On Monday, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz announced that it's "doubling down" on "speaking directly to [its] audience." Andreesen Horowitz, or a16z as it's sometimes referred to, already publishes blogs written by its partners and founders on its site and even publishes its own podcast, but now the firm is expanding its efforts to a "separate media property about the future that makes sense of technology, innovation and where things are going."
This operation has already hired an executive editor—Maggie Leung, who was VP of Content at personal finance company NerdWallet and previously a senior editor at CNN—and is currently soliciting pitches from contributors.
"Our lens is rational optimism about technology and the future," a16z partner Margit Wennmachers said in the blog announcing the news. "We believe that it’s better to be alive after the industrial revolution than in an agrarian society. I say this with conviction as I grew up on a pig farm! Living through a pandemic has not been fun at all, but try doing it without technology."
This sentiment encapsulates the false choice that Valley oligarchs have tried to convince the world is true for decades: kneel before the monopolistic power of technology companies (and the venture capitalists who fund them), or slide back into pre-industrial barbarism, struggling to secure the calories you need to survive, hiding from a ranging pandemic without even Zoom meetings to keep you employed or Netflix to keep you entertained.
There was a time, about a decade ago, when this pitch seemed like it could work. The tech beat was still emerging from its highly specialized, marginal, and often enthusiast origins. Companies like Facebook and Uber were covered with overwhelming enthusiasm because they had a positive, hopeful message, and they made technology an inseparable part of everyday life as opposed to a curiosity only nerds interact with. Business reporters covering obscure funding rounds and wonks who not so long were covering web browser updates and laser printers were suddenly rubbing elbows with the executives and technologists who altered the course of history.
A new crop of technology enthusiasts became journalists and started and worked for websites that were largely dedicated to covering app updates, phone and camera specs, startup logo changes, and falling over themselves to review new products and services. The gadget blog was born. At least some of this early crop of journalists eventually went on to work for the companies they covered, or became venture capitalists or startup founders themselves.
It took more time than it should, but eventually the bloom fell off the rose. Mark Zuckerberg isn't just a Harvard dropout who became a billionaire by connecting the world, he’s an incredibly powerful and irresponsible tycoon who enabled genocide. Uber didn’t just make getting a taxi more convenient, it’s also the ruling class's tool for gutting what little labor rights Americans had left. Technology is a powerful tool, and you know how dangerous it is in the hands of billionaires because legions of journalists across the world have reported about these dangers for years.
This scrutiny, entirely appropriate for extremely powerful people in public, has generated predictable backlash. An entire sect of Silicon Valley believes that the journalists who came after the tech boosters of the early 2000s know nothing about technology, hate technology, hate companies, hate Silicon Valley, and care only about clicks and Silicon Valley blood. Silicon Valley elite gather on private chat apps to discuss how journalists have too much power. Elon Musk beefs with any critic openly on Twitter, creating his own reality.
a16z wants to go back to 2008, when an app or gadget could be paraded around convention centers and hotel meeting rooms without anyone asking how many gig workers it will drive to suicide or how many child slaves had to die to extract the minerals that made it possible. So a16z will start its own media company with a lens of "rational optimism about technology" and any dissenters will be dismissed as Luddites who want us all to be pig farmers.
This has never been true. "The future is wonderful, the future is terrifying." That has been Motherboard's slogan since its inception, and it's the view we hold today. Technology does amazing things, and not a week goes by that we don't note this fact on our site. We regularly dedicate our time and resources to highlight the people who are using science and technology to build a better future. But we understand the danger technology poses because we talk to the people impacted, the experts who are trying to warn us, and because like you we have lived through the negative consequences ourselves.
Rather than answer to the scrutiny of this reporting, one of the most powerful forces in Silicon Valley is trying to bypass the press to tell you that only one future is possible: the future it is building for its own profit. You'd have to be an idiot to buy it, and a16z will spend a lot of money trying to make you one.