If Software Is Eating the World, What Will Come Out the Other End?

So far, it’s mostly shit.

Seven or so years ago, a famous VC penned a manifesto of sorts. Writing at a time the world was still skeptical of the dominance to which his industry has now ascended (to think, such a time existed, and so few years ago!), Marc Andreessen had a message for the doubters, the naysayers, and the Wall St. analysts who were (credibly!) claiming that his investments amounted to not much more than a bubble:

Software, he claimed, was eating the world.

Seven years later, no one can dispute Andreessen’s prescience. The man was right: If you had purchased a basket of his favorite stocks back then – he name-checked Apple, Amazon, and Facebook directly – you’d be up at least 10X, if not more. Software, it seems, has indeed eaten the world, and those smart (and rich) enough to put money into technology, as Andreessen has been, have done very, very well for themselves.

Of course, not many people have in fact been that smart (or that rich). As of last year, ten percent of investors own 84 percent of the stock market, and that ratio only gets worse as time goes by. Most of our society simply isn’t benefiting from this trend of software eating the world.  In fact, most of them live in the very world that software ate.

***

We – us, all of us – have turned the world to data. Some of us – the founders of software companies, the funders of those founders, the cheerleaders who run the capital markets – took that data and used it to change the world. Along the way, the world didn’t disappear like some unfortunate animal distending a python’s midsection. No, the world remains.

Who are we now that we’ve been eaten? What have we become?

These are questions, it turns out, that almost none of technology’s leadership have deeply pondered. It certainly never came up in Andreessen’s manifesto. And it’s manifestly evident in the behavior of our most treasured technology founders. They are puzzled by these newfound demands from United States senators and European socialists. Don’t they understand that regulation is damage to be routed around?

***

But the world is not just software. The world is physics, it’s crying babies and shit on the sidewalk, it’s opioids and ecstasy, it’s car crashes and Senate hearings, lovers and philosophers, lost opportunities and spinning planets around untold stars. The world is still real. Software hasn’t eaten it as much as bound it in a spell, temporarily I hope, while we figure out what comes next.

Software – data, code, algorithms, processing – software has dressed the world in new infrastructure. But this is a conversation, not a process of digestion. It is a conversation between the physical and the digital, a synthesis we must master if we are to avoid terrible fates, and continue to embrace fantastic ones.

 

7 thoughts on “If Software Is Eating the World, What Will Come Out the Other End?”

  1. Well said, John. The utmost use of software has ignored the presence of real-life incidents in the society. What it will fetch out of it? Don’t know. But the transformation is soon going to happen. Thanks for publishing this article.

  2. Really revelatory and timely. As enabling as digital technology is and still could be, that this power and wealth is in the hands of so few is concerning. I’m not a socialist in any way, but it does conjure up a feeling that we’re entering a new oligopolistic era with 21st century robber barons whose power, influence and resources are greater than many elected governments.

  3. What?
    This is a load of drivel. Many words, but saying nothing. If I followed the logic, here is the central point.
    “As of last year, ten percent of investors own 84 percent of the stock market, and that ratio only gets worse as time goes by. Most of our society simply isn’t benefiting from this trend of software eating the world. In fact, most of them live in the very world that software ate.”

    So? Why is it worse? What is worse about it? Nothing is said in the rest of the article. An example or story, maybe even a fact, or two could really help here.
    Bill Gates and his foundation are curing diseases and helping more than any government or the UN has in Africa, ever. Worse?
    More people are making more money in the developing world. They are moving out of poverty in record numbers. Worse?
    Cell phones act as a banker, payment gateway, and connection to home. For migrants and dissidents under oppressive governments they are a path to freedom. Too bad the inventors and architects made money.

    Yes, you live in the world shaped and created by software. Also shaped by the printing press, washing machine, and chlorinated water. You poor, poor baby. Someone made a buck giving you free time, and an internet to post this crap. Hope you don’t burn yourself on your late this morning. Sip slowly, “a synthesis we must master if we are to avoid terrible fates”

    Fooey.

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