Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Cult of the Startup

I wrote this nearly a year ago; a year later, it seems better than I remember it, so I am posting it for your enjoyment rather than letting it go to waste:

It was one of those articles that made you weep with shame at our nation's collective refusal to get off the couch.  A young, University of Waterloo educated webpreneur, head of Polar Mobile, one of the more successful companies in the eight million strong pool of application-web-social media startups in Toronto, told this line to a conference, which got my attention:

“I have not met enough Canadians who are getting on planes every single week and going out to chase business outside of our borders, where the budgets are bigger, decision timelines are shorter and the brands are bigger, says Gupta, who spoke in Stratford on Wednesday at the Canada 3.0 digital media conference and technology show.

Wow Mr. Gupta. 25 years old, CEO, and jetting around the world non-stop.  You're like, seriously my hero dude. So what you're telling me is this is a really hot time to get into a business in Canada developing, say, social media smartphone apps.  That market is what you would call "emerging"; it's not saturated or in the vernacular, "played out", at all.  We could really kick this nation of ours into high gear if we all emulated what you do.

If we did that, how would we cook, take our kids to the park, play guitar or drink cocktails on the summer patio?  Do you engage in this phenomenon known as "everyday life"? Since you're so busy, I'm willing to bet (but not assume) that either you live in a barely furnished condo in downtown Toronto on a steady diet of takeout and TV dinners when you're home, which is never, or that you haven't got around to changing your permanent address from your parent's house in Brampton where your mom still has hot meals and folded laundry ready for you on whatever occasion you manage to show up. 

But I'm not here to speculate on the levels of balance in Mr. Gupta's personal life, and whether either of those scenarios reflect his actual life it is irrelevant; he is perfectly entitled to live his as he pleases in our free country.  I'm merely asking him what business he has demanding us to sacrifice ours.  However well he might know his digital media business, his logic is outdated and flawed.

For the sake of future generations, which as a person in his twenties he is eligible to contribute to the spawning of, he might have an interest in knowing that jumbo jets consume an enormous amount of an increasingly rare resource (petroleum) and burn it high in the atmosphere, where it has a strong and immediate effect of increasing carbon dioxide, which increases the temperature on earth (record high and rising).  This is in the goal of pushing business which requires ever more phones and laptops to serve as a platform, and these devices require combinations of quite rare minerals, compounds, and precious and heavy metals for their manufacture (already scarce and more sought out than ever).  While these devices are alive, they must connect with each other on the Internet (10% of global energy demand and rising) and when they are dead, they will secrete their heavy metal lithium ion batteries into the water and soil (already contaminated and getting worse).

Of course, people do not respond well to negativity and he is preaching a positive, "can-do" message, while I am relaying depressing, "doomsday" information.  So since he is a "dynamic young entrepreneur proposing solutions" and I am an "irrelevant cranky obscure blogger", let's follow his logic.  We all get on planes to promote our tech business so the demand drives tech stocks up, drive oil prices up, drive our productivity up, drive our dollar up, drives housing, gas, and food prices up, lowers the birthrate, and prematurely ages the population.

I've wanted to get this off my chest for a long time. There is more to economic success than tech startups. If we all worked for them, the consequences for society would be disastrous. Unfortunately, our country's economic and political establishments, with their myopic obsession with greed and growth, don't see much else of value worth promoting anything else any more. They are in the midst of a project to import millions of people like Mr. Gupta into Canada so that they will dominate our society, which will then have to live and die by the sword of his misguided words. More on that next time.

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