact society but “change” is something that altogether different.

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      There has to be a smart philosophical analogy here – for fun – but it makes rather a neat point:Something along the lines of : “All closed thermodynamic systems tend to heat death”.To trigger change a system, the input must be external, otherwise it is merely a re-configuration.…To quote “The idea of heat death stems from the second law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy tends to increase in an isolated system. If the universe lasts for a sufficient time, it will asymptotically approach a state where all energy is evenly distributed.”

      1. Guest

        “Re-configuration” in political systems is called “co-opting” which is why the Tea Party was never a serious change agent.It will be interesting to see how, in an economic system where money equals energy how exactly it will reach a “….a state where all energy (money) is evenly distributed.”Unless of course our financial capitalism system resembles more of a “closed thermodynamic system.”

  17. MHSzymczyk

    Fred – sci-fi definitely inspires tech from Star Trek to Minority Report. Look at Google Glasses for instance. Those are just a glasses version of the POV skull-cap from Strange Days…without the cerebral cortex integration of course :-)All joking aside…here’s a few recommendations for you:Novel – Daemon by Daniel Suarez. This is a great novel on how technology has been integrated into our very lives and how it can go wrong very fast.Film – Sleep Dealer. A film from Mexico that has alot of forward thinking ideas like Augmented Reality. There’s some ‘futuristic’ technology in the film that feels like it’s right around the corner…Take care,MattP.S. I forgot one recommendation. Sci-fi but more on the art level. European film called Mr. Nobody. It’s about the last mortal man on earth – everybody else has achieved immortality. The film is more about fate and destiny as he relives his past life/lives, but some interesting sci-fi elements…

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the suggestions

  18. William Mougayar

    I noticed some of your recent posts have taken a philosophical slant. You are echoing the thoughts of a wiser and older Fred Wilson, and that’s a good thing.But does society need to go where ever technology takes it or should technology go where society wants to go? There’s a difference between the two.Alvin Toffler once observed that “each one of us is a futurist”. There are 7 billion people on earth, and each one has a vision of their future from the minute they are born. Some have greater imaginations that others and some will have more influence on others.I have not read as much sci-fi as I should have, perhaps because I have relied on my own imagination which isn’t bad to start with. But many of these sci-fi writers are speculative in their renditions,- that’s why the field is called “speculative fiction”. Fiction can also create some confusion. so we must be able to discern that if we want to apply it into reality.

    1. fredwilson

      Certainly older, hopefully wiser

      1. William Mougayar

        Certainly wiser & definitely humble.

    2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      HOW cool is that – I was given a copy of “Het Derde Welle” by Alvin Toffler (I think it must be the same) in Dutch by the well-meaning Architect father of a lovely girl-friend, who was light years ahead of me in thinking.( Jan Ligtvoet (Den Haag)- If you are out there I hope you’re doing well.)At the time my Dutch was embarrassingly bad and still is, but I have not heard of or thought of the book since. Would love to hear if it is worth a re-read (probably in the English πŸ™‚

      1. William Mougayar

        That’s the Third Wave. I would re-read Powershift if anything. I had the pleasure of meeting Alvin 12 years ago at an event we were both speaking at & spent 2 days with him including sitting together in first class during a long trip back from Santiago to LA. Fascinating man, and that encounter marked me.

        1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

          travelling first class always makes conversations more interesting πŸ™‚

  19. Danielle Weinblatt

    When I read your post, the first thing that came to mind was Orwell’s 1984. This was an example of Orwell’s fear of the impact of Fascism on democracy. His view of what the world could become because of surveillance and censorship is not very different than what we experience in our supposed “democracy” today.

    1. fredwilson

      Evrryone is spying on evrryone. The government is not the only institution spying on us

      1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        I do not like to look in the mirror – It reminds me of the way I used to be !They only see what you did!They never see what you are doing!They can have no notion of what we will do back ! – Hmm (that will keep them on their toes when they get round to readin,rrrgggh < ——- Noise of strangled James.*Phew* close escape – Nearly hoisted myself by my own petard !

