August 01, 2014

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What should we expect next from tech companies? Credit: samsung_viet / Flickr Creative Commons

Eight years ago this summer, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook was on the brink of becoming huge. The company was getting wooed by companies that wanted to buy it - and some of the offers were reportedly nearing a billion dollars.

But rather than sell and make a quick billion, Zuckerberg decided to stick with the company. The man who gave him that advice? Roger McNamee, a sage and investor in the tech world for more than three decades, who has helped everyone from Zuckerberg to Bill Gates.

We spoke to McNamee, co-founder of Elevation Partners, and Farhad Manjoo, writer for the New York Times, about their thoughts on the tech landscape, and how it might change in the coming decades. 

On how technology has changed in the last 30 years:

McNamee: "The really profound change is that technology has gone from something that is external to American culture, to being deeply embedded in it. In that sense, the number of participants in the tech marketplace - whether you're talking about inventing things or producing the products - has grown by orders of magnitude in the 32 years I've been doing this. And it's hard to overstate how profound that impact is."

On how tech companies are changing:

Manjoo: "I think the big story of how these companies - the Apples, the Facebooks, the Googles - are changing in the last few years, is that we used to think of them all as doing one thing. Google was a search engine, and Amazon was for shopping. Now, it's more useful to think of each of them doing everything."

On where society needs improvement:

McNamee: "While we've been creating all this amazing stuff in Silicon Valley, the country has systematically ignored the offline world. Our roads have deteriorated. Our government no longer operates. Wall Street has become a trading machine, instead of of an investment capital formation vehicle. For reasons that have little to do with tech, the country is in a place right now where tech can't save it. People think we're going to be able to create something as profound as the iPhone, and somehow that will fix all the problems in Washington or fix the roads. None of that is going to happen. We're going to have to get back to doing real things again."

On the surveillance state:

McNamee: "The thing that is really disturbing today is that our government is spying on us illegally, companies are gathering data that they're not telling you they're gathering, they're doing things with it they're not telling you about. And we haven't yet reached the moment in time where people are forced to have a day of reckoning. Something is going to happen soon, and we're going to have a national conversation when enough is enough. To me, post-Snowden, I'm astonished how slow the country has been to try to reign in the security state as it breaks basically every law ever created to restrain it."

On computers in the future economy:

Manjoo: "I'm sort of optimistic about software infecting and improving all parts of the economy...But there will almost certainly be losers in the transition. If you work with computers in the economy in the future, you'll do well. But if you're against computers - if you're in a job that computers will render irrelevant - you're doomed or at least will have to find some new endeavor."

New York Times, Silicon Valley, Farhad Manjoo, Roger McNamee, Sci and Tech

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