I'm too fired up right now to do the topic justice, but I just read this pair of tweets from Alex Payne (someone I don't know personally but have huge respect for by reputation) and the article / blog post he links out to, I and just couldn't fit my reply into 140 characters.
I think both of these pieces -- but the Atlantic article in particular -- are kind of missing the point.
The lament that "technology" or "startups" have failed to deliver on their social promise contains a latent assumption -- that the tools of digital creation are wielded by an elite few on behalf of the unlettered many. By extension, it's the responsibility of the wizarding class to deliver innovations worthy of their exalted role in society.
This assumption was certainly true when the microprocessor was first invented, and the erosion of the condition has been so slow that it has largely escaped notice or commentary. But the transformation is accelerating now and no amount of ridiculous, me-too startups or silly valuations can undermine my belief that the best that technology has to offer society is still to come.
Why do I believe that? Because...
The wizard's magic wand is now being mass-produced in a 3D printer and handed out free to every smart kid on the planet.
The tools of digital production have become so accessible, and so cheap, that it no longer matters what Silicon Valley startups or venture capitalists do with their time and money.
Technology is nothing but an enabler of human empowerment, and we have reached a global tipping point in the democratization of access to the wizard's spell-book.
This is why I love the investment strategy of people like Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures -- they don't just back pretty services that make it easier for rich people to live their happy lives, but invest in platform technologies that are animated by the most powerful and inspiring vision there is:
To unlock the creative potential that exists in all of us, with the wired world as a geometric force multiplier for the positive impact we each can have on our fellow human beings.
I'm no Fred Wilson, but I *am* on a mission to find entrepreneurs who share this goal of empowering others through technology and will do anything in my power to speed them on their way.
The best is yet to come, and this time we all get to play.