    2. ShanaC

      Read more foucualt on the panopticon. Then assume most people are in the central tower as well as the jail. Then rethink.

  20. jason wright

    A Disqus question. Did this post originally have a different title? Something like “Cause & Amp…”.

    1. fredwilson

      No. Garbled somwhere after me.

    2. Dale Allyn

      Jason, the ASCII HTML entity for ampersand is “&_amp_;” (but without the underscores, which I included for rendering here). Most CMSs will convert the typed “&” into the HTML entity for broad functionality because use of a “naked” ampersand can cause hiccups in how code is interpreted. Special characters are best marked up using the HTML entity to avoid conflicts.Here’s a list of the entity codes =>… ( main list, but using the entity numbers rather than the entity names here:… )It this case, since you saw it in the title it was likely a brief issue with Typepad (which I believe is the CMS Fred uses) rather than an issue with Disqus.

  21. AllenMorgan

    Richard Florida is a good source of info in his books on this phenomenon (e.g., Rise of the Creative Class:… .

    1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

      I also like Daniel Isenberg and Parag Khanna

  22. e.p.c.

    Is “The Shockwave Rider” on your list? It’ll feel somewhat dated at this point but I think has some interesting (if negative) insights on society and technology.

    1. fredwilson


  23. Emily Merkle

    Great example of sci-fi + technology + near future: A short story:

  24. John Allspaw

    Indeed, no causal relationships of influence, but many that come together. Sorry to be so meta, but:”We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.” – Marcus Aurelius πŸ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      Great quote John

    2. Dale Allyn

      Thanks for the reminder of that quote, John. Love it.

  25. VincentWright

    Fred,” a virtuous circle” gives a whole new meaning to “A.V.C.” :-)And speaking of circles|cycles and reading, there’s another type of “book” which creative entrepreneurs interested in producing good things should read: Nature.Nature is THE BEST book to read.(PSST: We couldn’t even read a sci-fi book or even AVC without two things Nature has “expressed”: 1.) hands and 2.) eyes … two tools essential to our minds’ and hearts’ desires)Nature is an infinitely great model for really creative entrepreneurs…think about bio-luminescence, think about “rapid plant movement” – the White Mulberry is said to have “moving petals to velocities in excess of half the speed of sound”, look up “mimosa piduca” and see if it doesn’t remind you a bit of one of the plants in James Cameron’s “Avatar”, (SEE: reference to Pandora and its flora and fauna at: http://james-camerons-avata… ), think of all the countless varieties of “skin” covering the trillions upon trillions of living things on Earth, underground, in the water, etc., think of the illimitable varieties of hands and paws and claws clawing at manipulating and understanding the Earth – and beyond…Nature was doing invagination and intussusception millions of years before our most brilliant computer programmers started playing around with polymorphism and inheritance and encapsulation just a few dacades ago…With respect to “cause and effect” no sci-fi and, indeed, no science – not even computer science – can 100% exclude Nature…So, though I’m a big sci-fi fan, I’m a bigger Nature fan and, indeed, I spend my D.A.W.N.S., “Dreaming About What Nature Says”…(Of course, dreaming is made better when accompanied by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature”, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”, John Milton’s “L’Allegro and Il Penseroso” and Gerard Manley Hopkins “Windhover”, and perhaps an “AVC” essay or two, etc…)

    1. fredwilson

      Fantastic comment!

      1. VincentWright

        Thanks kindly, Fred…

  26. Jon Samsel

    Fred, thanks for yet another thoughtful post. I was fortunate enough to interview Neal Stephenson for a book I wrote back in 1998 called Writing For Interactive Media. Neal made some comments about the relationship between technology and artists that seemed worthy of sharing in this thread:”Nobody admires CD-ROMs as a technology. Everybody wishes they were faster and could store more information. In some ways, that’s an annoyance. In some ways, it spurs greater creativity. Writers really have to use their heads to conform to the limitations of the technology. For a creative person, technological limitations are not necessarily that bad because in all media there are constraints. The measure of a good artist is how well they deal with the constraints that are handed to them.Having said that, in some ways, technological limitations are clearly annoying. Sometimes artists can deal with limitations. Sometimes it changes the nature of what you are doing. An example is comic books. Characters in comic books wear masks and skintight clothing because it is easier for the artists to draw. That’s one way creative people got around a problem. At a certain point, the costs involved with drawing starts to affect the art itself. The story lines of comic books tend to be real pulpy and involve big, intense, obvious emotions because those expressions are easier to draw.”

