May 31, 2023

Tech for bullshit: do we stop?

Tech for bullshit: do we stop?

I worked at Station F for 4 years.

An incubator where the economy of tomorrow is being built, and where the big tech companies will be hunting for future unicorns.

Frankly, the space is nice (beautiful glass roof), but I was less sympathetic to some of my neighbors' activities.

As I wandered through the corridors, I heard a guy say in a cheerful tone:

"We're customer-facing from day one, we're going to smash them with our NFTs!"

I don't know which made me feel more uncomfortable: his aggressiveness, his franglais, or his obvious joy at this absurd invention. This sentence reminded me that many start-ups work on innovations that are either completely useless, or downright harmful to society.

Is having jam delivered in 10 minutes good for anyone other than scooter (and purple suit) salesmen?

Why? Why?

I say this all the more easily because I'm a repentant member of the start-up nation. I've already plunged headlong into projects that now seem bloody pointless.

The rude messages I used to send my friends when I found it exciting to sell superfluous products on Kickstarter

Besides, our contractors aren't bad guys. So there must be something wrong:

  • Is it because money remains the sole criterion for success , erasing all others?
  • Is it because we've been taught a single vision of business ? It responds to a market need and must be profitable, no matter what we do?
  • Is there a lack of models to identify with another type of innovator?

For me, one of the central problems can be summed up in 5 words:

We don't think hard enough.

Yes, we tech entrepreneurs, employees and investors do NOT ask ourselves enough about the consequences of what we do for society.

We then spend years working on projects that don't make sense for us, for others, and for society.

Isn't that a shame? When all you have to do is cross the street to find exciting issues to tackle.

A startup that crosses the street in search of a real problem

1% of people concentrate 50% of the world's wealth(1), we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction of living organisms(2), we are preparing for a France at +4°C(3)...

The succession of profound crises we are experiencing is transforming our world into a giant laboratory. We have more and more challenges to meet, with more and more constraints. Paradoxically, this is the best setting to stimulate our creativity and innovate socially and ecologically.

And many already do:

  • Pierre, who created Open Food Facts: the open source database of 2.5 million foods that enabled the spread of the Nutriscore, and the launch of Yuka. With a team of just 8 people.
  • Lucie, who launched Linkedout: the site that lets you share your professional network with people who don't have one. Already over 200 new hires in 3 years.
  • Anthony, who created Diversidays to make the tech world more inclusive. More than 10,000 people helped to retrain for a career in digital technology.

And a host of social entrepreneurs we're lucky enough to support on the tech side at Share it.

Projects that show how innovative we can be, with different models at the service of social and environmental causes. (And yes, there's money to fund them too).

In a nutshell: let's be critical

So I'm speaking to us, the members of Tech for Good France, and innovators of all stripes who are sniffing out the next tech bonanza (hello AI).

Before embarking on new projects: Let's be critical.

  • ‍Let's becritical of ourselves: let's ask ourselves the following questions: Is this project in line with my values? Is it useful to society? Does it fit within planetary limits? Does it concentrate wealth and power in certain hands?
  • ‍Let's becritical of other people's projects: let's have the courage to criticize, to denounce, when we're faced with innovations that seem useless or harmful.

Then, maybe, we'll be able to stroll around Station F and hear some good news in Franglais:

"We're anti-bullshit from day one: we're launching a project in which we believe, and which should also change the world!"
Read on

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