How startup culture runs on bullshit.

Tech runs on myth-making. From the outside, the startup world seems like a meritocratic utopia churning out innovations that "change the world." But beneath the surface, there's a far more troubling reality. Let's not fuck around here. Tech is powered by bullshit. It's the only sustainable energy source Silicon Valley's would-be elite have successfully harnessed. It’s a world rife with exaggerated claims, wealth inequality, and workaholism wearing a mask of passion. This culture does not sustain itself organically - instead, the mythos of startup glamour fuel the entire ecosystem in place of anything of substance.  

New startups glorify themselves obsessively through branding that invokes world-changing missions. They adopt self-aggrandising mantras about "making a dent in the universe" that feed collective delusions about the importance of minor app features or delivery services. And most fail ingloriously. Behind each headline unicorn are thousands of workers burning out in relative obscurity under constant pressure. Underwriting the reckless, relentless growth of the tech giants are thousands of laid-off employees struggling to rebuild their careers in a job market repeatedly pumped up and drained by the same tech companies who just gave them their marching orders. 

Funding force feeds the culture of hype. To compete for early-stage venture capital, founders feel immense pressure to portray even small startup milestones as revolutionary innovations destined to conquer massive addressable markets overnight. They adopt the sheen of Steve Jobs-style visionaries, comparing modest product tweaks on a glorified $ 15-a-month spreadsheet to the invention of the iPhone. Unproven ideas touted as world-changing don't attract investors seeking 10x returns through calculated risk as much as shared delusions of building the next Amazon.

Recruiting the scarce resource of elite talent pushes this culture of self-glorification even further. Startup job descriptions read more like religious vocations or calls to service than realistic previews of work conditions. Unlimited vacation policies and game rooms create a false sense of work-life balance and creative freedom. The veneer quickly fades as seventy-hour weeks become the norm. The staunchest believers still cling to the rhetoric and lobby for it from within. They attack critics as not having the right "hustle mentality" and see burnout as a badge of honour rather than systemic dysfunction.

The vast apparatus of startup hype runs on disturbing levels of inequality. Celebrity founders and CEOs accrue billions instantly, while lower employees wait years for small slices of equity, often climaxing in disappointment post-acquisition. Disillusioned burnouts get replaced by younger strivers, keeping the hamster wheel spinning. The concentration of abundance among the few obscures the damage done by startup culture's collective delusions and advocacy of relentless work hours.  

The startup ecosystem nurtures this culture by designing bespoke accelerators offering expert advice, seed funding, and access to exclusive networking events. But these programs graduate relatively tiny cohorts of wannabe "elite" founders each year. Selection biases filter out most women, underrepresented minorities, and those without connections. Nevertheless, insider publications frame startup success as attainable for anyone with drive and resilience rather than luck and privilege. Survivorship bias props up icons who beat the odds through grit rather than circumstance.

The enduring appeal speaks to deeper societal myths about individual exceptionalism and meritocracy. Stories of college dropouts turned billionaires reinforce notions that anyone can attain the American dream (or build the next Facebook) by working tirelessly with unwavering vision. But focusing on outliers obscures the limited accessible pathways and how systemic barriers block many with equal talents. Confirmation bias leads investors and journalists to seek individuals fitting the narrow archetypes of what they believe constitutes the ideal founder based more on shared collective delusions than evidence.  

The media, in particular, thrives on amplifying these self-serving myths. Everyone from tech blogs to the New York Times runs flattering profiles of founders and glowingly promotes companies to attract exclusive access and page views. Accelerators and prominent venture capital firms grant favours to reporters willing to provide good publicity. Symbiotic relationships imbue startups with unearned legitimacy and journalists with insider status—the ensuing barrage of unrestrained hype grooms public perception to ignore warning signs with suspended scepticism. Theranos was the apotheosis of this phenomenon - once exalted as an icon of progress, later revealed as outright fraud, enabled by a fawning press.  

But the cracks are showing. Anonymous message board threads and private groups provide outlets for exhausted workers to vent about misleading recruiting tactics, incompetent leadership covered up by the sheen of confidence, and absent work-life balance. High-profile scandals highlight patterns of discrimination and harassment. But fear of retaliation for tarnishing the exalted "brand" keeps most grumbling in the shadows rather than enacting open revolt. Those daring to speak out get attacked for disloyalty or blamed for simply not trying hard enough to fit the highly demanding work culture. 

The Salisbury steak TV dinners of the 1950s proclaimed "Nourishing Family Fare!" on the packaging when they provided minimal nutritional value. Startup culture similarly nourishes its community on empty rhetorical calories while hiding less savoury realities. The myth-making seems like a conscious effort towards a collective suspension of disbelief - so many want the fairy tale to be true and ignore all warning signs suggesting otherwise. But public and private obsession with startup success stories must return to reality. We have to focus less on the outliers and more on the reforms needed to create tech that matters, products that mean something, and accessible pathways for everyone, not just a privileged few. That is the only way innovation can advance shared prosperity instead of concentrating marginal gains on a select few who have played inside baseball on an uneven playing field. Behind the veneer of magical elixirs are basic issues of economic dignity and equal opportunity that our society still struggles (and flailing, fails) to fulfil. No app can resolve those fundamental challenges - no matter what mantras its CEO chants or myths its branding invokes.

I miss the internet: a zine


From writer Joan Westenberg comes a digital zine reflecting on how the internet has evolved over the past 20 years. Packed with nostalgia for the early days of niche communities, amateur content and anonymity, it explores the current state of corporatization, algorithms and pressure to constantly produce.

This zine is for anyone feeling disillusioned by the internet's lost potential and hoping to rediscover that early excitement of possibility. It asks the question - can we build a digital future that reflects the diversity, creativity and joy we glimpsed online in the past?


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