    1. fredwilson

      Is he a nice guy?

      1. Jon Samsel

        Neal was a very down-to-earth guy — introspective, somewhat hesitant, deep thinker yet pleasant to be around. Nearly everything that spilled out of his mouth was quotable. Of all his novels, Snow Crash is still my favorite. He signed a 1st edition for me.

        1. fredwilson

          That is awesome

    2. LE

      To Neal’s points:”For a creative person, technological limitations are not necessarily that bad”They are bad. There are always exceptions but nobody wants to have two hands tied behind their back. I’m not talking about adversity fueling creativity (in which case two hands behind your back makes you creative and desire something which you work for)”The measure of a good artist is how well they deal with the constraints that are handed to them.”If you are good at something you can generally work around and create with bad tools or a bad machine or software.But it is much easier to be creative and produce with good tools. Obviously. The right tool for the job is key. I can type on any keyboard but I’m not interested in fighting with a keyboard w/o response or a virtual keyboard. I’m not interested in editing video on a slow CPU. I can deal with it but there is no question that it impacts my creativity.The ease of using Imovie on a mac has greatly increased creativity since it removes friction in making a video. Forgetting for a second whether someone even has the proper training or not to do traditional (linear) editing I don’t think anyone would dispute that people are far more creative with the right tools. Not just creatives but people who didn’t even know they were creative.

  27. katptji

    society. sci-fi. oety-fi. f io et y. future io et ypath. who indeed… twttr iwrite method envelope.

  28. Akshay Mishra

    Actually, I think most of our technological leaps came because of migratory and exploratory behaviour driven by the quest for resources and information (both things being essential to our survival in this universe where entropy is inescapable). We developed so many technologies motivated by this.Sci-fi embraces all of this in a very deep way and infuses it with “magic” (“any sufficiently advanced technology….”, and all that) and fantasy.But the single most dominant characteristic of sci-fi is that it is futuristic – the technological lives of the characters portrayed in the stories is inevitably superior to that of ours and we, as humans, strive to achieve that superior level. It fascinates us – just like “magic” does – and anything that can drive human fantasy sufficiently strongly is immensely powerful, as we know both via our progress and through our deplorable wars.That’s why I think your post is amazingly relevant. Far more technology has been developed by the “Damn! This is so awesomely cool!”-incentive rather than the profit-motive (which develops better businesses, I think – but not technology). And that’s why sci-fi rules!

  29. William Wagner

    i just picked up The Information by James Gleick (actually a christmas gift i just started reading), not a sci-fi book but a history book. I think it’s at least as inspiring to look at the concrete past, through a contemporary lens, as to look at some writer’s visionary future. The past leaves the future much more open ended than a single writer’s vision. Like how plato said that the technology of writing would make people stupid since they could refer to written knowledge; eventually google came to embody that to an extreme; and now all of that knowledge is becoming ubiquitous on smartphones; and eventually it will go straight to everyone’s brain. So a little crutch like writing can turn into a massive scaffold of knowledge.

