High Schoolers: The Cafeteria Jibes Continue

July 7, 2020

I read “What’s Really Behind Tech Versus Journalism?” The write up’s goal is to explain that the Silicon Valley crowd is not happy with “real” journalists.

The article asserts:

Let me start with a brief recounting of events — and acknowledge that I played a role in some of them.

Okay, an autobiographical account of the origin of the high school cafeteria spat. The combatants are the whiz kids in Science Club. This is the organization which may have served as the inspiration for the film “Revenge of the Nerds.”

At the other table in the lunch room are the writers, the wordsmiths able to melt the hearts of English teachers and inflame the school’s administration with poems, pamphlets, and pulsing pellets of prose.

Now the two factions are grown up. The science club crowd wants to do what it wants. That’s the move fast, break stuff group informed by its interpretation of the smartest people in the room.

The pulsing pellets of prose group wants to right wrongs. That’s the we know better than you faction. Those required readings provide the tinder for burning outrage.

As adults, the members of these groups no longer skirmish in the close confines of an 18 minute lunch break for hyper active teenyboppers. The battle is on a bigger stage. The science club members have done bad things. The pellets of prose crowd becomes the target for the anger of the whiz kids. Confusion and chaos ensue. After 20 years of doing whatever, the science club folks want their status quo to remain, well, static.

The prose pellet pals want the wrongs of the science club fixed and fast. I can hear the taunts grinding in the background.

The write up reports:

Workers still face significant obstacles as they lobby to create more fair and equitable workplaces.

The notion of “workplaces” seems quaint, almost old-fashioned. That’s just one of the oddities in the write up. Add that pre-Covid stance to the autobiographical spin.

The administrators get involved. And who may these respected individuals be? Venture capitalists, the skin in the game crowd, the MBA torpedoes blasting their way through mere social norms:

Certainly, the worlds of tech and venture capital have complaints about journalism that go beyond hit pieces. … The exasperation is real, even if the scrutiny is a natural consequence of starting a company that aims to change the world.

Let’s step back.

I have used the phrase “high school science club management methods” to describe the approach to governance evidenced among some of the high-tech, high-performance companies. The HSSCMM — which one upscale, bug buck “real” journalist did not understand when I explained the concept — is one way to approach decisions which have unintended consequences; for example, Facebook and its dealings with those involved in the Cambridge Analytica matter. As I recall, exactly zero changed at Facebook. Also, there’s innovation starved companies like Google buying an obscure maker of semi functional Google Glass devices. I can almost hear the inner voices of Googlers whispering, “We are behind, we are behind. Buy the company, buy the company.” Will this deal be a Dodgeball II reprise.

The “real” journalists, for their part are wordsmiths. The idea the pen is mightier than the checkbook lives on.

The dispute is one more example of how one faction of high school achievers responds to another faction. The issues require more than jibes, knee jerk reactions, and “I told you” so’s.

That’s one of the consequences of allowing a particular mind set make decisions because of this rationale: “We can just do it. So there.”

Both the technology wizards from the science club and the wordsmiths from the writing club see themselves as informed individuals. Both in their view are “right,” which is a nebulous concept in a relativistic world of dynamic data.

The problem from my point of view is that these views emerged fully formed from a 15-year-old brains, were refined by conversations with fellow travelers, and encouraged by those who could make money from these young achievers.

After decades of ministrations by nurturing venture capitalists, what have we got? A food fight, but is a food fight is not what’s needed to address significant issues about governance, ethical behavior, and professional conduct.

Net net: Watch out. That angry teen just threw a Twinkie at the principal.

Stephen E Arnold, July 7, 2020


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