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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does the "Jerktech" Hashtag Let Techbros And Libertechbrotarians Off the Hook?

The term "jerktech" and the critique associated with it has been proliferating quite a bit in the week since I noted Cory Doctorow noting it thus:
Jerktech is the very apt epithet for the class of "disruptive" startups that sell things that don't belong to them, like parking spots and restaurant reservations, simply raising the prices of them and making access to public resources a factor of your disposable income. The term comes from a very good Josh Constine piece on Techcruch, in which he tries to draw a distinction between "disruptive" and "jerky."
Of course I sympathize with the thrust of this critique as Doctorow put it so clearly there. But even when I approvingly read his piece the first time out, something about it worried me too much to post any pre-emptive approval here. "Jerktech" seems to me less to overlap with than to be a candidate for the replacement of the "techbro" moniker that would have designated the very same sort of techjerkoffery in months past. "Jerktech" critique seems to have greater specificity than "techbro" derision, but I suspect part of its appeal is its generalization away from the greater specificity of prior critiques that have become prevalent and have greater bite. I still prefer the language of the "techbro" and the "libertechbrotarian" to "jerktech" because I think the latter is evacuated of any whiff of the feminist and neoliberal critique that is usually (sure, sure, not always) somewhere between useful and indispensable to the grasp of what makes techjerkoffery jerktech in the first place. We may say that default sexist tech douchebaggery and Ayn Raelian techno-utopian skim-and-scam con-artistry qua "entrepreneurship" may make you a jerk, but that certainly shouldn't be the end of it. Josh Constine's more recent piece supporting "soft pivots" toward "disrupt[ing] with care" seems to me to symptomize the deficiency of "jerktech" as a critical intervention -- and reveals perhaps a penchant for "soft pivots" that also explains the turn from "techbro" to "jerktech" in the first place. As I indicated a few days back, "disruption, for real" would look a lot more like Richard Eskow's recent proposal to nationalize Big Tech.

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