  30. Emily Merkle

    Science fiction / futuristic books I have enjoyed: Black Swan by Bruce SterlingA Regular Guy by Mona Simpsonanything by Walter IsaacsonDiamond Age and Interface by Stephensonfor starters…beyond the futuristic technology, I attend to the way an author portrays a future society

  31. laurie kalmanson

    biggest thing that old sci-fi missed: computers as instruments of liberation and personal expression — they were usually depicted the other way around; see especially harlan ellison; it was because they were imagined into the future as what they were then, big machines under the control of big organizationsthe reason this is my favorite space toy ever, which i saw as part of the smithsonian’s “yesterday’s tomorrows” traveling exhibit when it came to the museum of science and industry, in chicago, is that it is so right and wrong in its assumptions and visionsright: if you’re going to the moon, you will need a tv camerawrong: so you need a space tractor big enough to haul around the enormous studio size cameras then in use that pre-dated anything digitalepic fail of vision: not imagining something smallersee here:…Metaphor for innovators: Are you still imagining a space tractor, or are you thinking about how to shift away from that big heavy thing to something portable?

  32. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    A great post and to me really is more about the future of cities as innovation centres. NY seems to be on the right track and you have a mayor that gets it. We are entering an age in human history where more people live in cities than countryside so how cities develop and become into innovation and cultural hubs will decide where prosperity will be in the future. In other words, there is almost a return to the prominence of city-state. Paragh Khanna has written a bit about this topic and also Daniel Isenberg writes good stuff on the role for cities and development strategies

    1. Emily Merkle

      I agree. NYC is a hotbed of innovation, original thought, and opportunity because – for starters – this city attracts and then mercilessly challenges the kind of people who make shit happen. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I would not have it any other way.

  33. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    HmmmIf the pace of change is accelerating and we note this, it follows that speed of anticipation also accelerates, or we become less able to respond since our “anticipation window” – to coin a phrase will be closing.If either is the case, we must expect to develop shortened attention spans, make faster decisions, and become more rapidly bored by the mundane.An implication of this is that our notion of relaxation (ie the apparent absence of stimuli when we rest) will become more profound and when achieved (going off line) we will appreciate the step change of pace all the more.Alternative we will start to confuse steady state noise as silence – Who left the radio on !

  34. William Mougayar

    “Write drunk; edit sober.” Ernest HemingwaySci-Fi reading is a drunk part πŸ™‚

  35. ShanaC

    I’ve become more negative about sci-fi recently.Even the most future perfect seems to be a throwback.Take the following problem in the west – declining birthrates. There isn’t great sci-fi (outside of teen sci fi, which seems to have its own sets of issues) that discuss potential problems and solutions. Meanwhile, crossover artists (Gary Shteyngart) seem to just be mocking us all for our stupidity by taking the now and making it bigger.None of these things really discuss the future the way sci fi did even 20 years ago (it has really been that long for snowcrash)*sigh* – if someone has recommendations for a look forward, one that is fearless, let me know, otherwise I might just give up on sci fi.

    1. Emily Merkle

      Why are declining birthrates a problem? Seriously – what do you think? I have thoughts on this, but would like to hear your POV first…

      1. ShanaC

        I think it is easier to inculcate a value set if you raise someone in it. less babies born means less babies who start out with a western cultural value set. And I admire and value the western cultural value set, and would like to see it continue.

        1. Emily Merkle

          I hope you are being purposely obtuse here. Your rationale for managing western birthrates in an attempt to out-populate cultures and peoples that have values that differ from ours – this is beyond the pale. What is the “western cultural value set”, exactly? Why are you so fond of it? How is it superior to the value sets of the rest of the world?

  36. Ashok Mallya

    The Internet and Cellphones are great. Now where is the stuff I was promised by sci-fi? I read a fair bit of Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury growing up, and a some Popular science as well. Where’s my personal flying car that can zip across the country at a few hundred miles an hour, drive itself, and need a few dollars worth of clean (nuclear?) fuel each year? Where is the mars colony which I can travel for vacation? Where is teleportation? And where is 15-20 decades of productive life per person? One of my biggest gripes is that it still takes (the common man) five hours to fly from NYC to London. Barely any faster than 1970. And an hour from Palo Alto to San Francisco. And this is 2012. tch tch.Yes, I know you might say we have the tech but the economics or the politics dont allow all these things, but thats yet another excuse.

    1. fredwilson

      Teleportation. I wish for that more than any of the others

      1. FlavioGomes

        A holodeck would be shitloads of fun.

