The past week my wife and I watched both The Inventor and the Netflix documentary about the Fyre Festival. This was both a great idea and a bad one.
First the trailers, so you know what I’m talking about.
The Inventor tells the true story behind the ‘Edison’, Theranos the company who made this machine and Elisabeth Holmes, the CEO behind the company.
The Fyre Festival documentary tells the less life threatening story of a failed festival for the Instagram generation.
What do both stories have in common? A charismatic leader with a seemingly great idea that turned out wrong. Both stories are also depicting a web of lies and most of all: a lot of people who still believed in it until the truth was impossible to deny and a lot of people who lost a lot of money and more. I feel really bad for the poor people in the Bahamas who worked day and night for nothing or the sick patients who received an incorrect blood test.
Both stories fit in the start up mantra of Silicon Valley, a place where people often think they are working on solutions, a mantra often heard in the Fyre movie, and where they want to make the world a better place, seemingly the main focus of Holmes, but where they seem to forget both ethics and realism. It doesn’t seem wrong to fake something – like artificial intelligence – to raise money from investors so maybe one day it can become reality. But what if that day never comes?
It’s not difficult to see parallels with many of the educational failures of the past decade. Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands, the trouble Alt-schools have experienced or the now closed Carpe Diem schools. Latest in the list is the WeGrow school in NY, although the story there seems to be a bit different. Remember that time that Bill Gates had to admit almost everything he tried in education had failed? Many of these stories have similarities with both documentaries: big dreams, big money, move fast and break things and than discovering it didn’t work or worse: some stuff has been broken that would better have been left untouched.
Maybe it was a bad idea to watch both documentaries in a row, because one can get suspicious fast and start to think that all big ideas in tech are a scam, which isn’t true neither.
More than a warning against technology, I think both movies and the examples I’ve added to this do warn for a kind of mentality that goes further than what Morozov calls Solutionism. A very dangerous mentality, because it always looks so appealing, until reality gets in the way.