communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: silicon valley

The Shut-In Economy

by Lauren Smiley


Angel the concierge stands behind a lobby desk at a luxe apartment building in downtown San Francisco, and describes the residents of this imperial, 37-story tower. “Ubers, Squares, a few Twitters,” she says. “A lot of work-from-homers.”

And by late afternoon on a Tuesday, they’re striding into the lobby at a just-get-me-home-goddammit clip, some with laptop bags slung over their shoulders, others carrying swank leather satchels. At the same time a second, temporary population streams into the building: the app-based meal delivery people hoisting thermal carrier bags and sacks. Green means Sprig. A huge M means Munchery. Down in the basement, Amazon Prime delivery people check in packages with the porter. The Instacart groceries are plunked straight into a walk-in fridge.

This is a familiar scene. Five months ago I moved into a spartan apartment a few blocks away, where dozens of startups and thousands of tech workers live. Outside my building there’s always a phalanx of befuddled delivery guys who seem relieved when you walk out, so they can get in. Inside, the place is stuffed with the goodies they bring: Amazon Prime boxes sitting outside doors, evidence of the tangible, quotidian needs that are being serviced by the web. The humans who live there, though, I mostly never see. And even when I do, there seems to be a tacit agreement among residents to not talk to one another. I floated a few “hi’s” in the elevator when I first moved in, but in return I got the monosyllabic, no-eye-contact mumble. It was clear: Lady, this is not that kind of building.

Back in the elevator in the 37-story tower, the messengers do talk, one tells me. They end up asking each other which apps they work for: Postmates. Seamless. EAT24. GrubHub. A woman hauling two Whole Foods sacks reads the concierge an apartment number off her smartphone, along with the resident’s directions: “Please deliver to my door.”

“They have a nice kitchen up there,” Angel says. The apartments rent for as much as $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom. “But so much, so much food comes in. Between 4 and 8 o’clock, they’re on fire.”

I start to walk toward home. En route, I pass an EAT24 ad on a bus stop shelter, and a little further down the street, a Dungeons & Dragons–type dude opens the locked lobby door of yet another glass-box residential building for a Sprig deliveryman:



“Sweet,” Dungeons & Dragons says, grabbing the bag of food. The door clanks behind him.

And that’s when I realized: the on-demand world isn’t about sharing at all. It’s about being served. This is an economy of shut-ins.

Come With Us If You Want to Live

Among the apocalyptic libertarians of Silicon Valley


“Just by a quick show of hands, has anyone heard of a D.A.O. or an agent before?” asked Jonathan Mohan. He was in his mid-twenties and wore a beige Bitcoin T-shirt. As if to scratch my head, I halfway raised my right arm. A dozen others raced up past mine.

Forty or fifty of us were in a glass-walled coworking space at 23rd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, at a Meetup for a technology called Ethereum. Invented by a nineteen-year-old Russian Canadian named Vitalik Buterin, and still unreleased and under development on the day of the Meetup, in February 2014, Ethereum is intended to decentralize control of the Internet and anything connected to it, redistributing real-world power accordingly. Mohan was a volunteer for the project.


“Effectively, what a D.A.O. is — or a distributed autonomous organization, or an agent, as I like to call it — is sort of this Snow Crash futuristic idea, and funnily enough only a year or two away,” he said. An agent, in computer science, is a program that performs tasks without user input; in Neal Stephenson’s science-fiction novel Snow Crash, humans interact with one another and with intelligent agents within the more-than-virtual-reality Metaverse. “Imagine if you wrote some program that could render a service, and it generated enough of a profit that it could cover its own costs. It could perpetuate indefinitely . . . because it’s just the code running itself.”

“How much Skynet risk is there?” a young man asked Mohan, using sci-fi shorthand: Could a few lines of open-source code, meant to augment human autonomy by obviating opaque institutions like Goldman Sachs and the federal government, metastasize into a malign machine intelligence, like Skynet in The Terminator? That movie was released thirty years ago, Snow Crash more than twenty; for decades, cyberpunks, cypherpunks, extropians, transhumanists, and singularitarians have imagined a world made out of code, one in which politics is an engineering problem and every person is a master of atoms and bits. The promise is a future in which we become more than human. The threat is a future without us.

“So you’re going to go from one D.A.O. to ten D.A.O.’s to one hundred D.A.O.’s to ten thousand D.A.O.’s,” Mohan replied. “Then, just based off of profit maximization, they’re going to start merging and acquiring one another.

“But I don’t know if we’d ever get to Skynet,” he said. “Maybe in all our code we can say, ‘If Skynet then exit.’ ”

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