      2. Carl Rahn Griffith

        It’s better to travel, than to arrive πŸ˜‰

      3. Emily Merkle

        when/where/why would you port to first?

        1. fredwilson

          I guess i would go see my parents

  37. Dave Pinsen

    Neal Stephenson lamented earlier this year that both science fiction writers and technologists had become less imaginative and ambitious in recent decades (“I saw the best minds of my generation writing spam filters”).Stephenson noted that if you took someone off the street in 1900 and brought them forward in time to 1968, they’d be shocked by what they saw — jet planes, nuclear power, etc. But if you took someone in 1968 and brought them forward to today, not so much. They’d see the Internet and smart phones, and the cars would look different, but, beyond that, they’d see fewer big advances, and, in some cases, they’d see regression: e.g., no supersonic planes.

    1. Cam MacRae

      They’d ask “Where’s my freakin’ flying car, man?!”

  38. Susan Emmer

    Would love to know which Sci-fi books are on your summer reading list!

  39. Byron Gibson

    Good observation, but don’t underweight academia and Govt research labs. A substantial part of far-reaching sci-fi inspiration comes from the blue sky research programs there.

  40. goldwerger

    I am still so desperately waiting for the “Beam me up, Scotty” machine. Now THAT is a worthy startup…;)

  41. Shawn Cohen

    @fredwilson:disqus thanks for the suggestion to read Stephenson–I just picked up Cryptonomicon and love it. I can also see the seeds he must have planted for some of your ideas on openness.Also, I noticed he’ll be speaking at a bookshop in Austin next month–looking forward to lifting some thoughts from these threads if I get the chance to ask him some questions.

  42. bsoist

    I’m just starting to read some science fiction again. I’m not a big fan of alien stories, but I love alternate realities, including alternate histories. I just picked up a couple of books based on some recommendations on Brad Feld’s blog the other day.A good hard science fiction story – especially the near future stuff – always makes me think of what we could actually make work.

  43. Ian Graham

    Suggestion for a future blog post that may be of interest to your readers (this one for sure). Are you going to publish a list of the sci-fi you are reading this summer?

    1. fredwilson

      it won’t be longsnowcrashneuromancerand maybe Diamond Age

  44. Prokofy

    Here’s your new reading assignment, Fred: read “That Hideous Strength” by C.S. Lewis. It’s the third part of the space trilogy, but it can be read on its own. It’s my favourite book.It will be a powerful antidote to excessive upbeat utopianism about the Internet. etc. It was written back in the 1950s. Essentially, it prefigures the Ray Kurzweil type of Singularity and audacity about preserving and uploading the human brain, in a way, and argues against the logical positivism taking over that age which has now subsumed our own.Your wife will like it too, in fact, have her read it and she will probably disagree with your take on it.

    1. fredwilson

      thank you. i will add it to my kindle right now

  45. Luke Chamberlin

    Great post. The best solution is the one that’s best for the customer.

  46. Aaron Klein

    If most government agencies ran that way, we’d have a lot more trust in our governments.

  47. Tom Evslin

    Charlie:Thank you very much for remembering

  48. fredwilson

    Tom is awesome

  49. PhilipSugar

    Thank you for that link. It really solidified what I said the other day about Zappos customer service. It also helped me justify why I want an exception report when we don’t answer an email in 5 minutes. I tell every new client. Email us with questions. I know that usually goes into the bit bucket but not with us, five minutes. I always get back an email saying you guys really do answer emails!!!Of course. I think the one thing that technology has done is make people expect to get things done in seconds. Rental Car? I want to click the Avis app and have it done in less than 30 seconds. Pickup? I don’t want to go the counter, check me at the gate.I agree as well, first build a great product. Then give great support. That’s why this front page article about Twitter… made me think.I’m not saying they should take phone calls, but I wonder about returning emails. Not sure. But I am sure that is one of the reasons we are having a jobless recovery. Technology certainly displaces workers and I’m not saying that’s bad, but when you basically cut support to nothing then you really have cut everybody out.Apple provides a good exception with its excellent in store and phone support (for the first 90 days). And I am not a fan boy but its products are good.That is why I said if Google just decided to build a Zappos style phone/email center it would be a tiny dent on profits and they could become a category killer.

  50. PhilipSugar


  51. PhilipSugar

    No, thank you very much for the post.

  52. Dan Epstein

    Hey Phil, went looking for your comment from the other day about Zappos, but couldn’t find. Could you point me towards it?

  53. LE

    “if Google just decided to build a Zappos style phone/email center”The brain of the management has to be wired the right way to make that happen. With google, with their hiring practices, I don’t see that happening. Actually even if they hired the right people I don’t see that happening since it has to be something seat of the pants known by management.Example of management understanding this is you of course:”It also helped me justify why I want an exception report when we don’t answer an email in 5 minutes.”As an aside I’m a big proponent of that as well (not 5 minutes though). I actually wouldn’t encourage “to fast” response lest people see a delta in behavior if you can’t consistently get back that quickly “hmm. something is wrong”. In my way of thinking better to pick a time that is good but allows for normal downtime or other problems that could occur.Here’s an example of this. With accounts payable in my first business even though I could pay very quickly I always paid in 45 to 50 days (don’t remember the exact number of days but what I’m saying is I didn’t pay in 10 days). The balances were quite high on some of the bills and some of the vendors knew us personally. No advantage to paying early let’s assume. If I paid quickly, and then ran into a cash crunch, (never happened btw) then vendors would immediately spot that we were having problems. By paying a little later we had some breathing room and they wouldn’t be all nervous about a change from 10 days to 50 days and possibly cut off credit. (As I have mentioned psychology to me plays a big role in these things.)

  54. PhilipSugar

    It is in this post:…Quick tech support: You can just click on my name and find it in my comment thread. :-)See how great would that be if some tech companies took the tough path and actually paid trained people to do this quick?

  55. Dan Epstein

    Thanks Phil. Tried that first, but couldn’t find Zappos anywhere. I’m especially interested in comments re: their support after reading Tony’s book. Reading thru the comments now.

  56. Dan Epstein

    And… just found it. Thx.

  57. PhilipSugar

    Thanks for being my setup guy. If you hired 500 people at a living wage to reply to emails in person in the U.S. it would cost around $20M. They could answer a million emails a week. Yes you could say $20M is a lot but how much press would it get you? How much do you pay to promote your service? You could say you actually made a dent in the jobs report that month.

  58. Dan Epstein

    Nice idea. Do you think email would be better than phone or chat support? I think email would be able to answer more questions, but if there’s a follow up question, the customer needs to write another email/wait for additional response. Phone/chat are slower, but ideally the issue could be resolved in that conversation.On a related note, had horrific customer service last weekend with a cable company. I’d switch to a different provider if it was an option. I had 3 15+ minute phone calls before I was able to do what I needed to (change service / move service to new house). And on the final call, which was the successful one, I had to speak to four different people before I was talking with right @bijan

  59. LE

    “If you hired 500 people at a living wage to reply to emails in person in the U.S.”I’ll take it one step further. Nothing better than legitimate “spam”. I’ve found that any time you can send an email to a customer and get in front of them (not a canned email but a personal 1 or two sentence one) it furthers the bond and is free advertising and PR and leads to further orders.Make a change for a customer? Write to them a day later to verify the change worked or to say “I can see that the change is working let me know if anything else is needed”.I keep track of all cases where companies do things like this. Attached is what Coach did after a visit to their store. The employee in their down time wrote the personal note. I’ve attached.

  60. PhilipSugar

    I used to say I don’t care about fast, I just care about right. Quick and wrong is useless. That still holds true, but people want to know you are working on their problem. The expectation is that no answer means you didn’t get it, that is where we are today. So I don’t care if it is a quick response from a person, we are looking into it.I totally disagree about your payment policy. If you always pay fast you build up so much goodwill, if you did stretch people think it was a hiccup. I fought like cats and dogs with the “experienced CEO” I sold my company to. Believe me, people offer much more generous terms and better service to those that pay fast. With interest rates where they are, it is the cheapest investment you can make.

  61. PhilipSugar

    We have found (and that is a small sample point) getting somebody to write an email gets them to express their problem in a logical format. To resolve the problem, sometimes a phone call is best, but again small sample size but resolving a problem via email first is fastest. Edit: sorry so what we like to do is determine if we need to call and then schedule a concise call very quickly.

  62. LE

    “want to know you are working on their problem.”Oh that I do agree with. People’s anxiety level goes down greatly when they know someone is “on it” (with updates of course). Nothing worse than anxiety caused by the unknown. All ways touch base. To me though (not saying you are saying this) an auto responder is better than nothing but not the way to handle this which is what most companies do.”If you always pay fast you build up so much goodwill, if you did stretch people think it was a hiccup.”I think it depends on the circumstance of course but I haven’t found that to be the case. Back when we had accounts receivable (not a/p which we were talking about) we were happy to be paid in 60 to 70 days for people giving us a good deal of business [1] (given the product margins etc.) I prefaced my statement also by saying “No advantage to paying early let’s assume.” (meaning a better price or other advantage).[1] – A account giving a large amount of work got the royal treatment as we did not have cash flow issues and the value of getting the money earlier was nominal. All I cared about was the certainty of getting paid. In fact we did city work (back when cities didn’t consider bankruptcy and also government work) and the paperwork and payment issues were numerous. But we knew the money was good and that’s all we cared about. Every business is different of course I’m just giving one example.

  63. PhilipSugar

    I think auto-responders are worse than no response at all. A ten second note: Hey this is Phil, we did get this, and I am looking into it, but I’m not sure about x counts. You cannot automate x.Again I posted saving money short term and costing long term. There always is an advantage to paying early. I would capitalize but I don’t do that. I almost never say always…..but there always is an advantage to paying quick. Just ask the contractors who work on my old house. I’ve even heard the lowest guy, the guy the go-fer, say this is Mr. Sugar’s house we need to get this done and done right.

  64. Dan Epstein

    I hear you. I prefer phone calls right now b/c I can get a better sense of what the customer thinks and who the customer is, but that’s more a benefit for me.Also, when I get an email that lacks details (e.g. “your product isn’t working”), I find myself wishing the customer called, but that’s easy enough to set up via reply email.

  65. LE

    ” Just ask the contractors who work on my old house.”I think this is a perfect illustration of why it is difficult to duplicate learning something that someone reads (with no business or life experience at all) with actual practice. Because details count so much as does feel for the particulars. So a discussion between us is incomplete when written while in person it would be much different and leads to misconceptions.While I didn’t apply all the appropriate caveats to my statement this is something that I am really really good at. Paying the “little guy” very quickly. Anyone who does work for me whether a subcontractor (as you have mentioned) or several independent contractors who are paid a monthly retainer are paid quickly, immediately and without fail. I go out of my way to make sure the money is in their hands (and any deposit before beginning) without them having to ask. Along with a tip, if appropriate, and referrals to others. Along those lines I even advanced a programmer who had been doing work for me for about 2 years $3000 in 2004 when they lost their job and ran into money problems. I also gave them nice holiday gifts (a laptop as an example) as well. I didn’t expect any payback but have gotten call backs while they are on vacation to resolve problems. (I tell them to take their wife out to dinner on my dime so she is on board with and doesn’t feel they are taken advantage of). So I guess to me the dividing line is whether I am dealing with people or a company. I act differently depending on the circumstances.I’m actually pretty big with all the stuff that you mention (re totem pole) and have found that it goes a long way in getting the most out of people.

  66. ShanaC

    my favorite glasses store does that too. I’ve recommended them many times over and have become a repeat customer because of behavior like this

  67. PhilipSugar

    I will grant you it is more important with the little guy, but even when I worked at Mitsubishi Corporation the biggest of the big we knew who paid well and who didn’t.